The playoff race is heating up in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as the second to last “wild card” race in the regular season concluded last Saturday night in Daytona. Now, other than a race at Watkins Glen next month, the race to be one of the 16 drivers in this year’s playoff field is on.
Will we see a new winner for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the Kentucky Speedway?
What Kind Of Race Will We See?
Over the last few years, the Kentucky Speedway has been repaved twice. While it was needed due to all the bumps on the 1.5-mile track, it also has kind of watered down the racing. When you have a track that has a fresh surface down, it adds grip to the Goodyear tires. When you put the race under the lights in cooler conditions, that too adds more grip. When you have a bunch of grip with a repaved surface and even more grip because the race is run at night, you make passing so much harder.
So, will we see another race this weekend where track position is more crucial than all out speed?
Texas recently underwent a repave and the race back in the spring was improved from the ones in 2017. Chicagoland had a ton of action too. But, both of those races were run during the day.
Kyle vs. Brad
Saturday’s Quaker State 400 will be the eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series contested at the Kentucky Speedway. Out of the first seven of races on the 1.5-mile track, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski have combined to win five of them. As we sit here today, I wouldn’t be shocked if they push that number to six.
First off, you have to look at Busch as the favorite. He just won the last race on a 1.5-mile track at the Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago in dramatic fashion. If you go back to last year, the last 12 races on intermediate tracks have been won by Busch, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. So, good luck beating one of them under the lights this weekend.
At Kentucky, Busch has completed every lap run and has four top five finishes in his last five starts on the track. He led 112 laps last year in a fifth place run. He led 163 laps in his 2015 win. In the runner-up finish of 2014, he led 31 more laps. In the first two years that the Cup Series came to Kentucky, he led 125 and 118 laps respectively.
Keselowski, well he’s been just as strong. He’s led 483 laps at Kentucky, second to Busch’s 549. Trends say this is the year Keselowski will win. He won in 2012, 2014, 2016 and now 2018?
He hasn’t had the most speed this season but does have four top 10 finishes in six tries on 1.5-mile tracks.
With the stats of these two, want to pick against them?
Harvick Looking For 1st Kentucky Top 5
Kevin Harvick has been down right dominant in 2018. His five wins are tied with Kyle Busch for most this season. He’s also led over 1,000 laps too, which also rank most in the series. On top of that, he’s been phenomenal on 1.5-mile tracks this year too. He’s finished in the top three in five of his six starts on intermediate tracks like Kentucky in 2018. If you go back to last year, Harvick has had 15 top 10 finishes in his last 17 races on these tracks.
But, one thing missing is a top five finish in Kentucky. He led 128 laps in his ninth place finish in 2016 but didn’t lead a single lap in any of the other races on the track. His finishes at Kentucky are 16th, 11th, 10th, seventh, eighth, ninth and ninth respectively.
Can he earn his first top five finish on the 1.5-mile tracks on Saturday night?
Johnson Eyeing 1st Kentucky Victory
There are only three tracks that Jimmie Johnson has yet to win at. He hasn’t won at Chicagoland (0-for-17) or Watkins Glen (0-for-16). Old seven-time is also 0-for-7 at the Kentucky Speedway too. Is this the year he changes that?
Johnson, crashed out the last two years in Kentucky and hasn’t led a lap since leading 182 circuits in a ninth place run in 2013. His only top five finish came in his first ever race on the 1.5-mile track in 2011. He finished third. Since, he’s finished sixth, ninth, 10th, ninth, 32nd and 40th respectively.
On 1.5-mile tracks in 2018, Johnson has just one top 10 finish via a fifth place result in the Coca-Cola 600. His other finishes on those tracks this year were 27th, 12th, 35th, 19th and 14th respectively.
“Big 5 Dominated Race”
It’s no secret, this year’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has been dominated by three drivers. Combined, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have won 13 of 18 races. Take out the three restrictor plate races and they’re 13 for 15. Clint Bowyer is the only driver between that threesome to win a race other than at Daytona or Talladega. He and Kyle Larson are battling hard for that fourth spot to be included in the “Big 4.”
Will one of these five win this weekend?
Two weeks ago in Chicagoland, they swept the top five finishing positions.
Between Busch, Harvick and Truex Jr., they’ve combined to win the last 12 races on 1.5-mile tracks. Since the 2017 Las Vegas race, that trio has actually won 14 of the last 16 on intermediate tracks. The only two races they didn’t win was the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 (Austin Dillon) and the 2017 spring race at Texas (Jimmie Johnson).
Truex, won this very race last year and led 152 laps in the process. Busch, led 112 laps himself as the duo combined to lead 264 laps in 2017 at Kentucky. Between them, they’ve won three of the seven trips so far to the Bluegrass State.
On 1.5-mile tracks this season, Busch has three wins (Texas, Charlotte, Chicago), a runner-up (Las Vegas), a seventh place finish (Atlanta) and 10th place effort (Kansas). Truex, has two runner-ups (Kansas, Charlotte), two fourth’s (Las Vegas, Chicago) and a fifth place run (Atlanta). Harvick, while not ever scoring a top five finish in Kentucky, like Busch has three wins on 1.5-mile tracks (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Kansas), a runner-up (Texas) and a third place run (Chicago) to his credit.
Now, to go to an even broader scale, go back to the last 40 races, those three with the addition of Larson and Bowyer have won 31 of them. Take out the five restrictor plate races and they’ve won 31 of 35 (89%). The only drivers to win a non plate race since last June in the Cup Series was Denny Hamlin (Darlington, New Hampshire), Kasey Kahne (Indianapolis) and Matt Kenseth (Phoenix). All those were won in 2017.
We can even go to the last 33 races, Busch has won nine times, Truex eight, Harvick six and Larson and Bowyer two times a piece. That’s 27 of 33 (82%). Again, take out the plate races, they’re 27-for-29 (93%).
So, would you want to bet on someone other than these five to win on Saturday night?