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NASCAR Kentucky Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, July 08, 2011

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Kentucky Spdway
Since 1875 the most prestigious racing event located in the state of Kentucky has been the annual Kentucky Derby. This spectacular race for thorough bred horses is a huge part of the state's rich history.

Will we see the beginning of a new racing tradition in the state of Kentucky this Saturday night? It's very possible that a new form of horsepower will take a prominent position in Kentucky's top annual events. The stars and cars of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series will finally make their racing debut at the Kentucky Speedway.

This is an event that has been a long time coming. A large contingency, from speedway executives to fans, wanted this event to become reality. But there were numerous obstacles along the way including difficulties with scheduling realignment and even some court house drama.

After a lengthy period of point-counter point, it's finally time for the Sprint Cup Series to shine under the lights of the Kentucky Speedway. Because this is an inaugural event, the winner of the Quaker State 400 is going to collect bragging rights connected with leading some key Sprint Cup categories. That includes most Cup wins at this speedway, most laps led and someone will spend the next year holding the track's qualifying record.

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THE VEGAS BREAKDOWN

So, who's going to set new NASCAR records for the first time ever following the Quaker State 400? There are no previous stats from this speedway to refer to, but one good source for stats can be found among the driver numbers for intermediate race tracks. The Kentucky Speedway's 1.5 mile oval is very similar to other race tracks of the same size on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule.

The clues for solving this riddle can also be found via the hard work of the professionals of the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).

Topping the WSE rankings for Kentucky is Carl Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing Ford at 7 to 1 odds. Edwards suffered an early race setback last weekend in Daytona and found himself falling from first to second in the standings. However, the deficit is only five points and he'll be looking to make that up Saturday night. Edwards is strong on intermediate tracks, again around 1.5 miles in length, and has 17 wins on them along with a healthy average finish ratio, (AFR), of 12.0. The fact that he's been a major player in Sprint Cup racing all season long is another reason why he's always going to be a safe bet consideration.

In the 8 to 1 category is the duo of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When it comes to racing on intermediate tracks, it's very hard to top the team of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus. This championship tag team has 37 wins on these tracks along with an awesome AFR of 9.8. The car looked strong during Thursday's first practice session. Johnson set a chart topping speed of 175.839 MPH. Johnson is currently sixth in the championship standings, 22 points out of first. He and Knaus will be working on that between now and the time the official Chase lineup is announced on September 10th. The drive for championship number six is on.

By the time you read this you've probably already heard that Kyle Busch won Thursday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at the Kentucky Speedway. He will be racing in all three of the NASCAR events this weekend and he will be looking to perform a trifecta sweep similar to what he accomplished at Bristol last August. Prior to the win in the truck series, he scorched the competition during the second Sprint Cup practice session with a lap of 178.849 MPH. This driver, and his Joe Gibbs Racing team is always a solid consideration to win a race.

The WSE has Kurt Busch ranked at 9 to 1 odds to win the Kentucky race this Saturday. That's very possible. This is the most improved team in NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing. At fourth in the standings, only 16 points from the top, their Chase presence is looking stronger than ever.

At 10 to 1 odds you will find the duo of Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. Hamlin's championship hopes are somewhat at a crossroads right now and it's time to solidify that position. He's currently 11th in the standings only three points away from that coveted top ten. On a more positive note, he does have 11 wins and a 13.4 AFR on intermediate tracks. His one win this year will help with his wild card status, but the team known they can't rely on that. It's go time for Hamlin and company.

Matt Kenseth has 14 career wins, and a 13.5 AFR, on these so called "cookie cutter tracks." This year he's having a rock solid season with two wins and his fifth in the championship standings. He has a habit of blending into the pack during the first two thirds of a race without barely a mention of his name during a live broadcast. Then all of a sudden, in the latter stages of the race, there's Kenseth taking on the role of a major player in the finish. He could very easily do that again Saturday night in Kentucky.

