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NASCAR Kentucky Sprint Cup Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, June 29, 2012

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Kyle Busch won the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky last year
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be racing at the Kentucky Speedway, under the lights, this Saturday night. The Quaker State 400 marks only the second time NASCAR's elite series has raced on the speedway's 1.5 mile oval.

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

There are, of course, some rather interesting story lines going into Saturday night's race. Chief among them is Tuesday morning's stunning news that said driver Matt Kenseth is leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of this season. That announcement came from Jack Roush himself who also announced that NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr will be promoted to the Sprint Cup Series in 2013.

On Wednesday morning it was revealed that Kenseth does indeed have a new, and sponsored, ride already lined up for next year. The garage rumors say that the new ride is Joe Gibbs Racing. The unclear part of the rumor is: will Kenseth be driving for a fourth JGR team or will he be taking over the Home Depot/Dollar General Toyota currently driven by Joey Logano? Making the silly season rumor mill even more interesting is the talk that says Kenseth has also talked to Richard Childress Racing and Penske Racing. Remember nothing is official until the final announcement has been made and Kenseth is very good about not talking until it's time to talk.

Another interesting Sprint Cup garage rumor that surfaced on Wednesday was the one that said Indy Racing League owner Michael Andretti is seriously considering launching a NASCAR team. Granted, we've heard this before. However, Wednesday's rumor had a new level of possible credence attached to it. Andretti has been reported to be looking at acquiring the shop space formerly occupied by Evernham Motorsports in Statesville, NC.

Still another interesting aspect here is the rumor that says Andretti has been having conversations with Dodge Racing. The Dodge boys will be losing their flag ship teams when Penske Racing makes their switch to Ford next year and their looking for a high profile replacement. The name Michael Andretti would fit that bill rather nicely.

This is especially true if Dodge could tag team Andretti with Richard Petty Motorsports. It's been reported that Dodge has been talking to RPM about renewing Richard Petty's long time professional and personal ties with the Chrysler Corporation. However, several weeks ago, Petty said it was "news to him." One has to wonder about RPM making a manufacturing move at a time when their Fords are starting to show some muscle on the track.

Owner/driver, and Kentucky native, Michael Waltrip will make a scheduled return to his #55 Aaron's/MWR Toyota  Saturday night. You can expect to hear a lot of cheering for Waltrip during driver introductions. That's because the hood of his race car will be honoring the University of Kentucky men's basketball team and their NCAA national championship.

This time last year the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series made its much heralded debut at the Kentucky Speedway. We all remember seeing video of massive traffic jams on the access roads to the speedway. We all heard reports that said, once the fans actually made it to the track, there were no more parking spaces for them.

Since that time the combined efforts of the State of Kentucky, the speedway's management and staff along with Speedway Motorsports Inc, who owns the speedway, has resulted in some massive improvements to the freeway infrastructure. The speedway has also created parking for an additional 20,000 cars. Also, the Kentucky State Police has said they have a new plan in place to direct traffic before and after the race that will make the flow much smoother. That's great news for any fan who tried to attend this race last year.

THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN.

To get a good idea of which driver is going to be spraying champagne in the Kentucky Speedway victory lane, we again turn to the professional number crunchers from the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE). Because there has only been one previous Sprint Cup race at Kentucky, there really aren't a lot of numbers to crunch.

However, the Kentucky Speedway is just one of many intermediate, 1.5 mile oval, tracks on the NASCAR schedule that are often referred to as cookie cutter tracks. There are plenty of cookie cutter numbers for the WSE to crunch.

Very likely it's those numbers that has Jimmie Johnson on top of the WSE's Kentucky rankings at 7 to 1 odds. He's a two time winner this year and fourth in the championship standings. On intermediate tracks, Johnson has 40 career wins and a very good average finish ratio, (AFR), of 9.9.

