Mash The Gas: Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Preview

The field sees the green flag to start the 2016 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. [Photo by Drew Hallowell/NASCAR via Getty Images]

The field sees the green flag to start the 2016 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. [Photo by Drew Hallowell/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will contest the sixth race this season on a 1.5 mile circuit this Saturday night as the Kentucky Speedway hosts the Quaker State 400 under the lights.

Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts
Kentucky Speedway
400.5 miles (267 laps)
Saturday, July 8
7:30 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 7 p.m. ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)
Kentucky’s configuration is very similar to tracks in Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas, and Charlotte where the previous five “cookie cutter” races were held in 2017. Drivers who ran well in those events should also enjoy success at Kentucky as just nine races remain for drivers to secure their spots in the playoffs. This weekend is the last 1.5 mile “cookie cutter” race until the playoffs.

Kentucky is one of the newest tracks to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup schedule as only six previous events have been held there. The track was repaved and reconfigured between the 2015 and 2016 events giving drivers and crew chiefs an opportunity to rewrite their notebooks on the track. Another repave was done last October with 2 more inches of asphalt covering the track. What this means for the weekend of racing with all three NASCAR series competing adds another bit of drama.

The second half of the season kicks off Saturday night in Kentucky with the Quaker State 400 and here are some drivers to watch…

Martin Truex Jr. (Dan Margetta)
This week’s favorite is Martin Truex Jr. despite the fact he has yet to score a top five finish at Kentucky which seems odd for driver listed at 4-1 odds. Looking back at the previous races on the 1.5 miles tracks this year provides a clearer picture however as Truex dominated in leading the most laps and winning at Las Vegas and Kansas. He has three top ten finishes at Kentucky and this team just seems to have all their ducks in a row this season and they have learned to capitalize on their success. Martin Truex Jr. has been the best driver on the 1.5 miles circuits this year and he should definitely be a favorite at Kentucky on Saturday night.

Kurt Busch (John Wiedemann)
Kurt Busch would like to add another win and playoff points to his season total and there is no better track than Kentucky Speedway for him to accomplish that task. Busch has three top tens in the last four races at the track including his best finish in this race last season where he finished fourth and led laps after starting the race in third. In all six races that the top series in NASCAR has raced at Kentucky, Busch has been on the lead lap at the finish of each and has an overall average finish of 10th. Expect Kurt to be in contention and looking for his second win of the season.

Kyle Busch (DM)
Can Kyle Busch continue to have strong races while being denied a victory? We are halfway through the season and despite having strong runs each and every week Kyle Busch is still winless. He’s pretty good at Kentucky where he has two wins and four top five finishes. He has also won four other times in both trucks and Xfinity cars and is listed at 5-1 odds to win on Saturday night. Busch also has the best Driver Rating at Kentucky so things are looking favorable for him to finally break into the win column in 2017. Another plus is the return of suspended crew chief Adam Stevens on top the pit box which means the Kyle Busch should definitely be a favorite this weekend in Kentucky.

Erik Jones (JW)
Rookie driver Erik Jones has not competed at the Kentucky Speedway in the top NASCAR series but has five starts in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series combined. In those series the young driver has scored three top five and four top ten finishes with a great season in 2015 where he finished in the runner-up position in both series. With his teammate Martin Truex Jr being one of the best 1.5 mile track racers in the series, you would think some of that would flow down to Jones. That education may have showed itself at Charlotte where Truex finished 3rd and Jones ended the race in 7th place. In the races since and including Charlotte, Jones had three top ten runs in six races with a best finish of 3rd at Pocono. As the #77 team starts to repeat at tracks, we may see Jones take off. Jones has some ground to make up to make the playoffs this season, currently sixty points from moving into the final spot, he has work to do.

Brad Keselowski (DM)
Brad Keselowski has been kind of quiet lately and Kentucky may just be the right place to burst back on the scene. Keselowski has three victories at Kentucky to go along with three top five finishes and five top ten results. He also won earlier this year at Atlanta, a similar track to Kentucky. Keselowski is listed at favorable 5-1 odds this weekend and he owns the second best Driver Rating at Kentucky. Since the Kentucky track began hosting NASCAR’s top series in 2011, Brad Keselowski has been one of the drivers to beat here and expect more of the same on Saturday night.

Joey Logano (JW)
It just seems like this is not the year for Joey Logano. He gets a win, but then it is called encumbered after post-race inspection and does not count towards making the playoffs. After that race win at Richmond, the train just comes right off the tracks for the #22 team. Up till that point, Logano only had one race where he didn’t finish in the top six and that was when he crashed at Phoenix. Since Richmond, Logano has one top ten in eight races, a third place finish at Michigan. In the other seven races he has an average finish of 26th including crashing out of three of those races. Currently out of the playoffs by three points, I know I’ve said it before in the column, Joey needs a win. In previous years, Logano was the guy at 1,5 mile tracks but this year he has three top tens in five races and a best finish of third at Texas. I’ll just say it one more time, Joey needs a win!

Matt Kenseth (DM)
Much like Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth also is in need of a victory this season to solidify his playoff hopes. Kenseth comes into Kentucky at 18-1 odds mainly because he has yet to win this season but his record at Kentucky is very good. Kenseth has one victory to go along with three top five finishes and he has finished in the top ten in every Cup race held here. He holds an average finish of fifth at Kentucky and has the third best Driver Rating here. The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas began to show speed at Charlotte in May and they have been faster of late. Matt Kenseth needs to win to ensure himself of a playoff spot and erase some of the silly season talk that has gone on the past few weeks and Kentucky is the perfect place to accomplish that.

Kyle Larson (JW)
The points leader needs a reversal of fortune – seems kind of odd thing to say. Kyle Larson has two finishes outside the top 25 in the last two races and still has the point lead. With those races being the road course run at Sonoma and crash-fest at Daytona, it makes it easier to understand. Larson has been really good at the 1.5s this season with runner-up finishes in the first three and a sixth place finish at Kansas. Only a crash at Charlotte puts a blemish on his intermediate track record. In the playoff picture, Larson is behind Jimmie Johnson by one win and three playoff points. A win this weekend would fix that for the young driver. Look for the #42 to run up front and probably wage a spirited battle with the #78 of Martin Truex Jr. this weekend. But when the checkers fly… well, I’m predicting a win for Kyle Larson at Kentucky Speedway.

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