The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete at Kentucky Speedway this week in the Quaker State 400. There were two practices Friday before the cars lineup to qualify Friday evening. This is the seventh race this season on a 1.5-mile track and the ninth race on an intermediate tracks (includes the 2-mile ovals). Fantasy players should expect the drivers who ran well in the previous races to run well Saturday night.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Kentucky…
The weather for practice Friday was partly sunny and 94 degrees. The forecast for the race Saturday night is for the temperatures to be close to practice temperatures at the start of the race but cooling as the sun goes down. Teams will have to work hard to keep up with the track conditions this week. I still expect practice speeds to translate into race speed Saturday night.
Teams received three sets of tires for the two practice sessions, one set for qualifying and seven sets for the race. There will be a new tire used in the race Saturday night. Goodyear said this tire provides more grip. The Xfinity Series and MENCS will run the same tire compound this week. Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Ty Dillon will run both races and they should have an advantage because they will understand how the tires will wear during the race.
NASCAR used the Tire Dragon this week to add another lane of racing. Kyle Busch said afterXfinity Series practice, “It really does not matter how high they try to make the grove. The fastest way around the track is the bottom and that is where I plan to be.”
Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, William Byron and Ryan Newman participated in a tire test at Kentucky in May. The same tire they tested will be used in the race. I expect these teams to unload with some speed Friday morning.
Chase Elliott: Elliott has only competed in two MENCS races at Kentucky. He finished 31st in his first race and 3rd last year. Elliott has not finished any races on the 1.5-mile tracks inside the top 10. He usually finishes 10th-12th. This team is still looking to find the aerodynamics that they had last year. Elliott told his team, “The security is good, maybe too good. The front tires have no grip.” The team made some adjustments and at the end of practice Elliott said, “That is way better!”
Jimmie Johnson: Kentucky is one of the tracks Johnson has never won at. I doubt he will be going to Victory Lane this week. Johnson has finished 32nd and 40th at Kentucky since it was repaved. His average finishing position on 1.5-mile tracks this season is 18.7. I am not sure what the strategy is with the No. 48 car. He ran in the mid-20s in first practice and backed it up with 26th-fastest speed in final practice. Either this team is completely lost or they are working on long run speed to sacrifice single laps speed. Sometimes that is the strategy for Chad Knaus.
Alex Bowman: Bowman started off the season horrible on the 1.5-mile tracks but the No. 88 team is starting to find their groove. Bowman finished 9th at Charlotte and 10th at Chicago. Bowman has horrible stats at Kentucky but ignore them this week. He was in lower funded cars in his two races at the track. Bowman told his team, “The car feels a lot better with every change. Still a little tight but we are going in the right direction.”
William Byron: This will be the first race for Byron in the MENCS at Kentucky. He finished 7th and 18th in his two Xfinity Series races and won his only Truck Series race at Kentucky. Byron has an average finishing position of 24.5 on the 1.5-mile tracks this season and he has not finished inside the top 20 since the race at Texas. Byron made a long run and told his team, “This may be the best we have unloaded all season. I am not sure where we are on speed but it feels pretty stable.” He was 16th fastest at the time. At the end of practice Byron was having problems with the car shifting into gear.
Kyle Larson: Larson is still looking for his first win in the MENCS on a 1.5-mile track but he keeps knocking on the door. Larson finished second at Chicago and led the most laps at Kansas. He also finished second at Kentucky last year. Larson made some long runs and said, “The backend slides out a little too much.” The team responded, “I thought this is how you liked it?” Larson said, “Let’s keep it on the free side but I cannot be this close to the edge.” They worked to tighten it up a bit.
Jamie McMurray: Kentucky ranks as the best track for McMurray. He has finished both races since the track was repaved in the top seven. He also has a second-place finish at Kentucky in 2013. McMurray Has been hit or miss on the 1.5-mile tracks this season but this is his best track so you would have to think the No. 1 car will run well Saturday night. McMurray asked his team, “Where is the 18 running?” They told him, “He is arcing it into turn 3 about a ½ lane more than you.” McMurray made the adjustment and climbed 5 spots on the speed chart.
Kevin Harvick: Kentucky ranks as the 14th-best track for Harvick but that does not mean he is not a good pick this week. Harvick has three wins (Atlanta, Las Vegas and Kansas) on the 1.5-mile tracks this season and has led a series-high 600 laps. Crew Chief Rodney Childers is very good at making adjustments during the race to keep Harvick up front. The No. 4 car made 3 long runs with 3 different setups in the morning practice. They picked the best setup and tried to dial it in for the final practice. Many of the teams in the garage were talking about how well the No. 4 car was running the bottom of the track. Most feel that is going to be the preferred line this week.
