Championship contenders Kligerman, Coulter, Dillon, and Peters comment on their Kentucky runs along with Brian Scott.
Much like their fellow NASCAR drivers who are deservedly spending the season's final off-week relaxing on a beach or jet-setting to some exotic location, Landon Cassill and Josh Wise are using the rare downtime to travel and enjoy the scenic Austrian Alps. The difference, however, is that these two Sprint Cup drivers won't be sightseeing or taking leisurely day hikes. They will be experiencing one of the world's most beautiful regions while competing in the elite Ironman 70.3 World Championships at Zell am See-Kaprun outside Salzburg, Austria on Sunday. Their breathtaking views will be just that as they swim 1.2-miles in Lake Zell, bike 56 miles through the glacier-tipped Alps and then finish with a 13.1-mile run along the lakeshore and through the area's small villages in one of the world's most grueling and prestigious physical competitions. "When we looked at the schedule both of us had aspirations to qualify for the 70.3 or Kona (Ironman 140.6 in Hawaii)," explained Wise. "The Worlds happened to fall on our last off weekend and there was a qualifier on the next to last off weekend. "It looked like this is a once in a lifetime chance. It's a bucket list goal just to qualify, but to have opportunity to do Austria was super special and it just felt like it was meant to be." But not without a lot of work. Anyone who still dismisses the athletic ability of NASCAR drivers would have a losing argument when it comes to the training regimen of Cassill, 26, and Wise, 32, who have taken their dedication to fitness and competition to a new level. RELATED: Johnson: 'If you want to be fast, you've got to suffer' More often than not, these two drivers show up at the race track having already swam, biked or run for miles and hours before some of their competitors have even rolled out of bed. Their dedication and commitment means a 5 a.m. wake-up call even on race weekends and using a special "Swim Radar" app to find a public pool near the race track that's open early enough and will allow them to swim. They've done their laps everywhere from the small town YMCA to the pool at Ohio State University. They strategically place their long bike rides as well and that can be tricky -- both finding a safe route close to the track and "not getting lost," Wise joked. They did a 60-mile bike ride after qualifying at Indianapolis this summer and squeezed in a 20-miler between practices at Pocono. Last week at Bristol, the two swam a mile and a half and ran five miles before the night race. Cassill did his World Cup qualifier in Muncie, Ind. during NASCAR's Kentucky Speedway race weekend, flying to Muncie after the Friday night XFINITY race, competing in the 70.3-mile triathalon Saturday morning then returning to Kentucky Speedway for the Cup race that night. "That was a little test of endurance," Cassill said. "Saturday morning I got my qualifying slot and flew back and raced Saturday night (at Bristol). I felt pretty good." Both Cassill and Wise say that competitive spirit lift is an important motivation for both. Driving for small, lower-funded Sprint Cup Series teams, they are admittedly not contending for wins every week. Success in the triathalons not only is a huge fitness benefit to them both, but gives them a sense of accomplishment and success. "I think a big part of the inspiration to do this has to do with obviously with the benefit of what it does for us in the car, but for us, we drive for small teams and we don't have a chance to win every race in a car and when you're doing that for 38 weeks in a row, it can get taxing," said Cassill, the 2008 XFINITY Series Rookie of the Year who now drives the No. 40 Hillman-Smith Chevrolet in the Cup Series and the No. 01 JD Motorsports Chevy in the XFINITY Series. "This is something for us, we can control and it really just helps that confidence in the garage just to know what we're capable of with our bodies and pushing ourselves to the limit. To me, it's a confidence builder." Wise, who scored a career-best 10th at Talladega in May driving the No. 98 Ford, agreed. "It's an amazing competitive outlet," he said. "There's not a lot of things that you can do that you have so much control over. It goes back to the alarm clock. Are you going to get up and get the swim in and the running before you go to work? It's your choice. With the sport we're in, people don't realize all the external factors there are that you can't control." "When our cars aren't driving right or we're communicating with our crew in the midst of battling with someone, I feel the mental gain from the type of work we do off the track even beyond the physical. "I'm far beyond physically where I need to be, but mentally I can still continue to push myself, my body and my brain to dig deeper. When you can overcome every cell in your body shutting you down and you have to mentally force your legs to pick up and move in a run, there is a mental strength that comes from that. "I feel there's a real specificity to what we do that applies to our type of racing." The benefits go beyond just them personally. "My team has so much confidence in me that although they may not see me during the week, they don't have a doubt in their mind that I'm still