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The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series roars into Kentucky this weekend, a state also known for its horsepower. Like NASCAR, horsepower was so important to Kentucky that the legendary Daniel Boone reportedly introduced a bill to “improve the breed of horses” at the state’s first legislative session.
Boone and the state of Kentucky were talking about the four-legged kind of horsepower. But, come Saturday night, millions of fans will be watching as NASCAR shows its horsepower, the four-wheeled kind, on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tri-oval in Sparta. The circuit is only making its third visit to the Bluegrass State track where Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s team have never won – one of five on the circuit they have failed to conquer. Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International and Homestead-Miami Speedway are the others. However, Johnson has finished in the top-10 in both previous visits to Kentucky – third in 2011 and sixth last year.
Despite the good finishes, Johnson knows this weekend is no time to rest with only 10 races left before the start of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. His three wins this season make him the top seed for the Chase. Matt Kenseth also has three wins but Johnson wins the tiebreaker with a next-best finish of second to Kenseth’s next-best finish of sixth. But the five-time champion Johnson knows it’s time to giddyup, not rein in the horses this weekend in Kentucky. His thoughts:
You’ve only been in Kentucky twice and this year, there’s the added element of a new car. What are going to be the biggest challenges?
“I think, how rough the surface is. It’s going to be tough on the front-end setup of the car and trying to balance that fine line about how much splitter contact you can have. Obviously, the lower the splitter is, the more downforce the car creates, the faster the car is going to be. So there’s going to be a fine line there. You’re not going to make the car happy. It’s going to drag the splitter. It’s going to bounce up the track. But finding that sweet spot is going to be key.”
What are you looking forward to about Kentucky?
“I love how much character that racetrack has. It’s so rough. The groove moves around and you really are just trying to dodge the big swells and bumps to find grip for your racecar. It’s a track I didn’t have a lot of success at in the Nationwide Series, and even going there to test before my Cup career really started. We tested there a lot and I crashed all the time. When the racetrack was back on the schedule, I got pretty nervous about things, but I’ve had a couple of good runs and look forward to going back.”