Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Quaker State 400 at Kentucky

Who’s in the headline – The new aerodynamic package that debuted at Kentucky will receive much of the press this week. The driver that looked best at adapting to that package this weekend was Kyle Busch. Busch dominated at Kentucky Speedway, leading more than half of the laps and capitalizing on the lesser aero dependence of the cars to make a late race pass for the lead, under green. Busch now has two wins for the season and needs to simply focus on making the top 30 in points in order to qualify for the Chase.

What happenedBrad Keselowski grabbed the lead early and shared the bulk of the lap leading duties with Busch, although he led less than half of the eventual race winner’s total. Denny Hamlin had a brief foray at the front and Joey Logano made a late race push after a restart to snatch the win away from Busch, however the No. 18 was too stout and chased down Logano, reassuming the lead with 20 laps to go and never looking back. NASCAR proved to be overly anxious with the caution flag once again, throwing it three times for drivers simply brushing the wall.

Why you should care – For the first time in a while, a car that was a mere 0.2 seconds faster than the leader was actually able to catch up and then pass the leader. While there were only three legitimate, on-track passes for the lead, the fact that is that a car that wasn’t half of a second faster than the leader was still able to catch and pass a car with track position. After years of screwing up the racing, this package was at least a small step in the direction of fixing it.

What your friends are talking about – In what is typical NASCAR logic, qualifying was “rained out” at Kentucky, yet a practice for the field who was to compete in the event was held one hour prior to that scheduled qualifying time. Three teams were sent home based on their number of qualifying attempts without even having the opportunity that could have been afforded to them if NASCAR had run qualifying instead of that inane practice session. With the amount of resources invested by a team traveling to a racetrack for a Cup event, they should at least be given a chance to try and qualify if it is at all possible. Teams certainly needed some practice time to test the new package, but putting the best field on the track should have taken precedence over giving the 43 chosen some seat time.

Kyle Busch is 87 points out of Chase eligibility. There are eight races until the cut-off. Basic math says 11 points per race gets him in, and Busch made up 41 points Saturday night, so 87 hardly seems like it is going to be difficult for him to overcome. With that said, there will be a portion of the fanbase that will not be able to stomach the thought of a driver missing 11 races and having a shot at the championship. That portion will grow more vocal if Busch is able to advance to the third or fourth round of the playoffs.

Close but no cigar for Jeff Gordon at Kentucky. In Gordon’s long and distinguished career, he has won at every track on the schedule except Kentucky. He also has wins at Rockingham and North Wilkesboro. Unfortunately for Gordon, with his impending retirement, he will not notch wins at every track on the schedule. Gordon had initially stated that he was not retiring, just cutting back from a full-time schedule, but since then he has stated that he does not anticipate racing any more. In the modern world of Cup racing, even if he does come back for some one-off races, like at Kentucky, his possibilities of victory are minute.

Steve O’Donnell, Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer for NASCAR spelled it out in not so many words this week that NASCAR is all about the money and the fans who come to the track don’t matter. “I don’t think so,” O’Donnell said. “I think the sport is so big now and there are so many partners that are involved. I know it might be easier to look at an 11 a.m. start. It’s our job to look at all factors to grow the sport as much as we can and make it as fan friendly as possible.” That was his response to an inquiry about moving the July Daytona race back to a morning start time. We saw last week that they don’t give two shakes of a rat’s tail about fans when they started the race at 11:42 p.m. ET. Clearly it was about something other than the fans, both at the track and watching on TV, dropping the flag and knowing that there was no way the race could end before 2:00 a.m. Forget that daytime racing is better. Discount that fans actually work normal hours for a living and can’t stay at the track through the all but guaranteed rain delays that come with a night race in the summer at Daytona. NASCAR will cash those fat checks from the advertisers and TV networks and the fans can stay or go, it really doesn’t matter.

Who is mad Kyle Larson started on pole Saturday night but slipped back to the rear of the top 10 rather early in the event. He wallowed in that region of the field until he bounced his car off of the wall and cut a rear tire on the bent sheetmetal. He ultimately lost two laps after a second cut tire and what started as a promising night turned into a 35th-place run.