working; that I’m trying to make myself the fittest race car driver, the best race car driver I can be, focused and prepared," Cassill said. "It's important because when teams are fighting for sponsorship, tough finishes the wheels can come off and you want to instill in your team that you're doing everything you can." Their pursuit is not only recognized by their team members but in the garage and bigger NASCAR community as well. While these two drivers don’t typically generate the same racing headlines as their good friend and frequent training partner, six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson , they do have his great respect -- especially with this weekend's Ironman in Austria. "My hat is off to Josh and Landon," Johnson said. "They've put in the hard work. I've watched them get very serious about it. They are both faster than me (smiling) and I'm so proud of them." All three drivers are confident that this kind of extreme cross training will be more prevalent on the starting grid in coming years. It's a visibly growing group of cyclists that join Johnson, Wise and Cassill on the bike rides during race weekend downtime or meet up at a nearby public pool for some laps. " Jimmie Johnson , in my opinion, sparked that fire by winning six championships and being the fittest driver the sport has ever seen," Cassill said. "We are in some ways just copycatting what he did. Eventually, a lot of the drivers that have the skill -- and have had the success in the past -- but aren't consistently getting the success now are going to start getting pressure from their owners and sponsors that will say they're sick of getting of their butts kicked from these fit drivers, you need to do something. "I think in the next five to 10 years you're going to see a lot more of our drivers getting fitter and fitter," Cassill continued. "I think our sport is going to go through similar transition that golf saw and I compare our sport to golf because it's a skill sport. It takes a certain skill and technique to swing a golf club and it takes a certain skill and technique to drive a race car. It doesn't necessarily take athleticism to drive a race car or hit a golf ball, but athleticism enhances that skill." This weekend Cassill and Wise will be representing their sport on a world platform and just qualifying for the world championship in the midst of a busy and demanding NASCAR season is already a huge accomplishment. "There are a lot of cyclists in the garage and people that know what's going on. I had a lot of people asking me about this weekend at the Bristol race and crew members wishing me good luck," Cassill said. "Obviously a lot of text messages from my team wishing me good luck." "I'd love to set a new PR (personal record), I feel like I try to do that at every race. But just another finish would be a win. This is a very challenging event and this is a world championship event so the competition is a lot tougher than I've competed against."
In episode two of The Dirty Air Podcast, Chuck Bush, Matthew Dillner and Jonathan Merryman review the racing at Kentucky , pick which songs would make their jukebox trophies and talk a little Loudon as NASCAR heads to New Hampshire.
Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle each talk about the success of the changes in the aero package at Kentucky Speedway and the continued tweaks toward better racing.
Buescher thanks his team and sponsors after celebrating his Kentucky 201 win.
RELATED: Bristol results " Chase Grid " By the numbers since Busch's return With only two races left until the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, it's time to check in on Kyle Busch , driver of the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing , as he tries to rebound from missing 11 races to early season injuries and make the Chase. He is currently the only driver with multiple wins who has yet to mathematically clinch a spot in the Chase. WHAT JUST HAPPENED: Busch started second in Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, sharing the front row with pole-sitting teammate Denny Hamlin 's No. 11 Toyota. He followed a win in Friday night's green-white-checkered finish in the XFINITY Series with an eighth-place finish in the Sprint Cup race. A green-flag stop for a loose wheel and a penalty for speeding on pit road cost Busch a shot at winning the race despite leading the most laps, 192 of 500. WHAT HE NEEDS: Staying out of trouble remains a priority. Busch must remain in the top 30 in the drivers points standings and is in 29th after Bristol, 46 points ahead of 31st-place driver Cole Whitt . But after Saturday's race, Busch is closer to 28th place, just one point behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., who finished 21st at Bristol. There is a good chance Busch could lock up his Chase spot at Darlington next week. WHAT'S NEXT: The Sprint Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles' Southern 500 on Sept. 6 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "The Lady in Black" is a tough track to tame, and the low downforce package that teams ran at Kentucky Speedway will also be used at Darlington. Busch won at Kentucky and was among the drivers who raved about the new aero package. He also has one win at Darlington, in 2008, and has an average finish there of 13.6.
