The NASCAR Cup Series has a limited history at Kentucky Speedway as only seven races have been conducted on the 1.5-mile track.
And even the stats from those seven races could be misleading when trying to figure out who will run well Saturday night in the Quaker State 400.
Prior to the 2016 race, Kentucky Speedway reconfigured the track with the width in Turns 1 and 2 reduced from 74 feet to 56 feet and the banking in that area increased from 14 degrees to 17 degrees. Turns 3 and 4 remained 74 feet wide with 14 degrees of banking.
Because of an issue with the original paving and potential seams coming apart, the top of the track surface was then repaved prior to the 2017 race.
One thing appears certain: Tire wear likely won’t be an issue. In the truck race Thursday night, Ben Rhodes didn’t take tires on his final pit stop and outraced those who had two fresh tires.
“We’re running on hockey pucks — they’re harder than hard and you can stay out on tires and whoever is out front, air matters more than the rubber that meets the road,” Kyle Busch said. “It’s challenging racing when you have that especially in a truck race.
“The guy [in second] that had two tires wasn’t able to come through. … I think you’ll see the same thing Xfinity and Cup.”
Martin Truex Jr., the defending winner of the Kentucky race and the pole-sitter for Saturday, said he wasn’t sure if the same strategy would work in the Cup race as it appeared that Stewart Friesen, the second-place driver in the truck race, seemed to have a tight truck in that final run.
“There’s a lot of variables there, but certainly interesting that we’re three years in on this track and the guy won [in trucks] on no tires,” Truex said. “That’s crazy, but that’s the way it goes, so I don’t know.”
Here’s how the lineup breaks down for the Quaker State 400:
1. Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota): He led 152 laps on a way to winning at Kentucky a year ago. It was the first time he ever finished top-5 at the track, but he also led 46 laps in 2016. So this reconfiguration has treated him well.
2. Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota): He now has a NASCAR Cup Series win and a sense of relief. Could he go back-to-back? He finished sixth in this race a year ago, so it’s possible.
3. Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford): Harvick has finished seventh-to-10th in his last five Kentucky starts. So a top-10 is likely. But a top-5 might be tough even for Harvick.
4. Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford): Keselowski has six career Cup wins at Kentucky – three in Xfinity and three in Cup. His Cup wins came in 2012, 2014 and 2016. So expect to see him on plenty of fantasy rosters.
5. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota): He’s the favorite with two victories, an average finish of 5.143 and 549 laps led in seven Cup starts at Kentucky.
6. Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford): Menard has no laps led and no top-10s in seven career Cup starts. But this might be a different year considering where he starts.
7. Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12 Ford): Blaney won two Xfinity races at Kentucky and has led 294 laps in Xfinity and trucks at the track. But it hasn’t really translated to Cup, where he hasn’t led a lap in two starts but did finish 10th a year ago.
8. Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford): Bowyer has never led a lap at Kentucky. This track was not a good one for him, before the repave nor after.
9. Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford): Busch led 10 laps and finished fourth in 2016 but didn’t finish the 2017 race at Kentucky. It was the first time he finished outside the top-20 at the track.
10. Ryan Newman (Richard Childress Racing No. 31 Chevrolet): He has three top-5s in seven Cup starts at Kentucky. His last three starts have been 20th, third and 22nd, so your guess is as good as mine as far as how well he’ll do.
11. Daniel Suarez (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota): He was third and second in Xfinity Series races at Kentucky in 2016, but he found things tough at the track a year ago (18th). Making it to the final round in qualifying shows he might have the feel in the car that he needs.
12. Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford): Almirola missed this race last year with his broken back. His career-best at the track is 12th in five starts.
13. Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet): He swept the 2012 Xfinity races at Kentucky but has never finished better than 16th in Cup at the track.
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 Ford): He had a rough weekend at Daytona, so don’t be surprised if he has few friends letting him into line if he needs some help. He doesn’t have a top-10 in five Kentucky starts.
