SPARTA, KY – All the preliminary action is behind us, it’s time for the 19th race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be a big race to see how far Chevrolet has come and if the past trend of Team Penske and/or Joe Gibbs Racing will domiante.
How To Watch
Coverage – 7 p.m. ET
Green Flag – 7:46 p.m. ET
TV – NBCSN
Radio – PRN
Distance – 267 Laps/400.5 Miles
Stage Lengths – 80/80/107
Defending Race Winner – Martin Truex Jr.
Did Practice Show Us Anything?
Normally, we look to the timing charts in practice to show us who will be strong or not any most race weekends. But, this weekend may be different. Both practices that the Cup Series had were run in the heat of the day in Kentucky. The race though, is on Saturday night, under the lights.
So, how much does speed in the heat of the day mean for night setups?
We will find out on Saturday night.
It’s no secret, one of the toughest turns in all of NASCAR happens to be the third turn at the Kentucky Speedway. Since the track was repaved a couple of years ago for a second time in as many years, track officials decided to reconfigure some of the race track too.
Turns 1 and 2 would be wide sweeping corners which would allow drivers to pretty much be flat out. Turn 3 however, that’s a different story.
The goal is going to be like usual – carry as much speed at Turn 2 exit as possible. That comes with a price to pay this weekend. The more speed you have exiting Turn 2, the quicker you’re going to go on the backstretch. The quicker you go down the backstretch, the more speed you carry into Turn 3.
That’s the problem.
Turn 3 is much flatter than Turns 1 and 2 and also more narrow with less banking. Translation? It’s much harder to get your car to stay on the low line around the 1.5-mile track in that corner.
Your car naturally wants to step out from under you in that turn. But, if you go too far the opposite direction, your car doesn’t want to turn and you want to push straight into the Turn 3 SAFER Barriers.
This is the corner that all drivers fear not just this weekend, but all season. It will bite some drivers this weekend. The ones to can brave Turn 3 the best, well they were leave Kentucky happy with a good finish.
Chevrolet 0-for-9 In Kentucky But Has Won Last 2 Races Of Season
Chevrolet has never won at the Kentucky Speedway before in Cup Series competition. They’re 0-for-9 heading into this weekend. Also, they have struggled with the new Camaro since its inception in 2018. But, it appears though that they may have started to find something with it.
Chevy drivers have won in each of the last two weeks, including on a 1.5-mile track at the Chicagoland Speedway on June 30. Can they make it three straight wins and also earn their first Quaker State 400 triumph in the process as well?
Right now, it looks like a Ford race to lose, but Chevy is right there. They had three of the top six speeds in the first practice session but only two in the top 10 in final practice.
In qualifying, they had just two of the top eight and only three of the top 11. With only one race winner at Kentucky ever coming from a starting spot outside of the top 10, this weekend may see their win streak come to an end.
Hendrick Motorsports gives them their best option with them putting all four cars in the top 11 in Chicagoland. They also had two of the top three finishers at Daytona. But, they have also struggled in the past at Kentucky too.
Chase Elliott has just one top 10 finish in three tries. Alex Bowman crashed and finished 39th last year. William Byron was 20th himself. Jimmie Johnson has never won, as Kentucky is one of just three tracks that the 7-time Cup champion has never won at.
They were just okay in practice on Friday, but again, it’s just practice and it also took place in the heat of the day for a night race.
If you gauge this by practice though, Chip Ganassi Racing may be the top favorites. Kurt Busch was first and 13th respectively on single lap runs and sixth in each of the two session on 10 lap averages. He has three top 10 finishes in his last four Kentucky starts.
Kyle Larson was runner-up in this race two years ago and ninth in 2018. He finished second at Chicagoland two weeks ago as well. Also, Larson was sixth and ninth respectively in practice on single lap speed to go along with being second and 13th respectively on 10 lap averages.
If you go off qualifying, RCR may be the top Chevy team. Both drivers will roll off in the top 10.
So, can they get it done?
Keselowski, Truex, Kyle Busch Or The Field?
The win for Saturday night’s race has to go through Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski. Combined, JGR or an affiliate, as well as Team Penske have combined to win all nine trips the Cup Series has taken to the Kentucky Speedway.
Plus, JGR and Penske have combined to win on all but one 1.5-mile track this season.
