Panthers LB Luke Kuechly gets his pace car certification at Charlotte Motor Speedway

jutter@charlotteobserver.comMay 15, 2014 

— Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly got the opportunity Thursday to do something at Charlotte Motor Speedway not even available to NASCAR drivers – get on the track.

While both Truck series practices were washed out, Kuechly was able to get his certification in preparation for his role as honorary pace car driver for Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

After some quick instructions from pace car driver Buster Auton, Kuechly drove the Toyota Camry around the track in a light rain for several laps.

Kuechly then moved to the passenger seat as NASCAR driver Kyle Busch took him around the track in what apparently was faster conditions.

“I took it around the few times and I think we got to about 65, 70 (mph) – that was good enough for me,” Kuechly said. “It was a lot of fun, especially through the turns. Even though it was raining, it was sticking pretty good.”

Kuechly, named defensive player of the year last season by The Associated Press, attended his first NASCAR race last May at CMS as a guest of speedway President Marcus Smith.

Before Kuechly’s pace car orientation, Sprint Cup series rookie Austin Dillon, who also will compete in Friday night’s Truck race, spent a few minutes talking with Kuechly and got his “lucky Panthers hat” autographed.

“Luke does such a great job on the field. He’s such a great role model for the kids in our area,” Dillon said. “I love watching him play football. He shows a lot of heart on the field.”

See even more trucks: In addition to the Truck series race Friday night at CMS, the zMax Dragway will host the Shell Rotella SuperRigs competition – a “beauty contest” for actively working trucks.

Owner/operator truckers from across the United States and Canada will compete for cash and prizes valued at more than $25,000. Twelve drivers also will be selected to have their truck featured in the 2015 Shell Rotella SuperRigs calendar.

Cup driver Joey Logano will take part in a 30-minute autograph session at noon Friday at the dragstrip.

In addition to judging in 12 categories, the trucks also will participate in a “truck parade” around CMS before Friday night’s Sprint Showdown race. Admission is free to the truck competition.

NASCAR plans automated pit road: Beginning in 2015, NASCAR will implement automated pit road officiating technology, becoming the first sport to do so.

This technology will be used on every lap, Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president for racing operations, announced this week. Testing of the technology is under way.

The technology will employ numerous video cameras, which will be mounted to inspect and gather data in real time from all areas of pit road.

Lofton returns to site of win: Justin Lofton, whose only Truck series victory came at Charlotte during 2012, will make his first start of the season Friday with NTS Motorsports.

Lofton also is scheduled to run June 6 at Texas and Sept. 27 at Las Vegas with the team.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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