The winner’s club for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway has been a pretty tight group to break into. Three drivers have won the first six races on the 1.5-mile, tri-oval track – Brad Keselowski (3), Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.
Will a new driver join them Saturday? From the hard-charging youngsters to veterans looking to add a Kentucky win to the tracks they’ve conquered, a stout group is in pursuit of Keselowski, Busch and Kenseth at the Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m.; NBCSN).
Here’s are five drivers to watch in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky:
If you want to win at Kentucky Speedway, you have to stay in front of Team Penske’s No. 2 Miller Lite. History says Keselowski – who has led the most laps overall with 483 of a possible 1,602 – won’t win his fourth Quaker State 400 on Saturday, though. He’s won three of the six races and all three have come in even-numbered years. But Keselowski hasn’t totally been an odd man out at Kentucky. He finished 7th in 2011 and 6th in 2015. His one rough patch at Kentucky Speedway came when he finished 33rd in 2013. His average finish at the Quaker State 400 is 8.2
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It’s been 33 races since Rowdy celebrated a victory, dating back to his Brickyard 400 win on July 24. Kentucky Speedway is as good as any place for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Snickers Toyota to snap that streak. Busch has two wins at Kentucky (2011 & 2015) and has completed all 1,602 laps. He’s finished among the top five in four of the six Kentucky races, with his worst finish of 12th last year. Busch has led 437 laps at Kentucky, second only to Keselowski’s 483. Busch will get plenty of track time leading up to the Quaker State 400. Entering the week he was the only driver confirmed to be running the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series races for the weekend trifecta. He has the best averaging finish position of 5.2.
No driver is better on the intermediate tracks (ovals greater than one mile but less than two miles) than Johnson, but Kentucky has been somewhat of a struggle for him. Johnson has a record 31 wins on intermediate tracks. After Jeff Gordon’s 24 wins for No. 2 all-time, you have to drop down to Matt Kenseth’s 13 wins for the second most among active drivers. Johnson’s average finish at Kentucky is 11.5 with one top-five finish (3rd) back in 2011. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has a bit of history against him, too. Chevrolet has never won the Quaker State 400 in six attempts. Johnson – driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy for Hendrick Motorsports – finished 32nd last year after crashing out on lap 208 of 267.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports is the sentimental favorite. This is Earnhardt Jr.’s last appearance at Kentucky Speedway before driving off into retirement after this season. Kentucky has not been kind to Junior. He has a pair of top five finishes with fourth in 2012 and fifth in 2014. But his other four finishes were 30th (2011), 12th (2013), 21st (2015) and 13th (2016). That’s an average finishing position of 14.2. Voted NASCAR’s most popular driver 14 times, he’ll no doubt have a large cheering section. Will it be enough to will him to Victory Lane? He’s winless this season – his last win came in November of 2015 – and he’s 22nd in points.
The only other driver to win a Quaker State 400 (2013) along with Keselowski and Busch, Kenseth has contended in every race. His worst finish was 8th in 2016 and has an average finish of 5.2, tied with Busch for tops in NASCAR. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota Circle K for Joe Gibbs Racing has led just 40 laps despite being so consistent in the Quaker State 400. And 38 of those came during his victory. Kenseth could use a win to boost his playoff chances. He sits 11th in the standings and in search of that first victory.
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