I mean Busch has two wins in eight tries including a top 10 in all but one start at Kentucky. He also boasts five top five finish in his last six tries on the race track.
Truex, has won this race in each of the last two years to go along with not only leading a combined 326 laps since 2017, he won each stage in both races too.
Keselowski, has three wins to his credit and has four top six finishes in his last five Kentucky tries too. That makes these three drivers the favorites.
All three will roll off inside of the top 10 on Saturday night as well.
Can Penske Earn Another Win?
It seems like Penske is in a mini slump lately. They haven’t won in nearly a month and have won just twice since May. Last year, they finished 2-3-10 at Kentucky. In the last 1.5-mile start at Chicagoland, all three finished in the top six.
Keselowski’s stats are above. He’s a favorite. Plus, he was seventh and first respectively in practice on Friday and third and fourth respectively on the 10 lap average chart too.
Joey Logano has been so strong at Kentucky since joining Team Penske. He has five top 10 finishes in six tries including a 10th place effort last year. He also has four top seven finishes in his last six starts on the year and eight in the last 11.
Ryan Blaney could be a factor too. He was 10th in 2017 and runner-up last year.
SHR Has Struggled At Kentucky/Season But May Be Favorites On Saturday Night
Heading into this weekend, no one would blame you if you overlooked the entire Stewart-Haas Racing camp for Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the Kentucky Speedway.
They haven’t won a race since last November at the Texas Motor Speedway. That’s 0-for-2 at the end of the 2018 season and 0-for-18 to start the 2019 year off with too.
For a team that won 12 of the 36 points paying races in 2018 as well as putting all four of their drivers in the Round of 8 of the playoffs, they have looked pedestrian in 2019.
Daniel Suarez qualifies on the pole for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway
On top of that, it’s not like their drivers have fared real well on the 1.5-mile track that the series races on this weekend. Plus, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have won all but two races at Kentucky before with the only two that they didn’t win, the organization has since shut down and moved over to JGR anyways.
Kevin Harvick has one top five finish since May. In fact, his best finish all year is fourth. He does have 11 top 10 finishes, but only four in the last nine races overall.
Aric Almirola has one top five finish since Phoenix. He started off 2019 with six top 10 finishes in the first seven races. He’s only had four in the last 11.
Clint Bowyer saw +73 in the playoff standings in mid May. He’s now just +4. Bowyer’s last six finishes are 24th, 5th, 35th, 11th, 37th and now 34th respectively. He hasn’t won in 39 races himself.
That leaves the new comer Daniel Suarez who has never won and has six top 10’s all year but only two over the last 10 overall. His last three finishes are 17th, 24th and 40th respectively.
Suarez, has finished 18th and 15th respectively at Kentucky before. Almirola, finished eighth last year for his first career top 10. Bowyer, has one top 10 finish in his career at Kentucky. Harvick, has six straight top 10’s, but only one top five.
Despite that, they look to be the favorites to win Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) though.
They swept the front row with Suarez and Almirola starting first and second respectively. Harvick, gives them three of the top five starting spots with Bowyer giving them four of the top seven overall. Suarez, was third and eighth respectively in practice on Friday as well as being quickest on the 10 lap average chart in final practice.
Almirola, was second and 24th respectively on single lap runs and 11th in final practice on the 10 lap average chart.
Bowyer, was 10th and fifth respectively on single lap runs on Friday while Harvick was eighth and second respectively himself but also ninth and third on the 10 lap averages too.
Right now, the winner looks like it would come from this group.
Johnson Eyeing 1st Kentucky Win
Jimmie Johnson appears to be back to his old ways. For the second consecutive week, he put his No. 48 Chevrolet in the top five of the final finishing order in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. That’s the first time he’s done so since his back-to-back wins early on in the 2017 season.
Johnson, has also been superb nearly everywhere he’s raced. He’s won seven Cup Series championships, tied most all time. Among his 83 career wins in NASCAR’s premiere series are four Brickyard 400 crowns, four Coca-Cola 600 victories, two Daytona 500 triumphs and two Southern 500 trips to victory lane. To go along with that are four wins in the All-Star race and two in the Clash.
He’s won at Dover 11 times, Martinsville nine times, Charlotte eight and Texas seven times respectively. Among the only few things missing is, the Chicagoland Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on March 29, 2019 in Fort Worth, Texas.
