Dale Earnhardt, Inc., driver Paul Menard staked a claim for NASCAR Busch Series regulars at Kentucky Speedway today by leading two practice sessions for tomorrow's sold out "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" race.

The 25-year-old driver who enters the weekend eighth in the series championship standings, turned his fastest lap of the day at 179.307 mph (30.116 seconds) in the second practice session that was completed in shaded conditions. He bettered 46 drivers in the first session by turning his quickest lap at 176.422 mph (30.605 seconds) in daytime temperatures that reached the mid to high 80s.

"We're happy with the way the car is running. When we unloaded, it was really good," Menard said following evening practice session. "We made a few minor adjustments to kind of see how it would react in race scenarios and it reacted how we thought, so we're ready to go. The track is going to be around the same conditions tomorrow night as how we just finished practice. It cooled off a little more and we got a little more grip. Planning ahead, you are going to run faster at night so you are going to have to travel a bit more."

Jon Wood was second in the afternoon practice session with a quick lap of 175.143 mph (30.893 seconds) and David Gilliland was third with a 174.797 mph (30.893 seconds).

"Kentucky Speedway has always been a favorite track of mine," said Wood, who won a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series pole award at the track in 2003. "I've driven all three different (NASCAR) vehicles at this track and they all drive about the same. This track is very smooth and uniquely shaped."

Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, J.J. Yeley and Reed Sorenson made their way to Kentucky Speedway by jet and helicopter for "Happy Hour" after completing NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series qualifying at Michigan International Speedway this afternoon. Greg Biffle was the lone session absentee among the eight NEXTEL Cup Series drivers scheduled to compete in tomorrow's Kentucky clash. Busch and Harvick applied the most pressure on Menard in the final "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" practice session. Harvick, the inaugural Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Busch Series race winner from 2001, was second-quickest after turning his best of 28 practice laps at 179.004 mph (30.167 seconds). Busch, the 2004 Kentucky Speedway Busch Series winner, was third fastest in the session with a 178.980 mph (30.171 seconds) lap.

All top laps in the session were well shy of Edwards' series track record qualifying effort of 181.287 mph (29.787 seconds) set last season.

"I don't feel much difference from two years ago," Busch said. "Relatively, when speeds slow down the car characteristics don't change that much and, for me, they haven't. For me, it feels the same as last time I was here."

The USAC Silver Crown Series "Kentucky 100" started at 9:00 p.m.

Racing continues tomorrow with the NASCAR Busch Series "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo." The speedway announced yesterday its 66,089 grandstand seats available for the event sold out. Forty-dollar standing-room-only-tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at speedway ticket booths, online at www.kentuckyspeedway.com or through Meijer stores.

Speedway parking lots open at 7:30 a.m. and gates open at 4:00 p.m., with "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" NASCAR Busch Series qualifying. Country music supergroup Lonestar will play a prerace concert at 6:00 p.m., and a 43-car field featuring eight NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series drivers such as Kevin Harvick, defending race champion Carl Edwards and former Kentucky Speedway race winners Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch take the green flag at 8:00 p.m. Cincinnati Bengals' quarterback Carson Palmer is the race honorary starter and Miss USA Tara Elizabeth Conner will be the race grand marshal.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~