The newly repaved and reconfigured Kentucky Speedway was rough on several drivers throughout the field, from champions on down, but for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookies, the track really had it out for them on Saturday night, as four of the five rookies would run into major trouble.
The rookies were holding their own in the early going, but on lap 89, the first set of rookies would suffer Kentucky’s wrath. Ryan Blaney’s car got loose in Turn 3 on lap 89, making contact with his rookie counterpart , Chase Elliott, sending both cars for a spin into the wall. Both drivers would have to go to the garage for repairs, but would return to the race eventually. Elliott would finish 31st, 57 laps down, while Blaney ended the night 35th, 124 laps down.
“That restart was pretty hectic from the beginning with the 78 getting loose and it kind of put everybody in a bad spot, and it wound up with us being in the middle of three-wide into three. It’s so hard to get into that corner all night with a car close to behind you and outside of you, and no one lifting either, and it’s just an unfortunate spot we got put in and I hate to see two really good cars tore up. We were both very fast tonight (24 and 21) and it’s just a really unfortunate deal, but we’ll try to get it fixed and get back out there and make some laps,” said Blaney.
Just three laps later, two more rookies would run into trouble. Brian Scott got loose off of Turn 2 on lap 94 and looked to have it saved before Kyle Larson got into the back of his car and sent him spinning. Scott would spin right in front of rookie Chris Buescher and Buescher made a heavy impact with Scott’s spinning car, causing severe damage to the front end of his car. Both Scott and Buescher would go to the garage, with Scott getting his car repaired to get back on track to make some more laps to finish 33rd, 116 laps down. Buescher wasn’t as lucky as he was done for the night and finished 37th, 175 laps down.
“The 11 was pretty tight on my door and I had the 42 up my bumper there on that restart and these cars are pretty difficult to drive when you’re in that type of situation. I was expecting it and when it happened I thought I had it saved. I was just trying to gather it back up and lose the spots we were gonna lose, but go on and then some cars barreled in pretty fast from behind and caused a pile up. It started with me. It’s a product of new paves. You just don’t have any room and everybody holds each other really tight, and it’s just difficult. This low downforce package is racing really well, but it doesn’t really matter what downforce package you have when you’ve got two cars really tight on you from behind and on the side you just have no air on your car and there was nothing I could do,” said Scott.
“I was really happy with our Love’s Ford Fusion. Our fire-off speed was excellent and this was the best car we’ve had all year. The guys did a heck of a job. Unfortunately, the call was made to run practice during our qualifying time and we started by points. We’ve had three of these situations at superspeedways already this year and just didn’t put us in a good place for the start and the pit selection wasn’t good because of it, and we ended up in a bad spot because of it. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Buescher said.
As far as the fifth rookie in the field, Jeffrey Earnhardt, he managed to stay out of trouble throughout the night to score a 28th place finish, five laps down to race winner Brad Keselowski. The finish is the best of the season for Earnhardt, who had a previous best finish of 32nd at Bristol.