The ongoing battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship visits the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway tonight for the sixth and final stand-alone event of the 2013 NNS calendar.
With the Sprint Cup regulars all in New Hampshire, the main focus will be on Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon, who are first and second in the NNS standings respectively, separated by 17 points.
Both have three NNS starts at Kentucky, but Dillon has the stronger record with two wins and a sixth place result earlier this year. However, Hornish hasn’t been a backmarker, either, with results of sixth, second and ninth in his three runs at the facility outside Cincinnati.
With the season winding down, a victory would be critical for either driver. But it might be even more important for the likes of Regan Smith (-36 points) and Elliott Sadler (-44 points), who need to start cutting into their deficits to Hornish and Dillon if they want to stand a chance at the NNS crown.
Sadler, in particular, took a major hit last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway when he was tagged from behind; the incident helped relegate him to a 19th-place finish, and more importantly, caused him to lose 16 points to Hornish.
That has forced Sadler and his team to take a more aggressive tack going forward.
“[Hornish and Dillon] are probably going to play off each other a lot I think in the next couple weeks…When one pits, I think you’ll see the other one pit and they’ll be racing kind of each other,” Sadler explained Friday at Kentucky.
“So what we have to do is we do the opposite. If they take four [tires], we need to take two. If they’re going to be conservative on gas, maybe we need to try to stretch it on gas, because we’re in a little bit different situation than they’re in.”
Meanwhile, Hornish will be seeking a more balanced strategy tonight in Kentucky.
“We still have a little room for improvement in terms of getting the car where we need it to be at the end of the race, so we can go after the win,” Hornish said in a Penske Racing statement.
“We have to be smart and yet still have the tempered aggression that it takes to win. The points battle is so close that we have to be mindful of whom we are racing. We’ve come a long way, but a lot can happen over the next seven races.”