There are only three tracks that Johnson has yet to win at on the Cup Series schedule. One of which is this weekend in the Quaker State 400. Another was a couple of weeks ago in Chicagoland, a race he finished fourth in. The third is in August at Watkins Glen.
Other than winning an eighth Cup Series title, winning on every track on the schedule is high on his priority list.
He actually started off pretty good at Kentucky but has since tapered off. He finished third, sixth, ninth, 10th and ninth respectively in his first five starts. But, over his last three, he’s been 32nd, 40th and 14th respectively. The third place run in the inaugural race is his lone top five in eight tries too.
Now, he’s looking at finishing strong again on the season though. The problem is, he brings a 77 race winless streak into the weekend. That’s the longest of his storied career. He only has five top five finishes in his last 61 starts but two of which have come in the last two weeks too though. After having double digit top five finishes in literally every year of his career, he’s only had four in 2017, two in 2018 and just three again in 2019.
This is a rough patch of his career. Can he make up for it with a win on Saturday night?
He is in a predicament though. Johnson, needs a win but he also needs stage points. If you give up stage points to position yourself for the win and you don’t actually win, you could be in a huge hole.
Playoff Picture Getting Clearer
With eight races remaining in the regular season, the seven drivers (Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman) have secured a Playoff position on wins.
Which leaves nine spots open for new winners or for drivers to earn their way in on points.
If the Playoffs were to start today, those drivers would be Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. Daniel Suarez (17th) and Erik Jones (18th) are the first two drivers on the outside looking in.
Only 14 points separate 15th (Bowyer with 444 points) and 18th (Jones with 430 points) after Daytona. To show how much of an impact one race can have on the Playoff bubble, following Chicagoland, the rankings were Suarez, Bowyer, Jones and Newman in slots 15 through 18, in that order.
And to go back one more week to Sonoma, 15 through 18 consisted of Larson, Newman, Johnson and Jones – in that order.
Looking ahead to the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway this Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), each of the former active winners at the track have already won in 2019. And the drivers on the bubble have their work cut out for them.
Newman leads the bubble drivers with three top-five (and top-10) finishes at the 1.5-mile venue. Bowyer has only one top-five finish (and it’s also his only top 10) at the 1.5-mile venue. Jones has two top 10s (sixth and seventh) while Suarez has yet to crack the top 10 at Kentucky, posting finishes of 15th (last year) and 18th in his two starts.
A driver of note outside the top 16 who pretty much needs to win to get in to the Playoffs is Austin Dillon. He has the most Playoff appearances (three) of any driver outside the top 16 right now, and is looking to extend his Playoff appearance streak to four years, after making it to the postseason in 2016-2018. He sits 77 points back of the 16th-place cutoff spot. But he’s going to have to improve his Kentucky performance tremendously if he’s going to get in on a win in the Bluegrass State. In six starts there, he has twice posted a best finish of 16th – and has tallied an average finish of 20.3.
Jones (2018), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (made the Playoffs in 2017, currently 19th in points, 45 points out of 16th), Paul Menard (made the Playoffs in 2015, currently 20th in points, 53 points back) and Chris Buescher (made the Playoffs in 2016, currently 21st in points, 74 points out of Playoff contention) are the only other drivers with postseason experience who are currently out of the Playoff picture.
3rd Straight 1st Time Winner?
Can history be made on Saturday night at the Kentucky Speedway? It’s certainly possible. For the second straight weekend, we had a first time winner in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series when Justin Haley stole a win in last Sunday’s rain marred Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway. That was his first career Cup win in just his third ever start in NASCAR’s premiere series.
That comes exactly a week after Alex Bowman earned his first career Cup win in the Camping World 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway. Now, can we go three-for-three on NBC Sports’ coverage?
If so, then who?
Daniel Suarez during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 23, 2019 in Martinsville, Virginia.
14 of the 36 drivers entered in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/PRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) have failed to win a Cup race in their respective careers.
But, with what’s coming up next, other than Watkins Glen in August and Talladega in October, only a couple of these drivers have a realistic shot of winning this weekend or in any of the non wildcard races on the remaining schedule.
Daniel Suarez may be the top pick as he starts on the pole on Saturday night.
So, among the 12 that we do know, lets rank the top ones who can win.
William Byron – He’s been so close already. Byron, earned his first career top five finish last weekend in Daytona and has four top 10 finishes in his last six starts on the season including five in his last eight overall. For his Cup career, Byron has made 54 starts with 10 top 10’s. He does have 11 combined wins in the XFINITY as well as the Truck Series, so he knows how to win and has the top equipment among the winless drivers.
