Forty-four drivers opened "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" NASCAR Busch Series weekend and "Cincinnati Clearchannel Fanfest" at Kentucky Speedway today with three practice sessions and a one-hour garage-area autograph session.

Regan Smith and his No. 4 Waste Management Chevrolet stood tallest in the final practice session after turning his best lap at 177.462 mph (30.439 seconds). He closed out the first practice session third on the speed chart with a 173.516-mph (31.121 seconds) lap and is confident about his chances in tomorrow's "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo."

"It's the strongest effort we've had coming back here," Smith said. "We've had some decent runs here, but no luck. The way this team's been running the past couple weeks, I feel pretty strongly we should contend tomorrow night.

"The car had good speed off the trailer, it has plenty of grip and the handling is good. I can go just about anywhere I want to with it and do what I want to with it. I can arc it into the corner more than the next guy and still cut it across the center. I got around cars and didn't get tight behind cars. Everything you look for in a good car, it was doing."

Aric Almirola and his No. 20 Rockwell Automation Chevrolet closed out final practice second with a top 176.713-mph (30.558 seconds) circuit. He was eighth-quickest in the 45-minute rookie practice session held prior to final practice with a 172.216-mph (31.356 seconds) lap and was 10th on the speed chart in the opening practice with a 172.112-mph (31.375 seconds) lap.

"That was definitely a qualifying run at the end of (final) practice that got us up to second, but we did find a lot of speed in our race runs," Almirola said. "We're pretty happy with the car in race trim. This track is really fast and it's really tough to make your car handle in a long run. We worked really hard to make our car good the longer it went. We're not really worried about the short runs.

"We're giving up a little speed in the beginning of a run, but we're hoping it will really pay off because this race track is so wide. You'll see a lot of good racing and you won't see too many cautions. We're planning on long green flag runs tomorrow and we want to make our car really good for that.

"I'm really looking forward to racing here at Kentucky Speedway. We definitely have a top-10 car. We can take it from there, work on it in the race and fine tune it. He expects a tight battle in tomorrow's 300-mile test.

"This Busch Series is really tough, there are a lot of good teams and a lot good drivers," Almirola said. "We're just looking for a good, solid run. As long as I keep improving when I get in the racecar, it's a step in the right direction. We're looking for a top-10 and we'll take a top five."

Stephen Leicht, who finished 10th here in last season's NASCAR Busch Series event, led the first practice with a 173.846-mph (31.062 seconds) run in his No. 90 citi financial Ford, backed up his opening effort by placing a solid fourth on the speed chart in final practice.

"We're actually on a little harder tire than we were last year," Leicht said. "Our citi Ford is really good right now. It feels really sporty; I'm very, very happy. The guys have done a great job.

"Normally all tracks get faster when it gets dark and this track is no different. Usually, the track gets more grip when it's dark and things tighten up a little bit. Our car, being a little free as it is, should be really, really fast for the race. I'm feeling real good about it."

David Stremme was third in the final practice with a 176.598-mph (30.578 seconds) lap in his No. 41 Wrigley's Winterfresh Dodge.

Marcos Ambrose and his No. 59 Kingsford Ford led the 45-minute rookie practice with a quick 176.564-mph (30.758 seconds) lap. Timothy Peters and his No. 21 AutoZone Chevrolet followed with a 173.277-mph (31.164 seconds) trip around the 1.5-mile tri-oval and Joe Gibbs Racing product Brad Coleman climbed to third on the rookie speed chart with a 173.266-mph (31.166 seconds) effort. Coleman won a 150-mile ARCA RE/MAX Series race at the track last July.

The official event attendance was 10,164.

The third of five Kentucky Speedway race weekends continues tomorrow when speedway gates open at 3:00 p.m., with Legends Series racing. NASCAR Busch Series "Meijer 300 Presented by Oreo" qualifying begins at 5:00 p.m., rock legend Peter Frampton takes the Turn 1 Concourse stage at 6:30 p.m., and 43 drivers take the green flag for the seventh NASCAR Busch Series race in speedway history at 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are still available and will be on sale beginning at 2:00 p.m., at the speedway main entrance.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~