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NASCAR: Live from Kentucky

Junior wins Kentucky pole

For the first time this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start No. 1. Can he finish No. 1 for the first time, also?

Earnhardt won the pole Friday evening at Kentucky Speedway with a track-record lap at 183.636 mph. He knocked Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson off the top spot before Carl Edwards knocked Johnson off the front row.

It's the fourth consecutive race in which Edwards has started in the top three, and his third consecutive oval-track start on the front row.

Earnhardt hadn't started better than sixth this season until now. Only twice had he started in the top 10 in the first 16 Cup races. Friday was the 12th pole of Earnhardt's career.

"I felt we had good shot at putting a good lap down, but I didn't know if we could get Jimmie," Earnhardt said. "We got some good cloud cover to cool the track temp down. We got the point and now we need to go out and do it in the race."

Nine drivers broke the previous track record at Kentucky, but this is the first time for the new Gen-6 cars on the 1.5-mile oval.

-- Terry Blount

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Gordon's New York state of mind

Jeff Gordon and his family have an apartment in Manhattan. Most of the time, he can walk around the city incognito, even when he takes the train to a ballgame.

Gordon took in a Yankees game Thursday afternoon with his son, Leo, who turns 3 in August.

"It was unbelievable," Gordon said. "I'm so blown away with the experience of going to a Yankees game with the new stadium. We got on the train and rode it all the way there. There were all the Yankees fans and a few Texas fans, too, that were on the train.

"I couldn't believe how many people were at this game. It was incredible. I think for Leo, baseball might not be quite as exciting for him as Monster Trucks. I did take him to Monster Trucks this year, too; and he seemed to be into that and not pulling on me going, OK, I've seen this. This is cool, but I'm ready to go home [laughs]. But, yeah, it was a great father/son experience and I had a lot of fun doing that."

Gordon said he had no problem with anyone recognizing him on the train.

"I saw one couple looking at me, but they didn't say anything," he said. "Nobody said anything to me. I would say 99 percent of the people on that train had no idea who I was. At the game, once I got inside, there were several people that came up to me and were really kind and everything. But it wasn't a distraction from me and Leo being able to have a special moment.

"We got back on the train and not one single person said anything to me. And that's one of the things I love about New York. I go through that on a day-to-day basis up there. When you do get recognized, it's actually a moment where you're like, 'Wow, I can't believe somebody recognized me in New York City.' "

But Gordon did have an interesting moment earlier this week when he was picking up daughter Ella from a summer camp.

"We were going back to the apartment and this guy on a bike had my hat on," Gordon said. "So I came up to a stop and he was next to me and I looked at him and said, 'Nice hat.' He looked at me and said, 'Thanks'. We went up to the next stop and I said, 'Do you know why I said, 'Nice hat'? He kind of looked at me and I said, 'That's me.'

"He said, 'Oh, yeah, it is.' So I walked right by him and he didn't know. And even if there are fans there, which there are plenty of fans in New York City, but a lot of times they just don't expect you to come walking by."

-- Terry Blount

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Austin Dillon wins Nationwide pole … again

Not a bad weekend so far for the Dillon brothers. Ty Dillon won the Camping World Truck Series race Thursday night and big brother Austin Dillon won the pole for Friday night's Nationwide race.

Austin won both Nationwide races and both poles at Kentucky last season.

Travis Pastrana earned his second front-row start this season, joining Austin on the front row. Pastrana won the pole earlier this year at Talladega.

-- Terry Blount

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Martin a Truex believer

Martin Truex Jr., who ended a six-year winless streak last weekend with his victory at Sonoma, said teammate Mark Martin kept him upbeat when Truex came close to winning a few times the past couple of years without going to Victory Lane.

"He's always complimentary," Truex said. "Mark would tell me, 'You're going to get on. Just keep doing what you're doing. Don't get discouraged when things don't go your way.' He was right."

Truex gets it. The victory changes everything, perception-wise.

"At the end of the day, this sport is all about performance," he said. "It's all about winning. That's what everybody talks about -- who's winning, who's not winning, who needs to win more.

"Honestly, that's what we talk about a lot [as a team] and lose sight of the fact that sometimes winning isn't everything. But you are judged on how many races you win. This is the toughest sport in the world, and the great drivers are the ones who win a lot. Hopefully, now we'll win some more."

-- Terry Blount

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Kes at Kentucky

SPARTA, Ky. -- The perception by many fans is that Brad Keselowski isn't racing as well as he did one year ago when he won the title. Is it true?

Entering the Kentucky race last year, which he won, Keselowski had one victory and ranked 10th in the standings. He's ninth in the standings now but doesn't have a win.

"We could very easily have two wins," Keselowski said. "Had one or two yellows not come out when they did, we're sitting here with two or three wins and would be in the exact same spot we were at this point last year.

"I guess that's why I'm not panicked, and I don't feel any panic inside our team. We still need to execute at a higher level, but I know it's there."

Keselowski likes his chances to repeat Saturday night.

"This is one of the few tracks where I feel I have a heads-up on the field," he said. "There's no driver that has more experience here than me. And I think I'm slightly up on most of them because I have several Nationwide starts here. That leads to some of my comfort here."

Keselowski is racing in all three events at Kentucky this weekend, but he isn't sure it makes much difference as far as the teams sharing information.

"Trying to get all three teams to work together is like herding cats."