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has not finished inside the top 10 at Kentucky since 2013. That should change this week. Bowyer has been one of the best drivers in the last six races. In the last month Bowyer won at Michigan, finished 3rd at Sonoma and 5th at Chicago. He has also led laps in three of the last four races. Bowyer tested at Kentucky in May so he should be fast this week. The No. 14 team was working on their long-run speed. Bowyer was 4th fastest in race trim. The team felt that if they could keep that speed over the long run they will be really good.
Kurt Busch: Busch has been pretty consistent on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has finished four for the six races in the top eight. Busch has been pretty good at Kentucky too. He finished 10th in 2015, 4th in 2016 and was running in the top 10 last year when his engine expired. Busch made a long run and came into the garage. He asked the team for the data on the No. 4 car. Busch wanted to try and run the same line as Harvick.
Aric Almirola: Almirola is having a career year. His average running position on the 1.5-mile tracks is 10th but his average finishing position is 17th. He needs to finish the race as well as he runs in the race. Almirola missed this race last year because of his back injury. He did finish 20th at Kentucky in 2016. Almirola was really happy with his car. He said, “Well..hahaha..not used to having a car this fast. Good job guys.” He was 6th fastest at the time. The only issue the team had was being a little too tight in the middle of the corners.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski leads the series with three wins at Kentucky. He also has led the second-most laps (483) and has the second-best driver rating (109.6). Keselowski has 6.8 average starting position and an 11.3 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. The No. 2 team was working on their long-run speed in practice. Keselowski said, “I feel pretty good. It really rotates well and the throttle response is good.” They felt good about their car.
Joey Logano: Logano has been one of the best picks on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has finished five of the six races in the top eight. He has only led 44 laps though. Kentucky ranks as the worst 1.5-mile track for Logano. His average finishing position since the repave is 18th. That is probably why Team Penske sent Logano to test at Kentucky in May. Between practice sessions the No. 22 team put a similar setup to what Ryan Blaney had in his car. The No. 22 car felt their car was really good but needed a little more to be in the top 3.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney has competed in two races in the MENCS at Kentucky. He finished 15th in his first race and 6th last year. Blaney has had bad luck in his last three races on the 1.5-mile tracks. He finished 37th at Kansas, 36th at Charlotte and 18th at Chicago. The No. 12 team needs to regain their early season form.
Paul Menard: Menard could be a great sleeper pick this week. He won the pole for the last race on a 1.5-mile track and he has a streak of three consecutive top-14 finishes at these tracks. Kentucky ranks as his second-best 1.5-mile track so he is a driver to keep an eye on this week. Menard told the team, “It felt really good and then it went to shit in one lap.” The team told him, “The wind really picked up on that run. We will take some wedge out of it to free you up.” Menard was 5th fastest at the time.
Kyle Busch: All signs point to Busch going to Victory Lane again Saturday night. Busch is at his best when he competes in the Xfinity Series the day before the MENCS race. Busch will be in the No. 18 Xfinity Series car Friday night. Busch also has a series-high 125.9 driver ranking and led a series-high 549 laps at Kentucky. Busch has three wins (Texas, Charlotte and Chicago) on the 1.5-mile tracks and the best average finishing position (3.7).
Erik Jones: Jones will have momentum heading into Kentucky after winning at Daytona. Jones has only competed in one MENCS race at Kentucky and he finished sixth. Jones has been at his best on the 1.5-mile tracks this year. He has finished five of the six races in the top 11. Jones was fighting a tight race car in the first practice. The team made some adjustments and Jones went to the top of the speed chart to start final practice.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has been pretty consistent on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has finished four of the six races in the top seven and has the 5th-best average running position. Hamlin has never won at Kentucky but he does have three finishes in the top five in his seven career races at the track. Hamlin made some long runs and said, “When I get back to the gas it is a little too tight. I would not go crazy with the changes but if you can free it up a tick, we should be good.”
Daniel Suarez: Suarez only has one race in the MENCS at Kentucky. He qualified 9th and finished 18th. Suarez is going to have to pick up his game on the 1.5-mile tracks if he wants to make the playoffs. His average finishing position at these tracks is 20.7. Suarez looked as good as he has all season long in practice. His practice times were in the top 10 for most of the practice session. The No. 19 team started practice with the same setup as the No. 11. Not sure if they kept it that way, but the car had decent speed.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has regained his 2017 form and that makes him a series threat to win each week. Truex has finished seven of the last eight races in the top four. That includes two wins (Pocono and Sonoma) and three second-place finishes (Kansas, Charlotte and Daytona). Truex dominated this race last year (Qualified 2nd, led 152 laps and won the race). He could do it again Saturday night. Truex made some long runs and told his team, “I really do not have any complaints. Maybe we can get it to turn a little better in 1 and 2 but I do not want to lose what I have in 3 and 4.” The No. 78 team liked their car.
