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Yet Another Big Weekend For Peepers

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 29 2012

Traffic was a mess at Kentucky Speedway last year. All eyes will be on the situation on Sunday as a lot of time and money has been spent on fixing the problems. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Another big weekend for auto racing. Here are some of the people, places and things that will be cool to scrutinize:

– The traffic situation at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday.

The guess here is that about 100,000 of us will be watching it more carefully than others. Remember the scene last year before, during and after the inaugural Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky? The thousands upon thousands who sat in traffic – some of whom sat there well past the start of the race – surely do.

In the year since, track owners and operators have gone to work on the problem. They have reportedly spent millions to fix roads and parking lots.

Another large crowd is expected on Sunday for the Sprint Cup race. We shall see if the money has been well-spent.

The hope is that all goes well as the real bummer about last year was that fans from that area of the country flocked to race. Their race. Too many flocked, as it turned out.

– Matt Kenseth press sessions.

The announcement this week that the 2003 Cup champion – the man who is the current series points leader – will not be back with the only team he has ever known, Roush Fenway Racing, was a shocker.

A sizable batch of reporters tried to get to the reason for the announcement this week and none totally succeeded.

On Friday morning, he held the first mass press session. Little real info was gleaned.

Did he jump or was he pushed? Where is he headed? When will he announce?

His best stuff was: “Hopefully it will be sooner than later. That ball is not in my court unfortunately. We are trying to get that done as soon as possible just so it is out there and we can go on. Everybody kind of has their ideas and half the story is out there but hopefully we can get it out there and go on.”

It has always been tough to get straight answers from Kenseth, even on softball questions; an interview with him several years ago marked one of the very, very few times which a sit-down failed to produce enough interesting info to produce an actual story.

One of the reporters who got a call into Kenseth this week told me right afterward that things did not go well during that one. Not that the Wisconsin native is a jerk. He just is a very non-public guy in a job that demands interaction with the media and fans. There-in may lie the reason why – despite his wonderful driving skills – he has never become a mega fan super-favorite.

You also have to wonder if that could be the reason RFR has had trouble finding him a full-time sponsor since Crown Royal left the fold? Sponsors want attention for their money. They want people who can, yes, win races but who are also adept at schmoozing during corporate appearances and charming during TV commercials.

– Blips or trends?

Last time out, two sizable skids ended in pro racing.

In the NHRA, Top Fueler Tony Schumacher ended a two-year skid when he won at Thunder Valley in Bristol, Tenn.  In GRAND-AM, defending champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas ended a season-long skid when they won at Road America.

It will be interesting to see how each responds this weekend as NHRA is at Route 66 in Joliet, Ill, and the GRAND-AMers are at Watkins Glen for its very important 6-hour race.

Last weekend we saw what happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. the first time back on a track after he ended his four-year winless streak in Sprint Cup – he finished 23rd. Yes, the race was at the Sonoma road course and, yes, he left the track, as many do at that place.

So, maybe we should also put Junior on the Blips or Trends? list for the Kentucky race. Yes, heck, let’s do that.

Man on the spot

The word is that Kenseth is headed to Joe Gibbs Racing next year. That puts Joey Logano squarely on the spot this weekend and following weekends.

If the word is true, Logano, who is in the final year of his deal with JGR, will be driving for his racing life.

Two things can happen if that word is correct. Either Logano would be out at Gibbs, or, the team could field a fourth Toyota Camry. Either way, Logano needs to add to a career win total that reached just two races earlier this summer at Pocono.

Logano needs to impress his potential future owner – be that Gibbs or somebody else.

The former phenom has had his most consistent season in 2012, but is it too late and too little?

Girl watchin’

Which entry-level woman will be the first to win an NHRA Funny Car race this year? Courtney Force or Alexis DeJoria?

Up until a couple of weeks ago, the vote would have went to Force. That, based on bloodlines, support and intangibles.

But, now after making her way to the finals at Thunder Valley a couple weeks ago, the vote may have crossed over to DeJoria. DeJoria and tuner Del Worsham appear to have it going on right now. Worsham, last year’s Top Fuel champ as a driver, is building increasingly fast cars for DeJoria.

Then there is Team Kalitta Racing as a whole. Doug Kalitta also made it to the Top Fuel finals at Thunder Valley. Kalitta driver David Grubnic won at Topeka a month ago.

The team owned by The Bounty Hunter is hunting big things this year and DeJoria is playing a big part.

Both her and Force have been spotty off the line but you have to believe that will come for both. This week’s race in Joliet could tip the scales in the rookie woman of the year category.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 29 2012
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