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Kentucky Speedway’s Turn 3 separates the best drivers

Kyle Busch calls Turn 3 at Kentucky Speedway “one of the toughest” in NASCAR. Navigating into victory lane at the 1.5-mile, tri-oval has its challenges, too.

Busch and Brad Keselowski have cornered the mark on wins at Kentucky, winning five of the seven races. With Busch’s co-leading five victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (entering Saturday’s race at Daytona International Speedway) and Keselowski among the top five in points, the duo enter Saturday’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart once again as front runners.

“You look at the stats and the best of the best win at Kentucky Speedway,” said Busch, whose average finish of 5.1 ranks first among Cup drivers at Kentucky. “There are plenty of guys that have been greats in our sport like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and the like that haven’t won at Kentucky Speedway. That’s because we’re stealing them every year.”

Busch won the inaugural Kentucky Speedway race in 2011 and again in ’15. Keselowski won in 2012, ’14 and ’16. Matt Kenseth (2013) and defending champion Martin Truex Jr. have also joined the exclusive club.

Kentucky Speedway hosts the eighth Quaker State 400 at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday (NBCS). The Cup Series event highlights a triple-header weekend with the Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 (7:30 p.m. Thursday; FS1) and the ALSCO 300 (8 p.m. Friday; NBCS).

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Among the drivers who have challenged Kentucky Speedway and that intimidating Turn 3 only to come up short are Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. Johnson ranks third in total laps led at Kentucky (203) behind Busch (549) and Keselowski (483). Johnson’s best finish at Kentucky is third in 2011. But he’s crashed the last two races since the speedway restructured Turn 3 to make it narrower and flatter, which can cause cars to get loose entering.

“I think that track has beaten me more times than I’ve beaten it,” said Johnson, who has an average starting position of 8.1 and an average finish of 15.6.

Newman and Hamlin are the only active drivers with three top-five finishes but no victory. Hamlin once said it takes about 30 minutes of practice before starting to get a grip on a curve that’s been described as driving on a roller skating rink.

“It’s just a really difficult race track to win on,” said Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger. “It takes a lot of skill when you see great drivers like Jimmie Johnson coming in here and struggling a couple years in a row you know it’s not easy.”

Busch has an event-high five top-five finishes. Keselowski and Kenseth have finished among the top five in three races.

In last season’s race Truex led a race-high 152 of the 274 laps for his first Quaker State victory. Truex, who also won his first Sprint Cup points championships with a series-high eight victories, saw a 15-second lead evaporate with a caution two laps from the finish. He beat Busch on the restart and won when Kenseth spun out in Turn 4 to end the race under the checkered and yellow flags.

“He won his first race last year, but he could have easily won the year before that,” Simendinger said of Truex. “Once he got in really good equipment he’s about as good as we’ve got on this track. … Turn 3 is really what sorts them out. The drivers that have a lot of skill and experience have continued to do well here.”

In the Xfinity Series, Elliott Sadler enters the ALSCO 300 with a 12-point lead over Daniel Hemric and a 26-point lead over Cole Custer. Sadler, still looking for his first victory this season, has a series-high 10 top-five finishes in 16 events.

Tyler Reddick won the ALSCO 300 last season.

In the Camping World Truck Series, Johnny Sauter looks to extend his lead on Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt. Sauter, who has a series-high four wins, leads Gragson by 65 points and Moffitt by 85. It’s a three-car breakaway with fourth-place Stewart Friesen 140 points back.

Christopher Bell, now running the Xfinity Series, won the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 last season.

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