If the season hasn’t been unpredictable enough for fantasy owners, with 12 different winners in the first 17 races another wildcard race has been thrown in at the halfway point. I guess NASCAR decided the series needed another 1.5-mile track on the schedule… it’s hard to believe it has been a decade since a new track has been added in the Sprint Cup Series, when Chicago and Kansas held inaugural races in 2001. Both are 1.5-mile tracks, in case you weren’t catching the trend.
But since the Cup Series has never visited Kentucky, there are many unknowns heading into the weekend. Out of all the 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule, Kentucky most resembles Kansas. Kentucky has 14 degrees of banking in the corners compared to Kansas’s 15 and the banking and shape of the two tracks’ tri-ovals are nearly identical (10 degrees at Kentucky; 10.4 at Kansas). The major difference between the tracks is Kentucky is still a one or two-lane racetrack, meaning Saturday’s race winner (July 9) will most likely be running the bottom all night long.
The Sprint Cup Series will make its inaugural trip to the Bluegrass State this weekend, but many Sprint Cup stars have logged laps at the track in the Truck and Nationwide series. Carl Edwards is one such driver, winning in his first start in each division at this particular racetrack; he’ll go for the trifecta this weekend. The Roush Fenway driver has run more races at Kentucky than any other (nine races) and that should help him on Saturday.
Kurt Busch had a dominant car at Kansas, leading the most laps, only to lose the race to teammate Brad Keselowski on fuel strategy. If Busch is half as good at Kentucky as he was at Kansas, than he will be a solid top-tier driver pick.
While Edwards has run more times, Joey Logano enters this weekend with the best Kentucky winning percentage, 100%. Logano started from the pole and won in all three of his Nationwide races at the track. As we have seen with several other ovals, though, Nationwide success doesn’t necessarily translate into Cup for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. This weekend may be an exception: Logano has scored back-to-back top-10 finishes and has some rare momentum on his side. Kentucky rolled around at the perfect time for the No. 20 team.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. played the fuel strategy game and almost stole a victory at Kansas earlier this season, but he was beat out by Keselowski. What may have been overlooked was that Earnhardt Jr. was in line to score a solid finish before taking a risk to get the race win. The No. 88 team has had a couple of down weeks, but look for it to bounce back at Kentucky.
The numbers are stacked against David Ragan this weekend. The biggest number is 19.3, which is the average finish of Sprint Cup drivers this year in the race after the event they won. Out of the bottom-tier drivers, though, Ragan still seems to make the most sense at Kentucky. He has confidence on his side and was 13th at Kansas.
Ryan Newman has been on a slide down the Sprint Cup standings. Finishes of 23rd and 25th in the past two weeks haven’t helped. It is difficult tabbing drivers to stay away from when a series is yet to visit the track, but Newman consistently doesn’t perform well at 1.5-mile ovals. In his last three starts at 1.5-milers, he is 15th, 31st and 14th, not exactly sparkling numbers.
AJ Allmendinger had a miserable run at Kansas, resulting in a 27th-place finish. The 1.5-mile tracks have been this team’s Achilles Heel for the past couple of seasons. Subtract the chaotic finish of the Coca-Cola 600 from the mix and the No. 43 hasn’t crossed the line better than 19th on an intermediate track this season.
Until next week, good luck my friends!
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