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NASCAR race preview: Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Saturday, July 14th, 2018

News, notes, audio and photos courtesy of NASCAR

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart

The Place: Kentucky Speedway

The Date: Saturday, July 14

The Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: NBCSN, 7 p.m. ET

Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400.5 miles (267 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 267)

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Generating Buzz

The high hopes and great promise of the Monster Energy Cup Series’ group of highly-talented young drivers has been a focal point since the 2018 preseason – even before a single lap was turned on the race track. And on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, that great expectation was met when 22-year-old Erik Jones earned his first career Cup trophy leading the final lap of the Coke Zero Sugar 400.

Erik Jones, driver of the #20 buyatoyota.com Toyota, applies the winner’s sticker in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 7, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

It also marked the first victory for the newest generation of Cup drivers after a season dominated by veterans and former Cup champions such as five-time race winners Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and reigning series champion, Martin Truex Jr., who has hoisted three trophies already this year.

And recent results at Kentucky lend one to think you could expect more positive results for NASCAR’s youth movement in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Jones finished sixth as a rookie at Kentucky last year, giving him the fifth-best driver ranking at the track which has only hosted seven Monster Energy Series races. Fourth-year Cup driver Chase Elliott, 22, has a best showing of third in two Kentucky starts. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman, 25, earned a top five in the 2013 Xfinity race there and a top 10 in the 2015 Monster Energy Series race. Bowman hasn’t run at Kentucky since 2015.

Rookie William Byron, 20, won in his first start at the track, claiming the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series trophy. Fellow 2018 Cup rookie Bubba Wallace, 24, scored his best Monster Energy Series finish in the four races he filled in for injured Aric Almirola last year – an 11thplace showing. He also has five top 10s in five previous Truck and Xfinity Series starts.

Ryan Blaney, 24, scored his second major career NASCAR victory at Kentucky, winning the 2013 Xfinity Series race there and answered with another win in 2015.

Back on Track

Championship points leader Kyle Busch snapped a five-race top-five streak Saturday night with a 33rd place finish on the Daytona high banks, however he has good reason to show up at Kentucky Speedway feeling optimistic.

The car of Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Snickers Intense Toyota, sits in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway on July 13, 2018 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Busch is the only driver to have won in all of NASCAR’s three major divisions at the 1.5-mile track. He won the inaugural Monster Energy Series race at the track in 2011 and won again in his 2015 championship season – joining three-time winner Brad Keselowski as the only drivers with multiple victories. He also has victories in the Xfinity Series (2004, 2016, 2017) and the Camping World Truck Series in 2011 and 2014.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver boasts the top driver rating at Kentucky (125.9) with an impressive statistical line featuring the pair of wins, five top-five and six top-10 finishes in the seven Monster Energy Series races there.

Busch leads four of the six primary loop data Cup statistical matrixes including Driver Rating, Laps Led (549), Fastest Laps Run (268) and his Average Running Position (4.607) is nearly twice as good as next on the list, Matt Kenseth at 8.044.

Getting Closer

Even though they both were collected in accidents at Daytona, Kevin Harvick still trails Kyle Busch by 57 points in the championship standings. But Harvick statistically, at least, appears primed to challenge for his first Kentucky Speedway trophy this week. He has finished in the top 10 in the last five races. In 2016, he won the pole position and led a race-best 128 of the 267 laps only to finish ninth.

The driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford has 2001 and 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins at the track and he’s completed every lap of the seven Monster Energy Series races. The five-time winner in 2018 last hoisted a trophy seven races ago, winning from the pole at Kansas Speedway. Three of his five wins this season have come on 1.5-mile circuits.

Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 PPG Ford (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Righting the Captain’s Ship

It was a rough outing for Team Penske at Daytona International Speedway – with all three of its Fords sidelined in a massive 26-car pile-up only 53 laps into the race. Ryan Blaney was officially scored last in the 40-car field, Joey Logano 39th and Brad Keselowski was 36th.

No one, perhaps, is more eager to get to Kentucky Speedway than the 2012 Monster Energy Series champion Keselowski, who has a series-best three Cup victories and three Xfinity Series wins at the track.

Hoping for Momentum

Six drivers from finished in the top 10 Saturday night at Daytona had season-best showings, giving them a dose of confidence for this week’s Kentucky event.  Third- and fourth-place finishers A.J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne scored their best finishes of the year. Fifth-place Chris Buescher tied a season-best mark – equaling his finish in the Daytona 500.

Sixth-place Ty Dillon had a career night – scoring his first ever top 10 in 72 Cup races.  Matt DiBenedetto’s seventh place marked his fourth career top-10 finish – two of them coming from Daytona International Speedway. He was ninth in the 2017 Daytona 500. And veteran Ryan Newman, who was eighth Saturday night, tied his best showing of the season. He was also eighth in the Daytona 500.

William Byron, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Rookie Rebound

The Cup Series two rookies – Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron and Richard Petty Motorsports’ Bubba Wallace – continue to keep this race-within-a-race interesting and highly competitive.

Byron, driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet, holds a 26-point edge over Wallace in the points standings. Byron is ranked 21st and Wallace is 25th. They are coming off vastly different races at Daytona with Byron finishing 32nd after being in a multi-car accident in Stage 2. Wallace answered his runner-up showing in the Daytona 500 with a 14th place run at the track’s summertime night race.

And both drivers have promising histories at Kentucky.

Byron won a Camping World Truck Series race in his track debut in 2016 and has finishes of seventh and 18th in two Xfinity Series races there.

Wallace has four top-10 Xfinity Series finishes in as many races at Kentucky, including a fifth place in 2016. He was runner-up in the 2014 Camping World Truck Series race at the track.

Media Center Interviews:

Ryan Blaney – 

 

Erik Jones – 

 

Alex Bowman – 

 

Kyle Busch – 

 

Martin Truex Jr. – 

 

 

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