Catch up before the start of Saturday's Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET) What: Fifth annual Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts Where: Kentucky Speedway, 1.5-mile D-shaped oval in Sparta, Ky. When: Saturday, July 11, 2015 TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Distance: 267 laps (400.5 miles) Green Flag: 7:45 p.m. ET Competition Caution: Lap 25 Pit Road Speed: 45 mph Caution Car Speed: 55 mph Fuel Window: 50 laps On the front row " Complete lineup (Coors Light Pole Qualifying rained out; lineup set according to 2015 NASCAR Rule Book, based on opening practice speeds) 1. Kyle Larson , Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet 2. Brad Keselowski , Team Penske No. 2 Ford Failed to qualify Ryan Blaney , Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford; Michael McDowell , Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Ford; Travis Kvapil , The Motorsports Group No. 30 Chevrolet. Fastest in practice First Practice: Kyle Larson , Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet (182.537 mph) Final Practice: Kyle Larson , Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet (178.412 mph) Rules recap In case you missed it, Saturday's 400-miler will mark the first appearance of a new, lower-downforce rules package in race conditions. A shorter spoiler, a front splitter with less overhang, and a reduction in the length of the splitter extension panel (radiator pan) are expected to raise the demands on driver control. WATCH: Breaking down Kentucky's new rules package Dillon ready to return Austin Dillon proclaimed himself a little sore but in fine physical shape to race Friday afternoon, on the eve of his first event since his Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet took a wild tumble into the Daytona catch fencing at the end of the Coke Zero 400 . Dillon emerged unhurt and will start 11th in the Quaker State 400. "I feel pretty comfortable," Dillon said after opening Sprint Cup practice. "I think when you take a crash like that and you're as healthy as I feel, you feel pretty confident in the safety equipment that you have around you that you're ready to go, and run fast." RELATED: No. 88 crew recalls frenzy to reach Dillon Keselowski's corral In just four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in Kentucky Speedway's history, Brad Keselowski has managed to win two, making him the only multiple winner at the 1.5-mile track. He was consistent in Friday's pair of practices, placing second on the leaderboard both times. And he won Friday night's XFINITY Series event. "So far, I think we're off to a good start," Keselowski said after opening practice. "Of course, that's a little self-serving because we're fast, but I'm looking forward to finding out fully when we get to race time." MORE: Keselowski wins XFINITY race, gets coveted jukebox Gordon's void Four-time premier series champion Jeff Gordon has won at 22 of the 23 tracks currently on the Sprint Cup calendar, save for Saturday's venue at Kentucky Speedway. With his last chance to convert a victory for a clean career sweep of the schedule, Gordon has some extra motivation as his farewell tour continues. "It would be pretty cool if we pulled it off," said Gordon, who will start third in his Kentucky finale. GORDON: Close miss would be a heartbreaker History lesson NASCAR's premier series began racing at Kentucky Speedway in 2011, when Kyle Busch captured the inaugural checkered flag from the pole position. The 1.5-mile track has been a regular stop for other NASCAR national series, hosting the XFINITY tour since 2001 and the Camping World Truck Series since 2000. Speedway Motorsports, Inc., took ownership of the facility in 2008. Driver Rating Best driver rating average at Kentucky based on past four years: 1. Kyle Busch , 124.3 2. Jimmie Johnson , 116.6 3. Brad Keselowski , 116.1 Defending race winner Brad Keselowski , Team Penske No. 2 Ford Former Kentucky winners in the field Brad Keselowski (2); Kyle Busch , Matt Kenseth (1). FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Complete news and notes on all 43 cars in the Quaker State 400 RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Breaking down how the full 43-car field fared at Kentucky Speedway. 1. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Busch led a race-high 163 laps to win his second Cup event of the year and is 87 points outside the top 30. " MORE: How is Busch positioned for the Chase 2. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Logano paced the field 23 laps late on Saturday night, but couldn't hold on for his first Kentucky victory. " MORE: See the updated Chase Grid and where Logano is on it 3. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . A cut tire, an unexpected pit stop and a subsequent speeding penalty didn't deter Hamlin, who rallied from two laps down to earn his eighth top 10 of the year. " MORE: Kentucky rules package earns rave reviews 4. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . "My Minions didn't like M&Ms," Edwards radioed his team after lining up next to teammate and leader Kyle Busch for the Lap 157 restart. " RELATED: Sign up for RaceView for in-car audio during race. 5. