Mash The Gas: Kentucky Speedway – Quaker State 400 Preview

In 2016 NASCAR teams will be racing a "lower downforce" base package like the one used at Kentucky Speedway in July of 2015. [Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images]

Kurt Busch leads the pack at Kentucky Speedway in July of 2015. [Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images]

By Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runs under the lights for the second consecutive week as the Kentucky Speedway hosts the Quaker State 400 Presented By Advance Auto Parts on Saturday night.

Quaker State 400 Presented By Advance Auto Parts
Kentucky Speedway
400.5 miles (267 laps)
Saturday, July 9, 7:30pm ET
PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
A lot of unknowns await the Sprint Cup drivers at Kentucky this year as the track was repaved since the last time they raced on it. Also, the rules package from Michigan which features an even further reduction of downforce will be in use at Kentucky meaning the drivers will have very little to catch them aerodynamically as they sail off into the turns on the smooth, fast, new surface.

Running the race at night under cooler temperatures should also increase the speeds and the cars should slide around more than they’re used to at Kentucky. According to some drivers who conducted tire tests there, turns one and two have slightly more banking while turns three and four are slicker and could be trouble spots.

Kentucky is also another one of the 1.5 mile ovals that make up a majority of the schedule. This was the event last year that NASCAR experimented with the direction of lower downforce aero rules and it produced one of the best races of the season.

No one really knows what to expect this Saturday night as the Quaker State 400 takes the green flag at Kentucky and here are some drivers to watch….

Kyle Busch (Dan Margetta)
Kyle Busch is the king of Kentucky, having won two of the five races contested there including this race last year. In addition to the wins, Busch has four top five finishes and has never finished outside the top ten. He also has a series best average finish of 3.8 and owns the best Kentucky Driver Rating in the garage. Those stats however all were on the old surface and Kyle Busch will start with a clean slate on Saturday with the new repaved track and rules. Busch is listed at 6-1 odds this weekend and does already have 1.5 mile oval victories at Texas and Kansas this season. He’s solidly in the Chase for 2016 but Kyle Busch will be looking to add to his season win total on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400 from Kentucky.

Carl Edwards (John Wiedemann)
Carl Edwards would love to get his third win of the season and tie teammate Kyle Busch, but that is probably the driver who will give him the most competition this weekend. Edwards is getting pretty comfortable with the Joe Gibbs Racing team and taking advantage of being part of the top team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. With a string of three top eight finishes broken up by last week’s restrictor plate event, Edwards looks to get back to the front at Kentucky. Edwards has yet to win at Kentucky and has a best finish of 4th place, but the new configuration as well as the success that JGR and he are having makes him my pick to win this weekend.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
As the dominant winner from the last time the series raced on a 1.5 mile track in Charlotte, Martin Truex Jr. should also be strong on Saturday night in Kentucky. In addition to the Charlotte victory, Truex also dominated the races at Texas and Kansas before letting the win slip away late. His best Kentucky finish has been 7th and he finished 12th at Michigan, the only other place the super low downforce aero rules were used. The #78 team has been the best overall performing team on the 1.5 mile tracks this season despite only having one victory to show for it. They will be looking to continue their success despite all the unknowns surrounding the Kentucky race and should be one of the teams to watch on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400.

Brad Keselowski (JW)
Coming off last week’s victory, Brad Keselowski couldn’t have picked a much better track to be on the schedule this weekend. Keselowski has the second best driver rating (behind Kyle Busch) at Kentucky and has two wins there (matching Kyle Busch). With three wins so far this season, Keselowski also matches Kyle Busch for the most in the series. Keselowski has an average finish of 9.6, only missing finishing in the top ten one time in the five races at the track. This weekend could be another Joe Gibbs Racing/Team Penske showdown and you can expect Keselowski to be right in the middle of it.

Chase Elliott (DM)
Rookie Chase Elliott will be making his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup start at Kentucky and with everyone basically starting from scratch with the new track and rules, he could very well find himself in victory lane Saturday night. Elliott has eleven top ten finishes already in 2016 and he adapted very well to the rules package by leading and nearly winning Michigan before having to settle for second place. Elliott is listed at 15-1 odds this week and he has traditionally done well when faced with first time unknowns similar to those he is facing at Kentucky this week. Chase Elliott felt like he let the Michigan win slip away as he was very hard on himself but Kentucky presents a prime opportunity for redemption and Chase Elliott and the #24 team should be ones to watch.

Austin Dillon (JW)
Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon is still looking for that breakout win in the series and this weekend gives him a good opportunity to capture that elusive prize. One of the top young guns in the series, Dillon has shown much progress this season and has himself in the middle of the Chase grid, a position he has held all season long. Currently second amongst drivers without a victory this season in the Chase grid, Dillon has a 29 point cushion between himself and Jamie McMurray, who is just outside of making the Chase. Dillon’s stats at Kentucky aren’t really spectacular with a best finish of 16th in two races, but this season has been a big improvement for him and I expect to see that trend continue this weekend.

Kyle Larson (DM)
If you could pick one driver in the garage who absolutely loves to go fast and slide around it would hands down be Kyle Larson. While Larson has done poorly at Kentucky in the past, finishing 35th and 40th, the aero rules in place this weekend are right in his wheelhouse. Larson finished a strong third at Michigan in the only other time these rules were in effect and he comes into Kentucky as a 25-1 odds to win longshot. Larson’s races on the other 1.5 mile tracks this season have been mediocre with finishes of 13th and 14th at Charlotte and Texas but I think things are lining up for a strong run at Kentucky on Saturday night. Kyle Larson has been close to his first win in the past and I think Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 looms as a strong chance to nail down that first victory.

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