For the first time since September 30, 2001, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series contests it's first race at a venue. Rain has put Kyle Busch on the pole for tonight's Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway. Busch was awarded the pole by virtue of having the fastest lap during practice. He will share the front row with Juan Pablo Montoya. Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Jimmie Johnson round out the top-10 starters.
Joey Logano, arguably the favorite in tonight's race by virtue of his three-straight Nationwide wins from 2008-10, rolls off from the 15th position. Last night's Nationwide victor, Brad Keselowski, starts sixth.
Some stories to watch in the inaugural Quaker State 400:
Jeff Gordon has been first in the first three times; can he make it four? Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, then opened the California Speedway and the Kansas Speedway with wins in 1997 and 2001, respectively. He is attempting to become the first driver to open Sprint Cup racing at four venues as the victor.
Will Carl Edwards phsyical fitness come into play? Edwards has appeared on the cover of Men's Health and other magazines - usually bare-chested - to display his immense physical fitness. Though the race is run under night skies, temperatures and track conditions - the Kentucky Speedway is a very bumpy facility - could create a 400-mile marathon of physical endurance. Such a scenario could play into Edwards' hands as he looks to reclaim the point lead from Kevin Harvick.
Speaking of Harvick, he won the inaugural Nationwide race in 2001. What about the Cup race? He starts 19th tonight, eight spots worse than his starting position in that first Nationwide event at Kentucky. He made it to the front with plenty of time to spare though, leading 131 laps essentially uncontested after Jeff Green crashed. The new Sprint Cup leader also won the inaugural Sprint Cup race at the Chicagoland Speedway that same year.
Can David (Gilliland) beat the Goliaths again? Gilliland stunned the racing world by taking an under-funded startup race team to victory in the 2006 Nationwide race at Kentucky. The win christened the Californian as NASCAR's next big superstar, promise that has gone far unfulfilled since. A victory, especially from his 35th-place starting position, is almost as unlikely as a win could be, but one can never say never in the world of big-time auto racing.
Does Kentucky impress in its opening race? Inaugural events tend to fall under one of two categories: wreckfests or mind-numbingly dull. Sprint Cup's most recent openers, in 2001 at Chicago and Kansas, were each marred by double-digit caution numbers. The first Cup events at Fontana, Las Vegas, and Homestead, meanwhile, are routinely prescribed for insomnia. Kentucky isn't brand-new and it's higher banks promote better racing than Homestead's almost-flat surface did in 1999, which should hopefully lead to an intriguing, entertaining race.