Kentucky Speedway June Nationwide Series race to promote program encouraging use of designated drivers

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It’s rare that someone is happy to get or pay a traffic ticket from a state trooper.

But thousands of NASCAR fans will gladly fork out their hard-earned money for a different kind of ticket, yet one that carries the same kind of meaning as many of the tickets that police across the U.S. issue countless times each day.

The Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, which includes the Kentucky State Police, will be the title sponsor of the June 27 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway, track officials announced Wednesday.

The John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 will continue a partnership between the track and the highway safety department’s HERO program, which promotes the use of designated drivers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly a third of the more than 10,000 U.S. traffic-related deaths involve alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elliott was a Navy Ensign and U.S. Naval Academy graduate who was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in July 2000 while traveling home to New Jersey from Annapolis, Md., to celebrate his mother Muriel’s birthday.

The driver of the car that struck Elliott’s had previously been arrested on another DUI charge, and was killed in the same wreck that took Ensign Elliott’s life.

Elliott’s parents, Bill and Muriel, established the national HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers. It’s motto is: “Our goal is to end drunk driving by making the use of designated drivers be as automatic as wearing a seatbelt.”

“Kentucky Speedway has been a long time partner with the Office of Highway Safety. Together we saved lives with the seatbelt campaign and we are excited to save even more by reminding people to drive sober, and be a HERO,” Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said in a media release. “It’s good to know that people’s lives are being saved with this program.”

The Friday night (June 27)  race will be part of a NASCAR tripleheader weekend at the 1.5-mile track, with the Camping World Truck Series having at it on Thursday, June 26, and the main event, the Sprint Cup Series event on Saturday, June 28.

To learn more about the HERO program, click on the video below.

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Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.