At 11 to 1 odds you will find drivers Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick. As an elder statesman in the Sprint Cup Series, as well as a four time champion, Gordon has 40 wins on intermediate tracks and a healthy 12.1 AFR. He also holds a unique NASCAR status in winning the series' debut races. He won the inaugural events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1994, the inaugural race at the California based Auto Club Speedway in 1997 and he won the first ever Cup race at the Kansas Speedway in 2001. He'll be looking to add the Kentucky Speedway to that list Saturday night.

Meanwhile Kevin Harvick is a nine time winner on intermediate tracks. However, the strength here lies in the fact that this Richard Childress Racing Team is looking more and more like Sprint Cup champions. His three wins, and six top five finishes, now has him on top of the championship standings.

Owner-driver Tony Stewart is ranked at 12 to 1 odds by the WSE this week. Traditionally, it's always been believed that Stewart's performance levels gets hot during the summer months. Summer is here and the temperature is plenty hot. It's time for this team to get motivated, and do it quickly, if they're going to making this year's Chase line up. He's still looking for his first win of the year and he's currently 12th in the championship standings but is only four points from the top ten. On the plus side, Stewart is very solid at intermediate tracks with 20 wins and a 12.4 AFR.

Greg Biffle is riding in the same boat as Stewart. He's 13th in the standings, looking for the first win of the season and has slid to 25 points away from the top ten. It's go time for this Roush Fenway team. His career stats shows 15 intermediate track wins and a 15.4 AFR. Biffle is ranked at 13 to 1 this weekend.

It's Junior time. NASCAR's most popular driver is ranked 15 to 1 to win Kentucky. The focal point for Dale Earnhardt Jr this weekend will be the ability to halt the slide from the past two races. Granted he was caught up in racing situations that were both unavoidable and not of his making, but none the less the collateral damage was a slide from third to seventh in the standings. The one major strength is his crew chief, Steve Letarte, who is very good at keeping his driver calm and motivated during a race.

In the middle tier of this week's WSE listing you will find drivers Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne ranked at 25 to 1 followed by Joey Logano at 30 to 1. Let's pause and reflect on the Logano rating. Granted, he's been having a tough season and the team hasn't lived up to the pre season potential that everyone expected. First off, Logano has some strong momentum going for him following last weekend at Daytona where he won the Nationwide Series race and finished third in the Cup race. Also prevalent here is Logano's Nationwide Series record at the Kentucky Speedway. He's won the last three races there and won all three of them from the pole position. At 30 to 1 odds, Logano might make an interesting wager for those of you who like to roll the dice on long shot bets.

At 35 to 1 odds you will find the trio of Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya and Mark Martin. The 40 to 1 category features Jeff Burton, Martin Truex Jr, David Reutimann, and Brian Vickers. Closing out the WSE rankings this week are last week's Daytona winner David Ragan, 45 to 1, and Jamie McMurray at 50 to 1. If you didn't see the name of your favorite driver listed then he's automatically placed at 8 to 1 by the WSE.

Now for this week's disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these odds numbers are for information and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races. But, if you're going to do it anyway, then you will need the latest information from the professionals at the World Sports Exchange. I'm thinking some of you are already pondering those Joey Logano stats aren't you?

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THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Quaker State 400 will be 267 laps/400 miles around the Kentucky Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.


The race has 48 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 18 of those entries are on the go or go home list. These teams are not guaranteed an automatic starting berth because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.


That could be a problem due to weather. The Friday daytime forecast for Sparta-Kentucky calls for cloudy skies and a 40% chance of thunderstorms. Saturday race night has an improved forecast calling for clearer skies and 68 degrees.

The Kentucky Speedway is a 1.5 mile oval with 14 degrees banking in all four turns, 10 degrees banking in the tri oval but only four degrees in the straightaways.

The speedway does have a few bumps in its asphalt surface especially in turns three and four. This will be a challenge for crew chiefs to develop a good shock package prior to the race to help their car's handling capabilities.

To accommodate the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, the Kentucky Speedway added additional grand stand seating and can now accommodate 117,000 fans. On Thursday speedway officials declared Saturday night's race a sellout.

The Quaker State 400 will be broadcast live by the TNT Network beginning at 630 pm eastern time. The race re air will be Wednesday, July 13th, at 12 pm eastern on SPEED.

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