Gary Graves

SPARTA, Ky.: Rain Saturday night forced NASCAR to postpone the Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. The 400-mile event was rescheduled for today at noon.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start on the pole in a Chevy alongside Carl Edwards’ Ford.

It was the circuit’s first postponement since last year’s season-opening Daytona 500. The marquee event ran the following night for the first time in its history.

Today’s rescheduling creates the first day Cup race for the 1.5-mile oval after two events at night.

Showers were forecast all day around the state, which arrived around mid-afternoon with a heavy downpour followed by sporadic rain. NASCAR delayed the start and held out hope for a late start with jet driers on the track, but another band of rain led officials to postpone the race just after 9 p.m.

“We knew it would be touch-and-go and from early in the morning we were tracking the weather,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. “We dispatched the driers and they stayed out ahead of it, but the weather cells never did move out of the area and they looked like they would linger.

“It’s a 90-minute to two-hour window with the best of conditions, and once it reached around 9 p.m. and it was still raining and in the forecast, we made the decision we thought was best.”

Calipari enjoys thrill ride

The only thing threatening to keep Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari from driving the (fast) lane before Saturday night’s NASCAR race was rain.

Initially slated to ride shotgun as the honorary pace car driver for the 400-mile Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, Calipari was asked to drive the Ford Fusion leading the 43-car field to the green flag.

Calipari agreed and received crash-course instruction from Cup driver Kurt Busch, whose 90-mph splits in the rain around the 1.5-mile oval had the coach “white-knuckled” and holding on tightly on the passenger side. Fortunately for Calipari, he only has to drive a more comfortable 45 mph ahead of the field.

The question was whether Calipari’s dream would be stopped by showers that threatened to delay the scheduled start.

“I just want the rain to clear so I can get out there and do a couple of laps,” said Calipari, expressing confidence that it would.

Besides instruction from the 2004 Cup champion, Calipari got a specially-made racing jacket embroidered with the terms “eight-time” — referring to Kentucky’s eight national championships — and his trademark “Refuse to Lose” slogan.

Drivers also signed the jacket, which will be auctioned for charity.

“I did it like a driver would have,” he said.

Calipari seemed happier at the prospect of being an active participant in NASCAR, a sport Calipari said he has followed since his days at the University of Massachusetts.

The process involved going on the thrill ride of his life.

“When I went 45 (mph), I wasn’t nervous,” Calipari said, “but when he (Busch) was going 90 and 100 (mph) in that rain, all these grooves are great, I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh.’

“I had one arm on the mirror grabbing it, and the other hand was on the window. He was flying, for me.

‘‘These guys are used to it, but it was fast. And it was raining.”

Nationwide

Brad Keselowski took his final lead on the 156th lap and went on to a rain-shortened victory Friday night in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

Showers halted the race at Lap 170 in the scheduled 200-lap, 300-mile event, but drivers were expecting it to resume before another pocket of rain forced officials to call it off. Keselowski settled for doing victory spinouts, being careful to avoid sliding into the wall on a night mostly spent on firm footing.

After Keselowski finished second Thursday night in the Truck Series race, the Sprint Cup champion led four times for 59 laps en route to his second victory of the year and second at the track in three years. Elliott Sadler was second, followed by Truck Series points leader Matt Crafton, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch.

Series points leader Regan Smith saw his 28-point advantage over Justin Allgaier coming in whacked to an eight-point edge over Sam Hornish Jr. after an engine problem that forced him behind the wall and left him 30th, 17 laps down.

The night mostly belonged to Busch and eventually Keselowski, who had a chance to add another trophy if he can win today’s 400-mile Cup race. If his first two races and Friday night’s performance in particular are any indication, he’s certainly the driver to beat in this afternoon’s race.