Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski dominates, but Joey Logano is race leader halfway at Kentucky

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Joey Logano beat Team Penske teammate and race pole-sitter Brad Keselowski off pit road during a caution for debris on Lap 127 and is still at the front of the field at the halfway point of Saturday’s 267-lap Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

It was the second time Logano had beaten his teammate off pit road to assume the lead in the race. But there’s no overlooking the fact that Keselowski dominated most of the first half of the race, leading all but 13 of the first 133 laps.

Keselowski is in pursuit of his second win in the four Sprint Cup races held to date at Kentucky, having won in 2012.

Behind race leader Logano were Keselowski in second, Ryan Newman in third, Kyle Busch in fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger.

Keselowski had held on to the lead from the start, pacing the field for the first 79 laps.

Kyle Busch, who hoped to earn his second win of the weekend (he won Thursday’s Camping World Truck Series race), started 18th but worked his way into the top 10 fairly quickly.

By Lap 50, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle were running 26th and 27th, making no progress from their original qualifying spots of 23rd and 24th, respectively.

The first caution of the race came on Lap 29 when Denny Hamlin suffered a blown tire that threw his Toyota into the Turn 4 wall and caused extensive damage to his Camry.

As a result, NASCAR chose to make that slowdown in the action to serve as a scheduled competition caution that was due to come on Lap 30 because of rain that had been forecast for the area (but did not come).

“I didn’t expect that at all,” Hamlin told TNT. I just heard it pop. It was very reminiscent of last year. … I wish we could have seen how far we could have went into the night.”

On Lap 77, rookie Kyle Larson suffered a similar fate to Hamlin, bringing out the caution when his car appeared to lose a tire and wrecked coming out of Turn 1, also sustaining significant damage.

“I blew a right front,” Larson said. “We were hoping for a big points day before we go to Daytona, where it’s a real crap shoot.

“Oh well, we’ll go to Daytona and try to rebound and gain some more points. … I guess I just used up my tires too much.”

On the resulting pit stop, as he has several times already this season, Kevin Harvick – who won Friday’s Nationwide Series race – once again was victimized by costly mistakes by his pit crew. He came onto pit road in second position, but a dropped lug nut extended Harvick’s stay in the pits and he exited 16th.

Also under that same caution, Keselowski lost the lead for the first time of the evening when Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano beat Keselowski out off pit road.

Logano led five laps under caution but Keselowski regained the lead spot for nearly a lap before Logano took back the advantage. Keselowski then bounced back on Lap 88 and once again began the same kind of domination he showed in the first 79 laps around the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

The third caution of the night occurred on Lap 127 for debris. Logano once again emerged in the lead, while Keselowski left pit road having dropped from the race lead to fourth.

Also on that stop, Jeff Gordon suffered a rare air gun failure, dropping him from seventh to 24th.

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Optimism abounds with new INDYCAR media partnership

Photo: IndyCar
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Wednesday morning’s announcement that NBC Sports Group will become the exclusive home to the Verizon IndyCar Series via TV, digital, streaming, and direct-to-consumer rights was the conclusion of a long and thorough process to finalize a media partnership that can build on the recent growth of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

And CEO of Hulman & Company Mark Miles believes the final outcome is one everyone can be happy about.

“We’re delighted by every aspect of this announcement today and these arrangements,” Miles asserted in a media teleconference on Wednesday, also making note of a number of highlights about the new media package. “The increase in broadcast, the number of races on broadcast, is really important to the continued growth of the series. The continuity with one media partner who is committed to the sport and to INDYCAR, who can help promote from race to race to race to race throughout the season is important. Having our first product, if you will, our first offering to fans in the direct-to-consumer channel is important to us.”

Miles added, “It met our objectives of increasing the exposure of the sport, increasing the promotion of the sport, and getting us into the over-the-top (streaming) market. We couldn’t be more pleased.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

John Miller, president of programing for NBC Sports and NBCSN, echoed Miles’ enthusiasm and noted that INDYCAR viewership on NBCSN has grown substantially in recent years, and this new and enhanced partnership, which will feature the 103rd Indianapolis 500 broadcast on NBC in 2019, will build upon that.

“From the NBC perspective, we’ve seen the growth of IndyCar on our cable network NBCSN. We’ve had sustained growth each of the past several years. So the opportunity to have the entire series was very important to us. Of course, to be able to do the crown jewel, the Indy 500 on NBC, really puts the icing on the cake for us and makes our championship season portfolio even stronger,” Miller said.

James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, added that this will also help the individual drivers grow their brands and attract more sponsorship opportunities.

“As drivers, we’re out there risking our lives to put on a good show,” Hinchcliffe said. “The more people that get to see it, get entertained by it, the better it is for us. As athletes, we’re all individual brands in and of ourselves. Getting ourselves in front of more people, it raises our value to our current partners and potential partners. From every element, this is a huge win across the board.”

The sponsorship angle is a critical side-piece to the new media contract, especially in light of several new sponorship announcements for a number of IndyCar teams as well as IndyCar’s ongoing effort to find a new title sponsor for the series in 2019.

Miles further emphasized that new media partnership will do a lot to serve the business of the teams, drivers, and the series in regards to sponsorship.

“I think it’s important to the entirety of the IndyCar ecosystem,” Miles noted. “For the series itself, at some point we should talk about our sponsorship effort, how we think they’re going to be benefited with this relationship. James earlier talked about our drivers or athletes, and they are individual brands. They’ll get more exposure. That will be good for them.

“We earlier this morning spoke to our team owners. They’re enthusiastic about it as it gives them more to say in the marketplace, more value. Certainly that will be true for our promoters of the races as well.”

A few highlights of the partnership are below.

  • Eight races will be broadcast on NBC, including the Indianapolis 500. The remaining races will be broadcast on NBCSN.
  • Qualifying and practice for all events will also be available live, either through NBC, NBCSN,NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports App, or NBC Sports Gold an over-the-top streaming service offered by NBC.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also feature extra content to further supplement IndyCar coverage such as archived races and full event replays. Further information about that content will be revealed in the coming months.
  • Details about international coverage are pending.
  • NBC Sports Gold will also do a handful of exclusive live broadcasts for practice and qualifying sessions that are not televised.
  • NBC Sports Gold will do live broadcasts for all Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races. More details about coverage for the Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires series will come at a later date.