At 8 to 1 you will find Kyle Busch the winner of the 2011 Kentucky race. Busch will be anxious to dig himself out of a hole caused by a recent rash of engine problems. That situation has relegated him to 12th in the championship standings, 137 points away from first. Busch has 11 wins and a 16.1 AFR on NASCAR's mile and a half speedways.

At 9 to 1 is the Roush Fenway Racing Ford tandem of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. With one win already this season, Biffle is ranked second in the points, behind Kenseth, just 11 points away. He has 16 wins, and a 15.1 AFR, on the cookie cutter circuit.

Kenseth, also a previous race winner this year, has 17 intermediate track wins with a 13.3 AFR. As a general rule, Kenseth is often very good on this type of track and has a tendency of showing up late in the day during these races.

At 10 to 1 is the duo of Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. Stewart already has two wins in 2012 and that has moved him to 5th in the standings, 63 points away. He has an impressive 26 wins along with a 12.1 AFR on the cookie cutters.

Edwards is still seeking his first win of the season and has endured some surprising up and down team performance levels. Despite that he's hanging on to tenth place in the standings but is 117 points out of first. He has a good record on the intermediate tracks with 17 wins and a 11.6 AFR.

The WSE has Denny Hamlin ranked at 11 to 1. His two wins this year now has him 8th in the standings, 73 points away. He also has some respectable cookie cutter numbers that includes 13 wins and a 13.5 AFR.

Looking at the WSE's middle tier, the trio of Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne are rated at 12 to 1. It's no secret that bad racing luck has put Gordon in a major situation in terms of making the 2012 Chase. He's 18th in the standings, 182 points away, and clearly his Chase hopes are now resting on a wild card berth. However, that's going to take at least two wins to make that happen. The good news is: Gordon is the cookie cutter king with 45 wins and a 12.4 AFR and could pick up a win Saturday night at Kentucky.

Harvick is 6th in the standings, 64 points away, and is also seeking his first win of the season. He does have nine wins on mile and a half tracks with a 15.0 AFR.

Kahne, already a 2012 winner, has moved up to 17th in the standings, but is 175 points away. Kahne has 11 intermediate track wins with a 17.1 AFR.

At 14 to 1 odds is Dale Earnhardt Jr and his fan club, Junior Nation, who are still celebrating his win at Michigan. A late race accident at Sonoma last weekend dropped him to third in the points but he's still a major championship player and is only 14 points away. Earnhardt has 8 wins on the cookie cutter tracks with an AFR of 17.1.

Turning now to the WSE's lower tier for Kentucky, Brad Keselowski, a two time winner this year and tenth in the points, is rated at 19 to 1.

At 25 to 1 are Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer, last weekend's winner at Sonoma, and Martin Truex Jr who's still seeking his first win of the season. They are ranked seventh and ninth in the points respectively.

Closing out the WSE Kentucky list are Joey Logano-30 to 1, Ryan Newman, with 13 mile and a half track wins, comes in at 40 to 1 while Kurt Busch and A J Allmendinger are rated at 50 to 1.

If you do not see the names of your favorite drivers here, they are automatically ranked by the WSE at 10 to 1 odds.

NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

Saturday night's Quaker State 400 is 267 laps/400 miles around the Kentucky Speedway's 1.5 mile oval.

The race has 46 entries vying for the 43 starting berths.

11 of these entries are on the go or go home list meaning they do not have a guaranteed starting berth in the race because these teams are currently outside of the top 35 in owner's points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.

The Kentucky Speedway's 1.5 mile oval was opened in 2000. The speedway has 14 degrees of banking in the four turns. They presently have grandstand seating for 107,000.

Kyle Busch won the first Sprint Cup race at Kentucky last year from the pole due to the fact that qualifying was rained out. Because of that, there is no track qualifying record for the Sprint Cup series at Kentucky.

Weather for the Sparta-Kentucky area is going to be hot this weekend with daytime highs of 94 to 98 degrees in the forecast. This is the major reason why this race is being run at night.

The Quaker State 400 will be broadcast live by the TNT Network with the pre race show beginning at 630 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, July 4th, at 12 pm eastern.

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