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NASCAR Cup Series playoff hopefuls look to break through at Kentucky Speedway  7 Months ago

Source:   USA Today  

With the mayhem of restrictor-plate racing behind them, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers roll on to Kentucky Speedway and the Quaker State 400 Saturday night.

After more than half of the field was involved in accidents last Saturday night in a wild and generally out-of-control exhibition of superspeedway racing at Daytona International Speedway, the series visits calmer waters — Kentucky’s 1.5-mile layout — for the 18th race of the year.

Over the next eight races — through the end of the regular season — the series will visit a wide variety of tracks from the 2.5-mile ovals of Pocono Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Bristol’s high-banked short track to the Watkins Glen road course.

Kentucky is the only 1.5-miler in the group. A repave in 2016 changed the nature of the racing surface at a track where the Cup series has run only seven races.

Saturday’s race (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Netwrok) will provide several leading drivers with another opportunity to score their first wins at Kentucky. Kevin Harvick has won at every active track except Kentucky and Pocono. Johnson is lacking wins at Kentucky, Watkins Glen and Chicagoland Speedway. Also winless at Kentucky: Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano.

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A favorite Saturday will be Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski, who is winless this season but owns three victories at Kentucky.

The only other multiple winner at Kentucky in the field is Kyle Busch, with two. Busch leads the field in average finish at Kentucky at 5.1.

Busch also has scored wins in all three national series at Kentucky — two in Cup, three in Xfinity and two in Camping World Truck.

“It’s a pretty challenging racetrack,” Busch said. “It used to be a place that lends itself to different kinds of setups because it was so rough. Fast lap times at Kentucky come from momentum. The place is so round that there’s not a ton of banking compared to some other 1.5-milers. It’s all about how round the corners are and just being able to maintain corner speed and stay on the gas.”

Of the current top 16 in Cup points, Busch, Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. are the only drivers with victories at Kentucky. Matt Kenseth, who is splitting time with Trevor Bayne in the Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford and will be behind the wheel this weekend, also has a victory there.

With two months remaining until the 10-race playoffs begin, teams are concentrating on scoring the victory that will qualify them or landing in high points positions that also can earn playoff spots.

Qualified for the playoffs are the season’s seven winners – Kyle Busch, Harvick, Truex, Logano, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon.

The current playoff standings have these nine drivers in playoff positions: Kyle Larson, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Johnson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard and Ryan Newman are immediately below the cutoff line to qualify by points.

Jones added some new color to the season by winning Saturday night at Daytona, finally scoring a victory for the highly-touted group of newcomers who have earned a lot of publicity but have been slow to cash in. Jones outran Truex in a two-lap overtime dash to join the list of Cup winners.

“Kentucky is a fun track,” Jones said. “It’s a lot different the last couple of years since they repaved it, but it’s really been just as unique and just as fun as always. I feel like we always have pretty good speed at Kentucky. We had a solid run there last year in the Cup Series (finishing sixth), and, going back this year, mile-and-half tracks have been pretty good to us.

“It’s nice to have the win from Daytona to lock us in to the playoffs, so we’ll be able to go out and be a little more aggressive than we have been so far and look to add a few more wins before the playoffs start.”

Ahead of Saturday night's race at Kentucky Speedway



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