Race: Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts
Date: Saturday July 8, 2017
Track: Kentucky Speedway
Time: 7:30 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. take his 2nd win of the season and of his career after holding off the rest of the field with 2 laps to go. Stenhouse won Talladega earlier this season, making his restrictor plate runs look a little more skillful than most. The top 5 was a pretty odd group of drivers, though. Clint Bowyer came in second for the second week in a row. Paul Menard, Michale McDowell, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. Michael McDowell being in the top 5 is a pretty impressive sight. Paul Menard has the experience to do it, but rarely is able to capitalize on it. Ryan Newman ran a solid race. That being said, there were only 25 of 40 cars that actually finished the race.
Daytona proved to be quite this challenge this time around. As predicted, the action didn’t disappoint, with the race bringing in a record 14 caution laps. Jr., obviously the fan favorite, suffered pretty badly after Kevin Harvick suffered a blown tire, taking out Jr., Kasey Kahne, Jamie McMurray, and Brad Keselowksi. Keselowski managed to spin without hitting anything, but he suffered a catastrophic loss later in the race after hitting the wall, causing him to have to pull out. One of the biggest cautions of the night was the 13th caution during which Kyle Larson decided flying was more fun than pavement. He landed and took out Ryan Blaney who, in turn, took out Matt Kenseth.
This weekend, we are heading into a whole different feel of racing. We are going to Kentucky Speedway, where the surface is rough and the track is pretty predictable compared to Daytona. While Kentucky is the newest track on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit, drivers do tend to describe the surface as worn, meaning that tires are going to be a big deal. This is actually one of those tracks where Goodyear does a lot of testing. Many teams spend a lot of time here working on the development of a tire that provides enough grip but also can compete with the surface of the track. There have been some hit or misses, so I’ll be interested to see what Goodyear provides the teams with this weekend. Kentucky is not a cookie cutter intermediate track, which gives the drivers a little more competition and a few more variables to contend with. It’s a 1.5 mile asphalt tri-oval. The banking is relatively minimal, with turns 1-2 at 17 degrees, turns 3-4 at 14 degrees, and the tri-oval holding just 8-10 degrees of banking. The straights are even less at just 4 degrees.
As I mentioned, with Kentucky being the newest track on the circuit, there’s not much historical data to even look at. In fact, this is only 7th race at this track. That being said, we need to really just focus in on who has run well here in the past. If you have a brain, you will know that Brad Keselowski has this place figured out. He’s actually won half of the races that have been held here and only has one finish outside the top ten. That’s nothing to sneeze at. With his bad luck at Daytona, you better believe that the team is going to bring a solid setup this weekend to really give the other drivers a run for their money. Brad is my pick to win. He won a stage at Daytona and really fell out due to nothing more than Daytona luck. The drivers who will contend with him are those guys who notably run well on these intermediate tracks. Look for Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson to be other top contenders this weekend. Here’s a look at your potential winners heading into Kentucky:
My Pick to Win: Brad Keselowski
Middle of the Road Pick: Kurt Busch
Dark Horse Prediction: Ryan Blaney
I still consider Ryan Blaney a C list driver. Although he’s coming into his own, Blaney is still inexperienced and has a lot of learning to do. That being said, he’s led a total of 231 laps at intermediate speedways in the last 3 races. That’s quite a feat. Kurt Busch has the fourth best series ranking in Kentucky. Although not his strongest track, his partnership at Stewart-Haas has really helped him out. Look for Busch to be a contender this weekend.
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Here are your current top 12 after last week’s race:
1. Kyle Larson
2. Martin Truex Jr.
3. Kyle Busch
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Chase Elliott
7. Jimmie Johnson
8. Jamie McMurray
9. Denny Hamlin
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Matt Kenseth
12. Joey Logano
13. Ryan Blaney
14. Kurt Busch
15. Ryan Newman
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is sitting in 16th points, but he’s solid. He’s got 2 wins so nothing to worry about when it comes to the Chase. Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, and Matt Kenseth may seem okay, but they’re heading into Kentucky with no wins. All of these guys are vying for a top spot to secure their spot in the Chase. The only driver outside of the top 16 right now with a win is Austin Dillon. He will potentially push one of the top 16 drivers out of their position. That being said, each driver that gains a win will continue to secure their spots, but we’re slowly closing up the regular season, so these guys are going to need to step up their games at this point. This weekend should provide some excellent racing. We’ll see how the tire compound stacks up to previous races. Stay tuned for Saturday night’s race under the lights at Kentucky Speedway!