Ryan Newman: Newman has not been very good on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average finishing position is 23.3. He has finished two of the last three races outside the top 30. He did finish 3rd at Kentucky in 2016 so there is some hope for the No. 31 team. Newman was having problem with the power in the car. They felt it was an alternator problem so they changed it.
Austin Dillon: Dillon has run about the same as his teammate (Ryan Newman) on the 1.5-mile tracks. He has been horrible in the last two races. Dillon finished 34th at Charlotte and 37th at Chicago. Dillon has never finished inside the top 15 at Kentucky so the team will be facing an uphill battle this week. Dillon made a long run and said, “Turns 1 and 2 are good, turns 3 and 4 are too free.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon has been pretty consistent on the 1.5-mile tracks this year. Consistently bad that is. His average starting position is 25th and his average finishing position is 25th. Dillon only has two starts in the MENCS at Kentucky and he finished 25th and 33rd. Maybe the extra seat time in the Xfinity Series race Friday night will help him.
Kasey Kahne: Kentucky ranks as the eighth-best track for Kahne. He will have some fantasy value in games which award place differential points if Kahne qualifies outside the top 20. His average starting position on the 1.5-mile tracks is 24.5 and his average finishing position is 24.5. Kahne told his team, “I have a hard time getting back to the throttle without sliding the nose.” The team worked on the car and they said they felt good about the changes they were making.
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger is coming off a great race at Daytona (finished 3rd) but I doubt it translates into much success Saturday night. Allmendinger has an average starting position of 22.8 and an average finishing position of 24.3 on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Allmendinger told his team, “The car is really moving around in the corners. I need more stability.” The team made some changes and Allmendinger said, “Whatever you did, it really helped 3 and 4. I can work with it now.”
Chris Buescher: Like his teammate, AJ Allmendinger, Buescher enters the race this week after scoring a top-five finish at Daytona. Buescher has not had a lot of success at the 1.5-mile tracks this year. His average finishing position is 23.3 and he has three consecutive finishes outside the top 20. After his final run in practice Buescher said, “I really like what we have here.”
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Wallace Jr. drove the No. 43 car at Kentucky for Aric Almirola last year. He qualified 17th and finished 11th. Wallace has been at his best on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He could be a sneaky good pick in salary cap games. Wallace made some long runs and said, “I liked it getting in but did not like it getting off.” He was 17th fastest at the time. He was also watching the video of the No. 18 car to see his line on the track.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse will not have any friends this week after wrecking the field multiple times at Daytona. If the other drivers leave him alone he should have a good race. Stnehouse has finished five of the six races on the 1.5-mile tracks in the top 16. He also finished 14th in this race last year. Stenhouse was fighting a tight race car. He said, “It slides into the corner and I cannot get to the gas on exit.”
Matt Kenseth: Kenseth will be back in the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing. It is no surprised to see him in the car since Kentucky ranks as his best track. Kenseth has one win and finished three of his seven races at Kentucky in the top five. Kenseth made a lot of short runs and the team made a lot of adjustments. They were having a hard time getting the perfect setup in the car. He ran most of his laps around the 20th spot on the speed chart.
David Ragan: Ragan has been a mediocre driver on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average starting position is 23.8 and his average finishing position is 24.2. He will have to qualify deep in the pack to have any fantasy value in place differential games this week. Ragan reported, “The car starts off tight and frees up as I get deeper into the run.”
Michael McDowell: McDowell could be a good cheap driver in salary cap games this week. He has an average finishing position of 18.2 in his last four races on the 1.5-mile tracks. Last year he qualified 21st and finished 23rd at Kentucky. McDowell told his team, “A little free on entry but overall it is not too bad.”
Matt DiBenedetto: Kentucky ranks as the worst track for Dibendetto. He has three career races at the track and his average finishing position is 35th. Dibendetto only has one finish on the 1.5-mile tacks inside the top 20 this season (Texas). Dibendetto did not like his car. He said, “It is on the splitter hard and sending it up the track. Really it is horrible.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski
Good Sleeper Picks: Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Erik Jones, Paul Menard, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez
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