NASCAR: Tough Kentucky track awaits Regan Smith this evening

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Seven races remain in the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series season, including tonight’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

And at 18 points behind championship leader and JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, the title is still a distinct possibility for one Regan Smith.

But much like Kyle Busch’s well-documented troubles at Kansas Speedway in Sprint Cup, Smith has a similarly rocky relationship with Kentucky on the Nationwide side.

As we mentioned yesterday, Smith has never finished higher than 12th (September 2013) in eight career Nationwide starts at the 1.5-mile oval between Cincinnati and Louisville. His average finish there: An anemic 26th.

Smith finished 28th in the Nationwide Series’ visit to Kentucky this past June after getting caught in a late-race crash. If he wants to have a chance at overtaking Elliott and winning this year’s championship, he cannot afford a calamity like that in tonight’s race.

Throughout the season, both JRM men have been steady in their performance. But while each of them have at least 20 Top-10 finishes in 2014 – Smith with 22, Elliott with 20 – it’s been Elliott that had claimed the bigger results with three wins to Smith’s one and 12 Top-5 finishes to Smith’s six.

That difference has added up to the 18-point cushion Elliott enjoys now as the championship has become a two-horse race (although tonight’s pole sitter, Ty Dillon, may have something to say about that).

Tonight, Elliott and Smith will start together in Row 5. With time running out, Smith has to start banking finishes ahead of his rookie counterpart to cut into his deficit.

And it has to start tonight on a track that has never been kind to him.

“It’s so tough without somebody having a problem to make points up the way the structure is, and the way the races play out in the Nationwide Series,” Smith said earlier this week. “If you’re making up three or four points a week, that’s been a good day. And that’s the way you have to look at it.

“I would say there is probably four or five of us that still have a shot at [the championship]. Realistically, maybe a couple of those guys need some bad luck from cars ahead of them. If somebody rolls off three or four wins in a row, those bonus points are huge and you’re going to jump right back up into it pretty quickly.”

F1 aggressive on COVID-19 testing, social distancing enforcement

F1 COVID-19 testing
Mario Renzi - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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With big hugs and wide smiles, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown exuberantly celebrated the first podium finish of Lando Norris’ Formula One career. His exuberance earned a warning from Formula One and FIA officials during the era of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent F1 testing.

“Obviously I got excited with Lando on the podium and embraced him after the race,” Brown said with a laugh during a news conference Friday. “You get caught up in the emotion and excitement of the event, but it was suggested maybe I don’t do that again if we get a podium anytime soon.”

MASK WARNING: NASCAR tells teams to avoid ‘complacency’

Now in its second race weekend of 2020, F1 has taken an aggressive approach to maintain a paddock free of COVID-19. Before teams hit the track last week for the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix, F1 and FIA officials said more than 4,000 tests were conducted over a week with no positive tests.

In order to enter the track, any F1 personnel (which includes drivers and team members) must have a negative COVID-19 test. Private testing was used ahead of those traveling to Austria. After entering the track, personnel are tested every five days with private medical teams at events along with extra screening.

The results of F1 COVID-19 testing also will be made public every seven days. More than 8,000 tests were conducted through Saturday.

It’s a much different tack from NASCAR and IndyCar, neither of which is conducting COVID-19 testing (and with NASCAR recently distributing that warned teams of “complacency with protocols).

Though Brown, who also oversees Arrow McLaren SP Motorsports in IndyCar, demurred when asked whether the U.S.-based series should be taking a cue, he praised F1 COVID-19 testing for being a best-in-class example.

“I don’t know exactly what every other racing series is doing, so it would be difficult for me to say they’re doing it right or wrong,” Brown said from Austria. “All I can really do is speak to what Formula One is doing, and they’re doing an unbelievable job with 5,000 tests, and people flying in from different parts of the world. The minute that someone — and there’s not been many instances – has taken a mask off, you’re getting a letter or a phone call saying put your mask back on.

“I think all sports should be looking at all sports and seeing who’s doing what and what are our best practices, but I’ve got nothing but great things to say about how the FIA and Formula One and the countries they’re racing in are executing because it feels extremely safe here.”

Brown said it’s unlikely the European-based circuit will do F1 COVID-19 testing at races in the United States, Brazil, Mexico and Canada because the events likely will be scrubbed. Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, was scheduled to play host to F1 on the Oct. 23-25 race weekend but just canceled its MotoGP race.

“We’d very much like to race at all those circuits,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, my opinion is it’s probably unlikely we’ll race at any of those venues this year. That’s obviously due to the COVID situation. … Let’s see what happens, but certainly it seems like the spikes in Texas are pretty severe and Brazil and Mexico and Canada a little less so. But if we miss them this year, we certainly look forward to going back to those venues next year.”