-- Terry Blount

JJ's turn at Kentucky?

Jimmie Johnson was asked how he feels when he goes to a track where he hasn't won, like Kentucky.

"It gets me excited," he said. "There are five tracks left that I haven't won at. I've been very close here. I've been very close at Michigan. I've been very close at Chicago. So, I hope we can get one or two of them this year. I would love to start here.

"I really like the track now. Last year we qualified on the pole and were very competitive in the race [finishing sixth]. Where the dislike came was through my Nationwide days. I tore up a few cars here."

-- Terry Blount

Rain in the forecast?

According to the meteorologists, Saturday's race has a 50-50 shot. The forecast for Sparta, Ky., Saturday night calls for a 50 percent chance of scattered thunder showers.

Friday afternoon was clear skies with hot and humid conditions and temperatures in the upper 80s.

Obviously, NASCAR would race here on Sunday, probably early afternoon, if rain halted things Saturday night.

-- Terry Blount

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End of an era

If you're the least bit nostalgic, Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway could make you a little sad.

For the first time in 42 years, a Cup race will take place without anyone named Petty or Labonte in the field.

That just ain't right, but time marches on. The last time in happened was 1971 when Richard Petty skipped two of the 48 events, the year before the so-called modern era began.

Every NASCAR season in history, dating back to its birth in 1949, has had a Petty and Labonte involved as a driver.

This race will be the first time in 35 years NASCAR has a Cup race without a Labonte in the field. Bobby Labonte, 49 and the 2000 Cup champion, started 704 consecutive races (dating back to 1993) but doesn't have a ride this weekend.

Actually, Bobby could have raced in a start-and-park-type car. He had a couple of options, but to his credit, he declined.

Big brother Terry Labonte, 56 and a two-time Cup champ, raced in 655 consecutive Cup events until his streak came to an end in 2000, but he has competed in at least two Cup events for 36 consecutive years, including three this year.

A member of the Petty family (Lee, Richard, Kyle or Adam) raced in a Cup event in 60 consecutive seasons -- 1949 through 2008.

These two iconic NASCAR families account for 13 Cup championships and 305 Cup victories.

It had to end sometime, and it comes at a track where none of them ever raced except Bobby.

-- Terry Blount

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Trucks at Eldora: Cool or dumb?

Brad Keselowski was asked his thoughts about the upcoming Camping World Truck Series race on the dirt track at Eldora July 24.

"The drivers and teams feel like that race is going to go one of two ways," Keselowski said. "It's either going to be by far the coolest thing we've ever done, or the dumbest thing we've ever done and the worst thing we've seen in NASCAR.

"I don't think there's any in-between, but I'll be in the grandstands eating a snow cone and smiling either way."

Keselowski's two trucks will be driven by the Blaney family at Eldora -- Dave Blaney in one and his son, Ryan Blaney, in the other.

-- Terry Blount

Kyle's Nationwide take

Kyle Busch was asked how he would feel about a rule that would keep Cup drivers from racing on Cup-backed teams in the Nationwide Series.

"I don't mind that idea," Busch said. "I tried it last year with my team and it was fine."

However, Busch didn't win a Nationwide race in 2012 while driving for his own team. Entering Friday's night race, he had won six times this season driving in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment.

"But I felt like we had made a lot of gains throughout the year," Busch said of his 2012 effort with his own team. "And late in the year, my worst finish was 10th at Montreal and I got wrecked three times in that race. All the rest of the finishes were sixth, eighth, second, third, fourth and anywhere in between.

"There are things you have to have go right, but there is no doubt we did had good enough stuff. So I wouldn't mind racing my own stuff again. That would be fine."

-- Terry Blount

Top-10 two-timers

Five drivers have finished in the top 10 in both Kentucky Cup races -- Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.

Keselowski, who won here last year, has the best average finish at 4.0 (he finished sixth in the first Kentucky Cup race). But he was driving a Dodge in those races. He's in a Ford now.

Kenseth also has moved on to Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota after many years with Jack Roush and Ford.

However, this race is new for everybody because it's the first Kentucky event in the Gen-6.

Busch, who won the inaugural event, finished 10th last year. Johnson's average finish is 4.5 -- third in 2011 and sixth last year.

-- Terry Blount

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Licensed to drive … finally

Russ Smith is extremely popular in this state as a starting guard who helped lead the Louisville Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA championship.

He also is the man Louisville selected to represent the team this weekend at Kentucky Speedway, an interesting choice for a racing event since Smith never had a driver's license until earlier this year.

Growing up in Brooklyn, he just never really needed one, but he finally took the driving test and got his license at age 22.

"I think I barely passed," he said. "I messed up on a couple of things. I made a U-turn and forgot to turn on my blinker."

Smith came to the track Thursday to give Brian Vickers a Louisville basketball jersey with Vickers' name on it. Vickers is driving a Louisville-themed car this weekend in the No. 55 Toyota.

Smith was asked if he has a favorite NASCAR driver.

"I have to root for Brian now," he said. "But the only other driver I knew was Jeff Gordon from his commercial. As fast as he was going [in the Chevy dealership test drive ad] I probably would have opened the door to get him to slow down. I really don't like to drive fast."

You might be surprised to learn Smith's favorite athlete isn't a basketball player: "I really like Aaron Rodgers," he said.

-- Terry Blount

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