Hopefully you had Justin Haley in the Coke Zero Sugar 400! You didn’t, because nobody did, so we move on to this week’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Kentucky. This is a fun track right off of I-71 and there’s a casino not that far north of the track, so those that will be attending this race should have a good time. It remains the site of the only NASCAR race I’ve ever attended.
Anyway, this is the 19th race of the regular season and the final race of the regular season that will be run on a 1.5-mile track. NBC Sports Network will have the coverage.
Odds for the Quaker State 400 will be on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers.
Variety is the Spice of Life
But it isn’t in the spice rack at Kentucky Speedway. This is one of the newest races on the calendar. The inaugural race was won by Kyle Busch in 2011. He won again in 2015. Brad Keselowski won in 2012. He also won in 2014 and 2016. Martin Truex Jr. has won in back-to-back years. Matt Kenseth won in 2013.
That’s it. Only four different drivers have won this race in the eight years it has been around and one of them is retired. Only once has this race required extra laps and that was in 2017 with Truex winning on the 274th lap.
This is about as standard as a 1.5-mile track gets, hence the lack of variety.
The race I attended was in 2016 and it was a mess. There were roughly 200 cautions and cars running out of gas over the last few laps. Qualifying was rained out and the track was repaved in the fall of 2015 and really had not set by the time the race was run. The corners were slippery and sloppy and the race was the longest in this event’s history at over three hours and six minutes.
The 2017 race ran a lot smoother, but last year’s race was what we all love to see on 1.5-mile tracks. Martin Truex Jr. won in a neat and tidy time of 2:39:43 and the average speed of 150.454 was the fastest in the race’s history. Now that the track has fully settled in, I would expect another fast, clean race. Turns 1 & 2 have 17-degree banking and Turns 3 & 4 come in at 14 degrees. The flat straightaway means drivers can really get it going.
Justin Haley won last week at Daytona. He is the first non-Cup Series driver to win since Brian Vickers in 2013 at New Hampshire. Haley’s win will not alter the playoffs in any way. He is not a full-time points driver. It just means that those without a win have one fewer chance with seven races left in the regular season. Austin Dillon led the most laps last weekend and the race was moved from Saturday to Sunday because of rain, so things were a mess all the way around.
Joey Logano did get the pole as a result of rain during the qualifying period and he won the first stage before joining so many others by getting involved in a crash. The highest finisher of the top 11 in points was Aric Almirola, who finished seventh.
With the stage win, Logano extended his lead to 18 points over Kyle Busch. Kevin Harvick is still winless, but third in points, even though he doesn’t have a top-five finish in his last six races. Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. round out the top five. Truex is the favorite this week at +380.
Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, who is solidly in the postseason, and Almirola round out the top 10. If the playoffs started today, the last six spots would go to Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, who has back-to-back top-five finishes, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Newman.
It’s getting to be crunch time for those without a win.
THIS IS SPARTA!
Literally. This is Sparta, Kentucky. Anyway, this is a 1.5-mile track with few intricacies. This is all about the equipment and the driver. That’s why Truex is a big favorite. That’s why Busch and Harvick are +550. That’s why Keselowski and Logano are +880. That’s why everybody else is in double digits. Truex has back-to-back wins here and already has four wins this season with Joe Gibbs Racing. One more would tie his 2017 mark, when he was the Chase champion.
Busch hasn’t won here since 2015, but he was fifth in 2017 and fourth last year. His lone win on a 1.5-mile track came at Phoenix, but he was top five at Las Vegas and Charlotte and led the most laps at Texas. He’s a threat to win everywhere, especially on 1.5-mile ovals.
The same is true for Harvick, though he doesn’t have one yet and hasn’t been able to seal the deal at Kentucky. He led the most laps in 2016, but fell behind Truex as he preserved fuel in hopes of finishing the race. His fifth-place finish last year was actually his best Kentucky finish ever, which is crazy. He’s led the most laps on three of the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Maybe he’ll break through here, but I like him more next week on the shorter track at New Hampshire.
Consistency has been a problem for Keselowski, but this price looks like a gift. He won two stages at Charlotte, won at Atlanta, was second at Las Vegas, and he won at Kansas. He’s been money on 1.5-mile tracks this season and he’s got three career wins here. I hate putting the cart before the horse, but Keselowski at +880 is on the card.
Something crazy could very well happen, but I’d be stunned if the single-digit drivers failed to win this race. I don’t think this is a track for long shots. It’s a standard 1.5-mile track that has had time to cure. This is one of the chalkiest races on the calendar as far as I’m concerned.
Brad Keselowski is my pick at +880. Feel free to play any of the other short prices, but it’s #2 to finish #1 for me this week.