15. Alex Bowman (Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet): Bowman hasn’t competed at Kentucky since 2015, so he’ll be learning the reconfiguration from 2016 for the first time.
16. Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet): He was third in this race a year ago. This team has had two bad results in its roller-coaster season, so it’s due for a good run.
17. Matt Kenseth (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford): Kenseth is back in the car after Trevor Bayne has run the last three races. Kenseth will drive in the next four.
18. Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet): Started 40th and finished second a year ago. With only 39 cars in the race, if he has as good a day passing cars this year, he could earn his first win of the season.
19. Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22 Ford): He was second at Kentucky in 2015 and has four top-10s in seven Cup starts. He did win three consecutive Xfinity races in events he starts at Kentucky from 2008-2010.
20. Chris Buescher (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 37 Chevrolet): His fifth-place finish at Daytona last week gave him back-to-back fifths at that track. Kentucky? He was 16th his last time there.
21. William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet): He won a truck race in 2016 at Kentucky but his 2017 Xfinity races were nothing to write home about.
22. Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet): McMurray has finished seventh in his last two Kentucky starts. After a wreck last week at Daytona, top-10s the rest of the way might not even get him in on points as he sits 110 points out of the playoff points cutoff.
23. Michael McDowell (Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Ford): McDowell had his best Cup finish at Kentucky last year when he finished 23rd – his first Cup start at Kentucky since 2013.
24. David Ragan (Front Row Motorsports No. 38 Ford): Kentucky has been a decent track for Ragan, who has finishes of 18th, 22nd and 24th in his last three starts.
25. Bubba Wallace (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet): He finished 11th in this race a year ago. He likes this track and always has run well at it, and will need to carry some momentum from a 14th-place finish at Daytona.
26. AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet): A third last week at Daytona was a huge boost. He has one top-10 (and just two top-20s) in seven career Cup starts at Kentucky.
27. Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet): This is a track where Johnson hasn’t won. He has failed to finish both races since the repave, so getting to the checkered flag will be a good feeling for him. He routinely qualifies and finishes top-10 at this track, so this starting spot was a disappointment.
28. Ty Dillon (Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet): Dillon won the June 2013 truck race at the track, but he hasn’t done well in Cup in his two starts – a 25th and a 33rd.
29. Kasey Kahne (Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Chevrolet): He finished second at Kentucky in 2012, but this track has been tough for him to qualify or finish in the top-10 (he was eighth in 2014).
30. Ross Chastain (Premium Motorsports No. 15 Chevrolet): This will be Chastain’s first Cup race at Kentucky.
31. Corey LaJoie (TriStar Motorsports No. 72 Chevrolet): This will be LaJoie’s Kentucky debut.
32. J.J. Yeley (BK Racing No. 23 Chevrolet): Yeley is back in this car for a second consecutive week with the John Cohen-brokered sponsorship. The BK Racing team could be sold through bankruptcy proceedings as early as Aug. 21.
33. Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing No. 00 Chevrolet): This will be Cassill’s 271st career NASCAR Cup Series start.
34. B.J. McLeod (Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Chevrolet): He ran this Cup race a year ago, finishing 32nd.
35. Garrett Smithley (StarCom Racing No. 99 Chevrolet): This will be Smithely’s second career Cup start. A transmission failure ended his debut after a lap at Michigan.
36. Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota): He has a third and a fourth among his finishes in his last three trips to Kentucky. He starts this far back as he was one of four drivers who didn’t make a lap in qualifying after struggling to get through tech.
237. Matt DiBenedetto (Go Fas Racing No. 32 Ford): Enjoyed his best finish of the season with a seventh at Daytona. He won’t repeat that at Kentucky, but a top-20 is possible – he was 22nd at Las Vegas and Kansas earlier this year.
38. Jesse Hill (Premium Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet): This is the first career Cup start for Little, son of former Cup driver Chad Little, who oversees NASCAR technical and officiating process.
39. Timmy Hill (Carl Long Motorsports No. 66 Toyota): He started 38th and finished 31st a year ago at Kentucky.