Leicht, Darnell to Bring a Wealth of Kentucky Speedway Experience to the "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz"
NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers Stephen Leicht and Erik Darnell will be looking to cash in on a $50,000 Nationwide Insurance "Dash 4 Cash" bonus and their wealth of Kentucky Speedway experience when they race for the "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz" title June 13.
Leicht, 22, will appear in a minimum of 13 Nationwide Series races this season while sharing the seat of the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet with Sprint Cup Series stars Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer. Leicht will make his second start of the season in the "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz." He opened his 2009 campaign with an 11th-place finish at Nashville Superspeedway April 11.
The Asheville, N.C., wheelman will aim to repeat the 2007 Kentucky Speedway headlines he created with Robert Yates Racing by scoring his only career Nationwide Series victory in front of a "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz" field that included seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competitors.
"It was pretty amazing. That whole weekend was great because of Father's Day. My dad was there and most of my family because Kentucky is only about a six-hour drive from my home. Knowing that I was going to Victory Lane and they all would be there was the most exciting part for me. I made the donuts extra long so they had time to get over there. It was a great weekend I'll never forget," Leicht reflected.
He will be one of 10 drivers on the starting grid that have earned at least one Kentucky Speedway victory and said his knowledge of the 1.5-mile tri-oval will prove valuable throughout the 300-mile affair.
"Personally, I have more confidence coming here. Once you've won a race, especially when you win somewhere you like, all those things come back to you. I remember back to the line I used and how my car was driving there at the time. You use that as an advantage. Kentucky is one of my favorite racetracks because you can race the bottom or three grooves up. As long as there are cars running everywhere, you can race anywhere you want," Leicht said.
Darnell will race No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and will look to repeat his Kentucky Speedway experience from May 2007 when he nailed down an ARCA RE/MAX Series victory with his current organization.
The 26-year-old Beach Park, Ill, racer will approach his third NASCAR Nationwide Series start of the season with momentum after earning a fourth-place finish at Darlington Raceway on May 8 and a 12th-place finish at Richmond International Raceway just seven days earlier.
"It's good to know that we've won here before. I've been racing here since 2002 in the former NASCAR Southeast Series.
"This is a place I really enjoy running. It's a mile-and-a-half, but it's different from the others. It's wide, which makes for multiple groove racing. When we were here with the ARCA car two years ago, you could run on the top, you could run on the bottom. Wherever you wanted to race, you could race.
"We pitted with 12 or 13 laps to go in that race and came out of the pits 13th or 14th. I went off into Turn 1 on the green flag lap, went up to the third or fourth groove and passed four or five cars in one lap. It's nice to have options and to be able to do what you want. Kentucky is a fun track from a driver's standpoint. It's racy, it's fast and it's one of my favorite places," Darnell said.
Combine Kentucky Speedway's penchant for producing side-by-side racing with a $50,000 bonus available to a Nationwide Series race winner and both drivers expect the "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz" field to be racing all out.
"I can promise you that if comes down to two or three laps to go and I'm running second behind Logano, Edwards or any of those guys, there may be a little bumping going on. Not too much, just enough to give me an edge. It may get to where fans will be rooting for the Nationwide only driver to win the bonus where they would've been rooting for the Cup guy," Leicht said.
The second of four Kentucky Speedway race weekends opens Friday, June 12 when Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, defending "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz" champion Joey Logano join their fellow Nationwide Series competitors in a 5:00 p.m. practice session. Final practice will begin at 6:45 p.m. and end at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and include infield access.
The weekend continues when gates open at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, June 13. Drivers will gun for the "Meijer 300 Presented by Ritz" pole award at 4:00 p.m. Hard-charging country music artist Pat Green will entertain fans on the Turn 1 Concourse stage at 6:30 p.m., before 43 Nationwide Series drivers take the race green flag at 8:30 p.m.
Infield camping and Big Deals that offer tickets as low as $25 can be reserved online through the tickets pages of this Web site, by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223) or through the Kentucky Speedway ticket offices at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, in Ft. Mitchell, Ky., or the Sparta, Ky., Fan Center off of Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 North. Fans also can reserve tickets at Meijer stores and Tickets.com outlets.
Story by Mike Schmaltz
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