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Kenseth reported early in the race that he had an alternator going down, but restarting the car seemed to fix the issue. " MORE: JGR pulls off rare feat at Kentucky 6. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . The outside pole sitter struggled on pit road, notably dropping nine spots after hitting his front-tire carrier during a stop under the fifth caution flag. 7. Jeff Gordon , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Gordon was shut out in his final Kentucky appearance, and despite a fifth straight top-10 result, the track will remain the only one where the four-time Cup champion is winless. " MORE: Gordon's track record 8. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . The points leader endured a late-race tight-handling condition to claim his Series-leading 16th top 10 of the year. 9. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . "You're back in this game, homeboy," crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson, who lined up seventh for the Lap 157 restart after some major early changes to his car dropped him deep in the lineup. " RELATED: Sign up for RaceView for in-car audio during race. 10. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Busch was loose running 10th and crashed into the Turn 4 wall on Lap 99 after asking his team to undo the changes they had made on a previous stop. 11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse just missed his second top 10 of the year after traveling up the track and into the side of Jeb Burton on Lap 143 to bring out the seventh caution. 12. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Despite radio communication issues, Almirola held on to earn his best Kentucky result. 13. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne earned the Lucky Dog on the fourth caution flag and rallied to sixth for the final restart. 14. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet. Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. McMurray overcame an early lugnut issue and used a little pit strategy to score his second-best Kentucky result. 15. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard brushed the wall on Lap 81 and left debris to bring out the third caution flag. 16. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle's team tried a variety of adjustments on Saturday in an attempt to help the turning of the No. 16 Ford. 17. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing . Despite a car that was "plowing," Truex held on to maintain fifth in the points standing. 18. David Ragan , No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing . Ragan ran in the top 10 early before his team started chasing the handling of his No. 55 Toyota. 19. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing . "This new package is awesome," radioed Bowyer, who earned his best 1.5-mile result of the season. "You have to drive your (rear) off, but it's fun." " RELATED: Sign up for RaceView for in-car audio during race. 20. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman, in his fifth Kentucky outing, stayed out to inherit the lead briefly for the Lap 192 restart. 21. Dale Earnhardt Jr ., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Earnhardt, complaining of a lack of brakes, smacked the wall on Lap 136 to bring out the sixth caution flag. After subsequently bumping Danica Patrick , Earnhardt spent time on pit road where his crew tried again to fix the issue. " WATCH: Danica, Dale Jr. tussle on pit road . 22. Sam Hornish Jr ., No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Hornish struggled with drive-off, but posted his fastest lap of the night just prior to the eighth caution flag on Lap 152. 23. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Mears was named the Lucky Dog after Jeb Burton tagged the wall on Lap 143 to bring out the seventh caution flag 24. Justin Allgaier , No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Allgaier had just returned to the lead lap after the Lap 122 caution when he was penalized for passing before the restart. 25. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Handling was an ongoing issue for Dillon, who reported to his team on Lap 220, "I feel like I'm trying to turn a bulldozer down into the corner." 26. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Allmendinger's team continually tinkered on the No. 47 Chevy, and he finished as the last car on the lead lap. 27. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne was running in the top 10 by the halfway point, but noticeably fell off the pace with 30 laps to go. 28. Landon Cassill , No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Smith Motorsports. Patience paid off for Cassill, who posted his best 1.5-mile result of the 2015 season. 29. David Gilliland , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Gilliland asked his team to check out his grille because his gauges were running hot on Lap 161. 30. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett lined up 29th in his second Kentucky appearance. 