NASCAR

It’s about time

Kentucky Speedway
Kentucky Speedway will host its debut NASCAR Sprint Cup race this weekend.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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You can probably say “It’s about time” on a number of subjects this week.

In David Ragan’s case, he would probably tell you it’s about time that he won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Obviously the folks in Kentucky are also saying it, too – it’s about time.

Let’s start with David and a huge congratulation to him. You’ve probably heard us say these last couple years that “this is a breakout year” for David and then it didn’t happen. All of us have always thought he had the kind of talent to succeed at NASCAR’s highest level.

He comes from a great family. I raced against his father, Ken. You have to feel good for team owner Jack Roush. The man can simply spot talent. You have to love Jack’s patience, too. When he sees that a guy has it, Jack will go the extra mile to give a guy a chance to prove it. Like David, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who also drives for Jack, has proven this to be true this year as well. Look at all the problems Ricky had last year, but Jack stuck by him and now look at all the success Ricky has had this year.

Now there have been times when I thought David was brilliant, but then there have been times when I didn’t think the kid was going to make it. He has proven this year that when it comes to restrictor-plate racing, he is something special.

Think back to the Daytona 500 in February.

If not for a mental error on David’s part on that restart in February, we might be celebrating David as our 2011 Daytona 500 winner and not Trevor Bayne. The thing I have loved about David since Day 1 has been his attitude. He doesn’t let things get him down. Last Saturday night he could have let himself dwell on the “one that got away,” but instead he raced his way right into Victory Lane.

So it was really, really good to see David finally break through and get that first win. He’s a great representative for his team and his sponsor. He’s a great young ambassador for our sport. With that win, David now is also a player for one of those two coveted wild-card slots to secure his place in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

That’s going to be an exciting storyline to follow right up to the checkered flag at Richmond in September when the Chase field is set.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a huge week and race weekend at Kentucky Speedway. It’s taken 11 long years to get to this point. I was there at the announcement of the track being built all those years ago, helping turn the first shovel of dirt.

The goal of the initial investors was to secure a NASCAR Sprint Cup date. Initially they were able to secure a Camping World Truck Series date. After that they added a Nationwide race. There has been ARCA, IndyCar, you name it that raced there, but never the ultimate prize – a Cup race.

I have to say I probably have never seen more loyal fans than I have at Kentucky. Those fans have been attending races there for 11 years. When you see a standalone Truck race, or a standalone Nationwide race sold out, that was a clear signal of the belief the fans had in Kentucky Speedway. They stood by the track through thick and thin.

Jerry Carroll has put his heart and soul into that speedway. He was the quarterback on this whole project with a great group of investors. Even though Bruton Smith owns the track now, I know Jerry will take great satisfaction Saturday night when that green flag waves.

When times were bleak for the future of Kentucky Speedway ever getting a Cup date, Jerry never quit working toward that ultimate goal. He worked tirelessly to then put a deal together for Bruton Smith to purchase the speedway. That was the magic that it took.

Bruton’s another man that I have a great deal of respect for. I am fortunate to be able to call him my friend for a number of years now. Bruton is a friend of the fans. If you look at any track that Bruton bought, the fan amenities are second to none. Whether it is better restrooms, to better parking, to more seats, nicer suites, to a better road system in and out of a track, Bruton was always driven to make things nicer and easier for the fans.

When Bruton bought Kentucky Speedway, he told all of us that it would have a NASCAR Sprint Cup date. He was true to his word. He moved one of the Cup dates from another of his tracks and this Saturday night under the lights, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series will take the green flag at Kentucky Speedway for the very first time.

There have been critics and naysayers that contend Kentucky will take fans away from other tracks, like possibly Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Chicagoland Speedway, Kansas Speedway or even Bristol Motor Speedway. Sorry, but I just don’t buy that argument.

Kentucky already has its own fan base. The track is not brand new. It has been there for 11 years. Additionally it has been well attended since Day 1.

Kentucky Speedway is going to be a great asset to the sport and a great addition on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. It can only enhance and grow the sport.

That area of Kentucky and Southwest Ohio now will have a track to call their own. I am so excited that they will have a tripleheader there this week. Thursday is the Truck race. Friday night is the Nationwide race and then naturally, Saturday is the big one.

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The other reason I am excited about Saturday night is my brother, Michael, is going to be honoring me and my NASCAR Hall of Fame selection. The paint scheme of his No. 15 Toyota will be of my car when I won my very first Cup race all those years ago in 1975 at Nashville. The car will be orange and white, like my ’75 car was, and it will have pictures from our Victory Lane celebration back then.

If that wasn’t enough, Dale Earnhardt Jr is going to be racing his No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew car with my retro colors from my championship cars of 1981 and 1982.

Junior needs a good run Saturday night to stop his three-race slide. He had dropped from third in the points to seventh. What was once thought a lock for him to be in the 2011 Chase picture is now somewhat cloudier. A win in the green-and-white Diet Dew car Saturday night is just what he and that team needs.

Another orange-and-white car you better watch Saturday night has No. 20 on the side of it. Joey Logano has to be pretty pumped up about getting his first win of the season. Joey has had a couple great weeks. He was on the pole at Infineon Raceway two weeks ago and finished sixth.

Last week he won the Nationwide race at Daytona International Speedway. Then the next night he finished third in the Cup race.

Meet the 2012 HOF class

 

Richie Evans changed racing with his dominance.

Dale Inman's decision-making skills put him atop all crew chiefs.

Waltrip backed his talk with titles, wins.

Wood impacted NASCAR first as an driver, and now as owner.

If there was a finish line, Cale Yarborough was going to win.

 

What’s even more incredible is Joey’s statistics at Kentucky. Now get this, in three tries at Kentucky Speedway in the Nationwide Series, Joey has three poles and three wins. If you ever wanted an example of perfect, well there you go. So with the great momentum he has going right now, coupled with his record at Kentucky Speedway, Joey is your hot tip of the week.

Oh by the way

Congrats to Kevin Harvick. With his seventh-place finish at Daytona Saturday night, he passed Carl Edwards and took over the NASCAR Sprint Cup points lead. I think this points battle will continue right up through the race at Richmond when the Chase field is set. Then, like in all the other years, the points are essentially wiped out, the Chase field is set and they start all over again for 10 races to determine our 2011 champion.

Oh by the way II

If you get a chance, tune into SPEED Saturday afternoon leading up to the Cup race. At 3 p.m. ET, SPEED will be airing a one-hour special sponsored by Diet Mountain Dew on yours truly about my career and how it all started in Kentucky. We did a lot of filming in my hometown of Owensboro and so I am really excited to see how the special turned out.

Tagged: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Ragan, Joey Logano

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