Six top NASCAR Winston Cup drivers test Kentucky Speedway. Martin, Burton, Blaney, Craven, Rudd and R. Wallace Prepare For Las Vegas SPARTA, KY. -- Top NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Ricky Craven, Ricky Rudd and Rusty...
Six top NASCAR Winston Cup drivers test Kentucky Speedway. Martin, Burton, Blaney, Craven, Rudd and R. Wallace Prepare For Las Vegas SPARTA, KY. -- Top NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Ricky Craven, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace helped thaw the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Kentucky Speedway with a full day of testing today.
With temperatures in the low 30s, Maine native Ricky Craven likely felt most at home on a track located close to his primary sponsor, Procter & Gamble's Tide® Detergent. Craven posted his career-best NASCAR Winston Cup points finish of 15th in 2002 on the strength of three top-five and nine top-10 finishes, all under the Ford Racing banner.
"This is right down my alley, we flew in from Maine where we'd been on snowmobiles for two days. I'm not sure we brought the right equipment. We have the Tide Pontiacs here and they're running well, but it might be more appropriate to have a Tide snowmobile," Craven joked.
He commented on a possible 2004 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule realignment which could include Kentucky Speedway.
"It's a great facility, everybody that's been here knows it's a great facility. We're very impressed by it," Craven said. "It's certainly capable of hosting a Winston Cup event. The big question always is the schedule. If, in fact, there is some realignment, I would think this track would get some attention and certainly some consideration. I think you have to look at a place like this that has been around a while and qualifies in all different categories to have a Winston Cup race -- layout, seating, location - but that's not my decision."
Turning his attention back to the present, Craven predicted that the 2003 season will continue a recent stretch he's describing as the best years of his racing career.
"It's a great time to be involved in NASCAR Winston Cup racing and a great time to be driving for Tide," Craven said. "These will be the best years of my career, in fact, the past two years have been the best in Winston Cup for me and I expect it to continue to get better."
A large part of any success Craven will achieve in 2003 will be attributed to his PPI Motorsports' team switch to Pontiac and new Crew Chief Scott Mueller.
"There's no question we've got some transition. The cars have gone from Ford to Pontiac, we've got our own engine program which we're putting a tremendous amount of effort in, and a new crew chief," Craven said. "I think I'm the only thing that hasn't changed and I'm thankful for that, too. It's all in an effort to get better and to become a top-10 Winston Cup team. Hopefully we'll do that this year."
Another driver racing under a new banner in 2003 will be 23-year Winston Cup Series veteran Rusty Wallace, who authored his third consecutive seventh-place, and 14th top-10 series points finish in 2002.
Wallace said he's confident in the power his Penske Racing team is producing with his Dodge new race machines.
"Today, we're totally focused on Vegas. We have our brand new Dodge with the hot rod motor and it's running really strong," Wallace said. "This track and Las Vegas are pretty close to the same design, so all the teams here are not only trying new stuff, but trying to get prepared for the Las Vegas race."
He said that the amount of teams testing at Kentucky today makes a statement about his competitor's will to win.
"I cannot believe how many guys are going anywhere they possibly can just to run to keep up with the competition," Wallace said. "They might go to tracks and not learn anything, or learn a lot about a specific track that doesn't pay dividends anywhere else. At least you can say you're trying."
Wallace also commented on a future place for Kentucky Speedway on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit.
"We tried a lot things here last year that helped us finish third in Kansas City and we're trying a lot of stuff here that will help us finish well in Vegas. This is a wonderful track and I hope one day it's on the Winston Cup circuit."
Rudd, who drove to his 18th career top-10 series points finish in 2002, continues his successful transition from Robert Yates Racing to Wood Bros. Racing.
"We've had an accelerated test program. This is probably our sixth test in getting ready for the season, and it's gone really well," Rudd said. "Our speedway stuff is good and the downforce cars have been really good. We're just really fine tuning things right now."
Rudd also commented on a possible NASCAR Winston Cup date at Kentucky Speedway.
"If you base it strictly on facilities, this is a first-class operation," Rudd said. "The track is great, the garage areas are nice, there are really no negatives at all. As far as realignment, as a competitor we have virtually no 'say-so' at all. We try not to get too caught up in that, we have other things to worry about. We see it on the schedule about the same time everyone else sees it, but (Kentucky) is one that I'm sure a lot of people would be looking forward to."
Kentucky Speedway opens May 9-10 with the return of the ARCA RE/MAX Series for the "Channel 5-205" and Legends Series race with NASCAR Winston Cup Series stars. Racing continues June 13-14 when the NASCAR Busch Series convenes to contest "The Meijer 300" and the NASCAR All-Pro Series runs "The Kentucky 150." The July 11-12 weekend features the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series "Kentucky 225" and NASCAR Goody's Dash Series "Kentucky 150." The Indy Racing League Indy Car Series will provide the season finale August 16-17 with "The Belterra Casino Indy 300" and Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series "Kentucky 100."