Race Weekend Central

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: Live From Kentucky Edition

Every now and then, I am fortunate enough to get to attend a NASCAR race and in this case, be at the venue for two days. That’s what happened this past weekend at Kentucky Speedway, so it’s a chance to have a little different perspective on the entire experience.


If you are a Martin Truex Jr. fan or Truex himself, you could feel nothing but good about the weekend. Truex competed with Kyle Busch for the lead during the first half of the race and then, was downright dominant the rest of the night. Before the last caution, he had put all but seven other cars at least one lap down. That dominance was demonstrated on the final restart, too. Truex opted to stay out and not get fresh tires, while the rest of the lead lap cars did come for fresh tires. It didn’t matter, though, as he still pulled away from Kyle Larson for what turned out to be a one-lap shootout due to a wreck that happened just as Truex was crossing the start-finish line. That final lap turned out to be the most exciting part of the race, hands downs, because of just how good Truex was. The rest of the competition can only hope Truex is not that good on the 1.5-mile tracks come playoff time.


Jimmie Johnson is one of NASCAR’s all-time greats, and he has a legitimate shot to win an unprecedented eighth title this year. But crew chief Chad Knaus and he have to be glad that Kentucky Speedway is not among the tracks in the playoffs. It remains the one track that Johnson has not won on yet. Even though the track is still relatively new to the circuit, you know Johnson would love to be a driver who has won at every track. Of course, it still might happen as he signed an extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2020. But a crash involving Brad Keselowski knocked the No. 48 out early Saturday night and left Johnson with a 40th-place finish. He now has an average finish of 27th in his last three races at Kentucky.


As a first-time attender of an event at Kentucky Speedway, there was a lot to be impressed with. Since it is such a new track, it is certainly cleaner than a lot of other sporting, and not just racing, venues. The traffic situation around the track, which tarnished its first year on the schedule, has since been solved. There were virtually no issues getting in and out of the track (and that was even staying for the victory burnout). Also, the walkway tunnel to the infield was as nice as could possibly be, with large fans to help with the ventilation and grooved walking surface to help prevent slipping. The workers were also courteous and kind when answering questions from this first-time visitor. Also, with threatening weather on the way Friday night, there was a quick call to move the XFINITY race to Saturday, allowing fans to leave early, instead of hanging around for an hour or two with some kind of hope of the race happening. So if you want to judge Kentucky Speedway in terms of having the amenities, the pre-race experience and having consideration for the fans, it gets a big thumbs up.


But now, if you want to judge Kentucky Speedway for the on-track action, well, that’s a completely different story. First, there was the aforementioned Truex, who made the question of who was going to win a moot point by midway through the second stage. Just how he could be so dominant in cars that are prepared so similarly is quite interesting. On occasion, a team just hits it right. But the real problem here was the difficulty that drivers had making passes throughout the rest of the field. Unless one car was significantly better than another, the ability to pass was nullified. It might be the cars, as Keselowski indicated after his accident, or it might be the track, or it might be the combination of the two. Whatever the case, the on-track combination is just not working. If not for Larson driving through nearly the entire field twice during the race, there would have been almost no action to watch at all. You have to wonder if there had been no stages, would Truex have lapped the entire field? It certainly would not have been surprising. Even with all of the pre-race hospitality and kindness extended by the Kentucky Speedway staff, the real reason most fans are there is to see a good race, and that’s a big fix that’s got to be made.


Maybe this has to do with driving the No. 14 car, but certainly just like his predecessor in that car, Clint Bowyer offered some in-race entertainment on the radio. It was late in the race when unprompted, Bowyer, let out a big “Choo! Choo!” saying, “it’s just a train out here,” referring to the single file line the cars were in without much passing going on for much of the race. Thanks, Clint, for giving us some much needed commentary to break the monotony.


One of the supposed benefits spending the entire weekend at a track is getting to see the XFINITY race, but when you see Kyle Busch’s name on the entry list, well, the betting line should be Kyle Busch vs. the rest of the field. From a sponsorship standpoint, it may help the XFINITY Series to have some bigger name drivers in the race. But the first six finishers this weekend were all Cup regulars and other than Ryan Blaney’s late run through the field, there wasn’t a lot of excitement in this race either. So, I ask again, what’s the problem? The cars or the track?


The Cup series heads to New Hampshire this weekend, a flat place, where drivers like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson like to race. Well, Larson has been tearing it up on the dirt, winning six straight at one point, and New Hampshire might be the closest thing to that. So, Larson is the pick this week. The deep sleeper underdog who you might not think about pick is Ryan Newman, who has two top 10 finishes in his last four races there.

About the author

Jeff is in his fifth year with Frontstretch and in his third year of writing the Hot and Not column after having been the fantasy writer in his first two seasons. After spending all of his post-collegiate career in sports and news at newspapers, he changed professions three years ago, but remains a faithful fan of NASCAR and other forms of racing allowing him to give us his unique take on NASCAR each week.

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Boring track boring one lane race. Get rid of Kentucky for cup race. Maybe one day Brian will realize he needs to take that cow catcher off the front of the car to take away reinforce and allow the cars to race, but I doubt he’s smart enough. Question then will be, will the sponsors come back then !

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