Martin Truex Jr. looked poised to go on a run of wins after he finally put the No. 78 into Victory Lane at Pocono. He followed that with a third-place run at Michigan but has now had runs of 42nd, 38th and 17th. Truex is solidly in the Chase even if he doesn’t win again but few people saw the team turning South this badly after finally getting over the winning hump.

Aric Almirola started 12th and drove 400 miles on Saturday night. After all of the passes, strategy calls, pit stops and restarts he came home in 12yj position. It is almost like kissing your sister when you drive your guts out, putting your heart and soul into the effort and don’t finish any better or worse than where you started.

Who is happyJoe Gibbs has got to be a happy man. The race ended with him in Victory Lane looking out at his four other drivers who finished third, fourth and fifth. There was much discussion early in the year if anyone was going to be able to challenge Hendrick and affiliates or Penske. It absolutely looks like the folks at JGR are going to have their helmets in the ring when the trophy is handed out in Homestead.

Speaking of happy owners, Jack Roush has to be at least happier after Saturday night. The Roush Fenway gang has not been setting the world on fire this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came home in 11th this week, just one spot from a top-10 run. Trevor Bayne was three spots from posting his third top 10 in four races and Greg Biffle went from 27th to 16th. It isn’t contending for a win but it is a solid step in the right direction.

Keselowski was in contention for the win until late in the race. He led the most laps of any race he’s run all season. He scored his second top six since Texas, the seventh race of the season. He knows that it isn’t about where you run now but where you run in the Chase, however you want to be trending in the right direction. This weekend might indicate that he’s heading in the right direction.

When the checkered flag flew:

Busch’s win at Kentucky was his 31st career win in 372 starts. It is his second victory of the season and second career triumph at Kentucky in five races. Busch is 23rd on the all-time wins list. He is one behind Dale Jarrett and Matt Kenseth for 21st.

Logano’s runner-up run was his second top-two finish of the season. This was Logano’s first career top-two at Kentucky. Logano has three career second-place runs.

Hamlin crossed the line in third place for his third podium of the season and his second in two races. Hamlin has two career third-place finishes at Kentucky. This was Hamlin’s 70th career top three, which ranks him 36th all-time.

Kevin Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Hamlin, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. Harvick, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kurt Busch are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events thanks to multiple wins. Kyle Busch will be locked in assuming he can make it into the top 30 in points, which would mean down to 14th in points would make it in.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 18 races without wins and their standing in points:

7) Jamie McMurray

10) Jeff Gordon

12) Kasey Kahne

13) Paul Menard

14) Ryan Newman

15) Clint Bowyer

Takin’ it to the Bank:

Cup winners this year have pocketed $6,534,281, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,485,607 in 18 races

In the Xfinity Series, after 16 races it has been $1,274,324 for the winners and $230,686 for last place.

After 10 Truck races, the winner has $555,330 and the last loser has banked $101,595.

What is in the cooler

The new rules package made from some tremendously exciting restarts, which is just more of the same that we’ve seen all year long. In the end Busch was able to pass Logano on the track, with an only slightly better car. That is the first time we’ve seen that in quite some time. That made it a slightly better than average race solely on that face. We’ll give it four chilled Hudepohls.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – Next week the series heads to New England to run for the giant lobster. The Cup series hits New Hampshire Motor Speedway at 1:30 p.m. Sunday June 19th. The race can be seen on NBCSN. If you would like to listen along it is on your local PRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Carl D.

I’m with you, Mike… the new package did make for better racing, at least at Kentucky. I’m curious to see how the various changes work as the teams visit different tracks, but like you said, it’s a small step in the right direction.

If Kyle Busch can claw his way into the top 30 in 11 races less than his competitors, and with a couple of wins under his belt, that would be quite an accomplishment. In my opinion, he would deserve to be in the chase. Besides, the whole chase playoff system makes championship legitimacy a joke anyway.


Amen to that….I actually like the Chase, and to have KyBusch make it in would be an awesome accomplishment. Really, he has to miss the 11 races because the sanctioning body and ISC cheap out on SAFER barriers, so I think it is certainly is fair to let him in if he makes the top-30…NASCAR is not “giving” him anything.

I’m no particular fan of the #18, but he would certainly be a more deserving driver than someone just schlumping around the track….I’m talkin’ to you, Newman!

Carl D.

I don’t fully blame Nascar for Kyle’s situation. If he hadn’t been moonlighting in the Xfinity series he wouldn’t have been hurt. There’s enough blame to go around.

Bill B

I agree that on the surface that the racing appeared to be better. I am a little skeptical though because of the record number of cautions which in turn results in a lot of double file restarts and wave arounds (did you notice how many cars got back on the lead lap on one of those cautions… and no mention of it by the broadcast crew?). From past experience I know that lots of cautions produce lots of passes and lead changes. However, as I said above, it did seem like the cars could move around each other more with the new package.

Don’t get me started on the chase. IMO, if there must be a chase, it should only include the top 5 drivers in the points who actually ran good the entire season and most likely have all won a couple of races. The bloated chase field may be good for selling hats and t-shirts but it doesn’t create any legitimacy or fairness to the most deserving championship caliber team.

Did anyone notice that when Hamlin got dinged for speeding on his pit stop that a “bulletin” showed up above the running order but it took more than 5 minutes for the announcers to mention it.

Overall it was a decent race to watch.


I thought it was a pretty good race. It was nice to see cars being able to pass and race side by side rather than being a total parade for 3 hrs.

I think many fans have already realized that NASCAR doesn’t really care if we show up or watch. Certainly I realize that the $ they make from the fans is a pittance. It is all about the sponsorship, tv and ad $ but it still seems like a strange thing to say. Somehow I can’t imagine the NFL or MLB ever not caring if no one showed up to watch, but then again, this is NASCAR, where the fans are irrelevant.


what i saw of the race was ok…..i snoozed.

na$car gave up on the fans years ago. this comment just cements their feeling towards us, the bread and butter of the sport.

did notice the fair amount of empty seats at kentucky.

let’s see if the na$car circus has better luck with the old broad, mother nature, this coming weekend.


Janice, yes, I agree, NASSCAR has made it clear for years now that the fans are not important — it wasn’t that way when Bill Jr was running the show but sonny boy Brainless has never liked the fans and he’s hired people who apparently are not savvy enough NOT to say so out loud.

IMO they should at least keep up the façade that the fans are the reason they race.

Bill B

I still can’t see how disregarding the fans won’t bite NASCAR in the ass in the long run. The lucrative TV contracts are dependent on fans watching so eventually it will hurt the bottom line. They’ve already be relegated to the second tier Fox and NBC channel. That is a step backward in my opinion.


I agree with you, Bill. I just don’t see how a business especially one in the entertainment/sports industry can sustain that if they keep doing the same thing. Over the past 5 years, I already went from being glued to the tv every time NASCAR was on to watching the race and even then, not all the time. As you say, someone has to pay for all those TV contracts and if people don’t watch, I would think that $ would eventually dry up. But BZF seems quite capable of getting business people to buy into his vision. It’s a shame that he and his minions are not quite as able to be that persuasive with the fans, instead of regarding them as a nuisance.


I liked what I saw from the new rules package. Faster cars could pass, the leader could be chased down and drivers had to wheel the cars more. The battle between Busch and Logano at the end is what I was looking for. Kyle had a faster car and was able to get by Logano with some work. He didn’t just hit a wall of air and stall out. Joey was able to pull a crossover move and Kyle was still able to regroup and complete the pass. This package needs tweaking and a properly developed tire, but I’m really optimistic that they found something finally.

Fed Up

Nice to have a race start at intelligent hour on a Saturday evening. I was pleasantly pleased at some of the
passing. The director would get hung up on a one car shot occasionally to align with the commentary.
Without two cars they are not showing racing. I’m not sure what the rules are but some cars coming into the pits
seem to be jumping out of line prior to getting close to their stalls. Isn’t there a rule to cover that?

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