Daniel Suarez – Saturday night will be Suarez’ 91st Cup Series start. It’s hard to believe the Mexican driver hasn’t won a Cup race yet, but he likely will soon. Suarez, has six top five finishes and 27 top 10’s overall including two in his last five starts on the season. He’s got the second best car among the winless drivers.
Matt DiBenedetto – If he had a quality ride, DiBenedetto would have won by now. He’s made 158 career Cup starts with none of which being with one of the top teams. DiBenedetto, has consistently outran his equipment as he has one top five and six top 10 finishes in his career. He also has two top eight finishes in his last three starts on the season.
Daniel Hemric – It’s hard to believe Hemric has never won a NASCAR race. He’s made 136 career starts across the Trucks, NXS and Cup Series and the North Carolina native has never tasted victory lane. Hemric, has one top 10 finish this season with a fourth place run back in April in Talladega. He’s a rookie with a rebuilding RCR team, so forgive him if the results have been slow in 2019. But, in 66 career NXS starts, he has 23 top five finishes and 39 top 10’s. In 50 Truck Series starts, he had 15 top fives and 30 top 10’s. Hemric, knows his way to the front, he just needs to find the path again.
Ty Dillon – The Germain Racing driver has had a struggling start to his Cup career. But, he’s with a team without all the resources of his peers. Dillon, has made 108 starts in his career and just earned his first career top five finish last weekend in Daytona. He has three top 10 finishes in his career, two of which coming in 2019 too. But, it’s not like Dillon doesn’t know how to win though. Dillon, won four times in the NXS and Truck Series combined including over 100 combined top 10 finishes too. Like DiBenedetto, if he had quality equipment on a weekly basis, he’d be visiting victory lane much more.
Ryan Preece – He’s only made 81 career NASCAR starts but Preece has the potential to be a big name if he can get to a big team. He bet on himself and it paid off. He’s in the Cup Series. While his team isn’t necessarily a top team, he can land in one eventually. Preece, has one top five and two top 10 finishes in 23 career Cup starts. He’s won twice in 58 career NXS starts.
Darrell Wallace Jr. – A win isn’t coming any time soon with RPM. But, it’s not like Wallace isn’t talented. He just can’t get the most out of a struggling car. Wallace, has six Truck Series wins to his credit but he can’t beat the other six with where he’s at right now.
Matt Tifft – Like most of the drivers above him, unless it’s a superspeedway track, Tifft will have a hard time finding victory lane. Tifft, is a rookie in the series and just made his 18th career start. He did have nine top five finishes and 38 top 10’s in 77 career NXS starts but failed to win in that series too. Overall, Tifft is a lot like Hemric in that he’s been solid in all three NASCAR divisions but he’s yet to win.
Michael McDowell – His car has been better lately, but it’s still not a race winning caliber of one away from superspeedway’s. McDowell, has one NASCAR win in 399 career starts. He’s 0-for-303 in the Cup Series with just two top five finishes and seven top 10’s. I don’t see a win coming soon.
Corey LaJoie – He earned his first top 10 finish last weekend in Daytona. GoFas Racing unfortunately doesn’t have the equipment to win away from Daytona or Talladega. They can be that storybook top 10 every once in a while, but a win is far fetched.
2 Keselowski – This is his weekend. Keselowski, earns his fourth win and third top three finish in his last four Kentucky starts. He was seventh and first respectively on single lap speed in Friday’s practice and third and fourth on the 10 lap average charts. He also starts third too.
18 KyBusch – The JGR driver gets his third straight Kentucky top five and sixth in his last seven tries. Busch, was in the top 10 in both practice sessions as well as being second quickest on the 10 lap average chart in final practice too.
41 Suarez – He comes up just short but gets his first top five in a while and first top 10 in Kentucky. Suarez, was third and eighth respectively in practice to go along with topping the speed charts on the 10 lap average list in final practice. He starts on the pole.
42 Larson – He nearly gets it does but gets his second top five finish in his last three races on the season as well as his second in his last three at Kentucky too. Larson, was sixth and ninth respectively in practice to go along with having a good long run car too.
24 Byron – The Hendrick driver gets his third straight top 10 on the season, two of which being in the top five.