31. Alex Bowman , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Bowman had to play catch-up after his team was penalized for going over the wall too soon during the competition caution on Lap 32. 32. Brett Moffitt , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Moffitt, a Kentucky newcomer, earned the Lucky Dog pass heading into the Lap 192 restart. 33. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Stewart locked down his brakes briefly on Lap 143 and hit the wall while trying to avoid wrecking competitors in front of him. 34. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick spun on Lap 207 thanks to contact from a brake-less Earnhardt to bring out a record-tying 10th caution flag. She retaliated by hitting Earnhardt as the two entered pit road. " ALL ACCESS: Danica frustrated with Dale Jr. 35. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. A smoking left-rear tire prompted the pole sitter to pit unexpectedly with 52 laps to go. Upon returning to the track, he hit the wall to bring out a record-setting 11th caution flag. 36. Reed Sorenson , No. 62 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Sorenson drove the No. 62 for the first time this year in his first 1.5-mile start of the season. 37. Cole Whitt , No. 35 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Whitt was running 35th when left-rear tire rub prompted his car to start smoking around Lap 110. 38. Will Kimmel III , No. 32 Ford, Go FAS Racing. Kimmel lined up 40th in his Sprint Cup debut. 39. J.J. Yeley, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . A loose-handling condition prompted Yeley to spin in Turn 4 on Lap 122 and bring out the fifth caution flag of the night. 40. Alex Kennedy , No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport . Kennedy picked up a few spots after lining up 43rd in his first career Kentucky start. 41. Jeb Burton , No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing . The rookie was pushed into the wall by Ricky Stenhouse on Lap 143 to bring out the seventh caution flag. 42. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . DiBenedetto sustained damage during the Lap 143 wreck and retreated to the garage so his team could make repairs. 43. Josh Wise , No. 98 Ford, Premium Motorsports. Wise brought out the first caution on Lap 19 after J.J. Yeley pushed him into the wall. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
O'Donnell: 'Industry really cares and is really working together' NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that findings from Tuesday's Goodyear tire test at Darlington Raceway along with feedback from next weekend at Kentucky Speedway could be combined to come up with "a package that we may want to look at." Former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Matt Kenseth , Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart took part in the Darlington test three weeks after Greg Biffle , Clint Bowyer , Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman tested tires for the Bojangles' Southern 500 (Sept. 6, 7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) and a week ahead of extended practice for the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts (July 11, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM). "When we talked about Kentucky , we said we wanted to see how that played out, and there could be other events in the future that we wanted to look at so I'd say the work being done at Darlington is a potential tire that could match a package that we may want to look at," O'Donnell said. "We're by no means anywhere near a decision yet, but we wanted to be prepared coming out of Kentucky to see what if any levers we could pull." Last weekend at Sonoma, NASCAR and Goodyear monitored its new tire and the wear teams saw leading up to the race. Tire management saw side-by-side racing and led to strategy calls that decided the race. It was an example of track-specific packages to lead to better racing. "…it's a balance, and it's going to be race-by-race," O'Donnell said. "Obviously when you look at Kentucky , we want to see a tire with some wear there, but you've got to manage the speeds also. When we go to a track like Michigan or Atlanta, obviously if you get too soft, the speeds go way, way up so it's a balance for us to really match it with the aero and the engine package that you have so it'll be more track-specific as we go forward." O'Donnell noted that it continues to work with its official partner as well as the teams and manufacturers on finding the packages that provide the best racing. "…the softer tire so it is something we're working with the industry on," O'Donnell said. "Goodyear's been a terrific partner in putting that together. We've got all three of the OEMs working with us so we'll see how that goes in Darlington and then obviously how things play out in Kentucky as well." The Darlington test, along with next weekend's race at Kentucky , will help the industry understand the possibilities available for future packages. O'Donnell noted how the entire ecosystem has come together to put on the best show possible. "…we really wanted to get ahead of it, work together and also work on what could happen coming out of Kentucky ," O'Donnell said. "We've got a tentative plan that we're talking to teams about to see which way we can go at some different venues so it's been a lot of great collaboration. "The fans should know ultimately that we've got an industry that really cares and is really working together. Then ultimately we've got to make the right decisions that we think will put on the best racing possible." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Analyzing what happened and where things go from here RELATED: France: 'Definitely an improvement' " Drivers praise new rules package at Kentucky Saturday night's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with a new, lower-downforce rules package prompted almost as many questions as it answered at Kentucky Speedway, but in a good way. Based on its early reviews, the opening act could lead to potentially much wider use later this season and beyond. The blight of frequent rain severely curtailed practice time on the 1.5-mile track, making a small sample size even smaller before the rules package's race-time application in the Quaker State 400. Despite the scheduling difficulties, the weekend was capped by the most compelling intermediate-track race of the season. What was learned? What's next? Who benefited the most? Measuring outcomes or making predictions from Saturday night's show isn't an easy task, one that would benefit from the help of a Magic 8-Ball to provide the answers. With that, let's give it a shake: It is decidedly so: Passing increased -- a lot. What the package yielded was the most competitive event in the track's history, based on the number of lead changes and widespread passing -- more than double that in the previous year's Kentucky race -- throughout the pack. Chalk some of the statistics up to a track-record 11 caution periods and the frantic restarts -- with three- and four-wide racing -- that followed, but the rules package deserves the bulk of the credit. You may rely on it: Separation was still prevalent once drivers settled into a green-flag run, but the advantages of undisturbed "clean air" for a leading car was not nearly as pronounced. The decreased downforce prevented cars from being glued to the race track, placing an emphasis on driver control. With that factor at a premium and perfectly consistent lap times not easy to achieve, overtaking came more into play. Ask again later: The next stop for the reduced-downforce package comes Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway, but with what's expected to be a crucial variable -- a softer tire. Goodyear's production run of Kentucky tires was already complete by the time last weekend's rules change was announced, preventing a more exact match. By getting the downforce and tire compounds in sync for Labor Day weekend, the verdict on the rules package may be even more conclusive. MORE: Several tracks to see new rules packages in 2015 Cannot predict now: Are further changes coming? Could the package be used in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs? Possibly. Some crew chiefs expressed that NASCAR could go even further in chopping downforce, but that more will be learned with the softer tire compound at Darlington. As for the Chase, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell said last week that, "all options for us are still on the table." A rules change for the playoffs could be considered drastic, but the precedent for making bold moves has already been set midseason at Kentucky . RELATED: NASCAR executive discusses Kentucky rules package Outlook good: Two teams stood out from the rest in benefiting from the new package -- Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske . Their half-dozen cars made a clean sweep of the top six, leading all but five laps Saturday night. Race winner Kyle Busch was the most dominant, setting the pace for 163 of the 267 laps, but the show of strength didn't dampen the quality of the racing, both up front and in the pack. Reply hazy, try again: For whatever reason, Chevrolet teams in general struggled to find the right combination. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon drove the top-finishing Chevy to seventh place in his last Kentucky start. Don't count on it: NASCAR innovation standing pat? Not in this new era, where the decision-makers in the sanctioning body's R&D center actively seek feedback from drivers, whether in an organized council or otherwise. Their willingness to adapt and change injected life into Saturday night's racing, and the promise of track-specific packages offers even more potential. Signs point to yes: Based on the reaction of most drivers and most fans through social media, Saturday's race may best be remembered as a key building block to an improved on-track product on intermediate-sized tracks. Third-place finisher Denny Hamlin may have stated it best: "This is what race car driving's all about. And I feel like now it's back in the driver and crew chief's hands to get their car handling like it's supposed to, not just an arms race of who builds the fastest cars in the shop." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule