Rockingham’s return at hand

- By Seth Livingston­e USA TODAY

FORT WORTH — NASCAR returns to Rockingham Speedway for the first time since 2004 with Sunday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Richard Petty won 11 races at “The Rock.” Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth battled to the wire in the last Sprint Cup event there and remember it well.

“We had a really good car,” said Kahne, whose furious finish came up 0.01 second short. “I just needed another 100 feet or so.”

But reaching victory lane in the 2004 Cup race wasn’t Kenseth’s only Rockingham memory.

“We won our first NASCAR race there ever — the Busch Series race in 1998 — which was one of the most thrilling days in my racing life,” Kenseth recalled. “We wrapped up the (Cup) championsh­ip there in 2003.”

Kevin Harvick remembered Rockingham for another reason. He made his Cup debut there in February 2001, taking over Dale Earnhardt’s ride for owner Richard Childress a week after the legendary driver’s death. Steve Park won that day at Rockingham.

“That was a weekend of strange things and new beginnings and a lot of mixed emotions,” Harvick said. “It’s great that the track is still around and the trucks are going back. Those historic racetracks mean a lot to the sport, in my opinion.”

The North Carolina track once had two Cup races but lost both as NASCAR pushed into larger markets. It lost its first to Auto Club Speedway and the other to Texas Motor Speedway.

Kahne is the only Cup regular scheduled to drive Sunday on the mile oval Andy Hillenburg purchased at auction in 2007 with $4.4 million and a dream to revitalize it.

“I’ve never driven a truck there, but I’ve tested a lot of Cup cars there over the years,” Kahne said. “I’d say it’s going to be really similar to what the track was (in 2004). It’s really rough and slippery.”

Danica turns 30: Danica Patrick celebrated her 30th birthday March 25 during a two-week break for NASCAR’S Nationwide Series. “I’m OK with 30, I really am,” said Patrick, who will resume her first full-time NASCAR season today in the O’reilly Auto Parts 300. “Most of the people I’m around are older, so I’ll always be the youngest.” Patrick, with a best finish of 12th in five races, said of the break, “(It was a) never-ending birthday party. The next weekend, we went to Cabo (San Lucas). Last weekend, we went to Northern California. I’ve had a pretty nice time, I’d have to say.”

Briefly: Mark Martin had the fastest lap in Thursday’s Cup practice at 189.427 mph in his No. 55 Toyota. . . . Sam Hornish Jr. will drive a third Cup car for Penske Racing next week at Kansas Speedway and May 6 at Talladega Superspeed­way.

Other series in action

-NASCAR Nationwide Series: O’reilly Auto Parts 300, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth (8:30 p.m. ET today, ESPN2). Elliott Sadler (two wins) leads the season standings. Earnhardt and Hamlin are among Sprint Cup stars competing. -American Le Mans Series: Le Mans Series in Long Beach (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN2). -Form-la One: Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai (3 a.m. ET Sunday, Speed). Michael Schumacher won the 2006 race, the last of his record 91 wins. -NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200, Rockingham, N.C. (1 p.m. ET Sunday, Speed). The race is NASCAR’S first at the track since 2004. -Izod Indycar Series: Grand Prix of Long Beach, Long Beach. (4:15 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC Sports Network). Team Penske has won the season’s first two races with Helio Castroneve­s and Will Power. -NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series: Four-wide Nationals, zmax Dragway, Concord, N.C. (final eliminatio­ns, 7 p.m. ET Sunday, ESPN2). Last year, Del Worsham edged Larry Dixon by 0.0048 seconds in Top Fuel.

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