The list of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winners at Kentucky Speedway is an exclusive club. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. would prefer to keep it that way in Saturday’s Quaker State 400.
Those are the only three active drivers with victories at Kentucky in NASCAR’s premier series, which headlines a tripleheader weekend that also features the NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
But while Busch, Keselowski and Truex are already locked into the postseason, a host of others would love to join the winning fraternity in the Bluegrass State and ascend to a spot on the playoff grid.
In the relatively brief eight-race Cup history at Kentucky, only four drivers have found Victory Lane — Keselowski three times, Busch and Truex twice each and Matt Kenseth once. Truex has won the past two races at the 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.
Although the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas and Team Penske Fords had a monopoly on the intermediate tracks for the first four months of the 2019 season, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver Alex Bowman ended that dominant streak in dramatic fashion June 30 at Chicagoland Speedway.
JGR and Penske have accounted for all eight wins at Kentucky, where Chevrolet has yet to taste victory.
In handicapping Saturday’s race, it would be difficult not to anoint Busch as the favorite, given his history at the track and the significant position it occupies in his career. In 2011, Busch won the inaugural race at Kentucky. In 2015, after missing the first 11 races because of injury, a win at Kentucky kicked off three consecutive victories on the way to the series championship.
“I love Kentucky,” Busch said.
“It was special there in 2011, when we were able to win the first Cup race there, and it stayed that way during our win there four years ago. I look forward to going back every year. It’s a pretty challenging race track. It used to be a place that lends itself to different kinds of setups because it was so rough.
“Fast lap times at Kentucky come from momentum. The place is so round that there’s not a ton of banking compared to some other 1.5-milers. It’s all about how round the corners are and just being able to maintain corner speed and stay on the gas.”
XFINITY’S BIG 3 LOOK FOR RETURN TO DOMINANCE
The wild, aggressive nature of last Friday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway didn’t bode well for two-thirds of the series’ so-called “Big 3.”
Christopher Bell steered clear of major trouble to finish third, but series leader Tyler Reddick cut a tire in the late going and ran 16th. Cole Custer fared even worse; his No. 00 Ford was the victim of three wrecks and ultimately crashed out in 26th place.
The aftermath of the chaos left Reddick, the reigning series champion, with a 76-point lead over Bell in second place and an 81-point edge over Custer in third.
The series’ three top drivers are likely to reassert themselves in Friday’s Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway.
Custer won the most recent race at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway, picking up his fourth win of the season at Chicagoland. Bell, also a four-time winner this season, is the defending champion of this race. Reddick, the most consistent of the three with 13 top 10s in 16 starts, won at Kentucky in 2017.
SCRAMBLE FOR GANDER TRUCKS PLAYOFF SPOTS INTENSIFY
With four races left in the NASCAR Gander Truck Series regular season, there are still four spots available for the playoffs, and the competition for those berths is certain to heat up in Thursday’s Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway.
The assertion that four spots are available is based on the reasonable assumption that Ross Chastain cracks the top 20 in the series standings. Having declared for the series championship in mid-season, Chastain took the first step toward a playoff spot with his victory at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway near St. Louis.
Chastain is 24th in the series standings, but he’s only 10 points behind Jennifer Jo Cobb in 20th.
Only two of the top eight drivers — Brett Moffitt and Austin Hill — have won races this season. Johnny Sauter and Chastain are 10th and 24th, respectively, but are expected to punch their playoff tickets because of their victories.
That leaves six of the top eight in the standings — Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland — scrambling for the remaining four positions. A win at Kentucky would be a huge boon for any of those six drivers.
--By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.