The MENCS tried to give the fans some Saturday night racing last week and Mother Nature did not cooperate. They will try it again this week at Kentucky Speedway. This is one of the fastest 1.5-mile tracks on schedule and the added grip at night time should add even more speed to the cars. The Quaker State 400 can be seen Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Net.
Goodyear will bring a new tire compound to Kentucky this week. This is the same tire compound used at Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas and Michigan. Since Kentucky Speedway was repaved in 2017, Goodyear wanted a tire that would wear during the race. Each team will receive 3 sets of tires for the 2 practices, 1 set for qualifying and 8 sets (one transferred from practice) for the race.
NASCAR applied the traction compound at both ends of the track this week. The goal is to promote more racing at the top and bottom of the track. Since finding grip is so difficult at Kentucky, the “grip strip” should make it slightly easier for teams to dial in their cars for the race Saturday night.
* NASCAR will inspect the cars Saturday afternoon (around 3 p.m. ET). Any car that fails once will go to the back and be scored from the back in Fantasy NASCAR. Be sure to check the website Saturday evening for my updated picks. I may have to change some drivers depending how the inspection goes.
Chase Elliott: Elliott was on a hot streak with 4th place finishes at Kansas and Charlotte but he started to cool down with a 20th place finish at Michigan and a 11th place finish at Chicago. His average finishing position at Kentucky is 15.67. Elliott was happy with his car. He said, “Balance is secure. It could be a bit tighter on entry but I seem better than the other cars out here.”
Jimmie Johnson: Kentucky is one of the tracks where Johnson has never been to Victory Lane. He said winning at this track is high on his list of stuff he wants to accomplish before he retires. Johnson has run well on the 1.5-mile tracks. He finished 5th at Texas, 6th at Kansas, 8th at Charlotte and 4th at Chicago. The No. 48 team is one of the underrated teams this year. Johnson liked his car. He said, “I need more grip at both ends but overall it is not bad.” He was P6 at the time. Crew Chief Kevin Mendering told Johnson, “You are the only driver who can run fast lap times at the top and bottom.” Johnson replied, “The balance is spot on.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman has been the best driver in the sport on the 1.5-mile tracks since Hendrick Motorsports switched to a new engine before Texas. He has a series-high 5th place average finishing position. The No. 88 car finished 2nd at Kansas, 7th at Charlotte and won at Chicago. Bowman has all of the momentum right now. Bowman told his team, “Not nearly the grip I thought we would have. Way too loose.” The team decided to use the setup from the No. 48 car at the end of practice. Bowman only had time to make 2 laps with Jimmie Johnson’s setup in the car.
William Byron: Byron is starting to show why rick Hendrick picked him to fill the seat of the No. 24 car. He has run well on the large oval and that has a lot to do with crew chief Chad Knaus trimming out the car so Byron can start up front. Track position is important with this aero package so Byron starting on the pole always helps his chances of finishing in the top 10. Too loose was the problem with the No. 24 car. He was P11 at the time. Byron said his car gets better once the tires get worked into the track.
Kyle Larson: The No. 42 car has had speed but Larson has been hit or miss on his finishes. He finished 8th at Kansas and 2nd at Chicago. He also finished 33rd at Charlotte and 14th at his best track in Michigan. Larson has led 149 laps on the 1.5-mile tracks so speed is not an issue. Avoiding mistakes is the problem. Larson was the first driver to run the top of the track in practice. His team told him, “No one is running that line yet.” Larson said, “I want to work this in. I will work the bottom soon.” His lap times may be slower than they actually are because of his line.
Kurt Busch: Busch started the first 12 races of the season running really strong but the No. 1 car has been hit or miss in his last 4 races on the large ovals. Busch finished 7th at Kansas and 2nd at Michigan. He also finished 27th at Charlotte and 13th at Chicago. His Driver Rating on the large ovals is 6th best so Busch should be a good pick if his car is fast in practice. Kurt said, “I am wide open in 3 and 4 but have to lift in the corner in 1 and 2.” Kurt made some long runs and said, “We just need to get it more driver friendly. It is fine when I am in clean air, but dirty air makes it way to F***ing loose.”
Kevin Harvick: When you look at the stats you would think Harvick has the most wins this year. He has a series-high 111.4 Driver Rating, led a series-high 310 laps and is the only driver to run every lap on the large ovals in the top 15. Mistakes in the race are the only thing holding this team back. Harvick made some short runs and said, “Speed is not the problem. I have to change my line every 10 laps to maintain the speed. I would like it if we could maintain the speed a little better.” Rodney Childers told him, “I got some info from the No. 10 car that should help.”
Clint Bowyer: Momentum is important in NASCAR and Bowyer does not have it on the large ovals. He finished 24th at Charlotte, 35th at Michigan and 37th at Chicago. Most of his poor finishes were equipment failures but they are still poor finishes. The No. 14 team needs to turn their season around quickly if they want to make the playoffs. Bowyer made some long runs. He said he was searching for grip. He was P12 at the time.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has only been mediocre on the large ovals the past 3 months. He finished 14th at Kansas, 18th at Charlotte, 4th at Michigan and 24th at Chicago. That is an average finishing position of 15th. Suarez liked the way his car unloaded. He made some long runs in the 1st practice and said, “It is better at the bottom than the top but it should come to us once the rubber is laid down.” He was P2 at the time. The No. 41 team tells Suarez, “You have the best car on track. You are smoking’em.”
Aric Almirola: Almirola finished every race between the Daytona 500 and the race at Texas in the top 10. Since then he has not finished any races on large ovals in the top 10. The No. 10 car has not been horrible. Almirola has a 14th place average finishing position in his last 4 large oval races, but he has not been a top-10 driver either. Almirola told his team, “I feel it is good when I run the bottom in 3 and 4 and the top in 1 and 2.” The team told him, “Yeah, you really picked up on that run. Almirola was P5 at the time.
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski has been one of the best drivers on the large ovals. He has two wins (Atlanta and Kansas), led the 5th most laps (169) and has the 5th best Driver Rating (99.8). Keselowski won at Kansas, finished 19th at Charlotte (but led 76 laps), 6th at Michigan and 5th at Chicago. He has a lot of momentum right now. Keselowski and Logano made two long runs with completely different setups in the first practice. The team was meeting between practices to determine which setup was the best and then they put that setup into all 3 of their cars.
Joey Logano: The No. 22 car has figured out their large oval setup. Logano finished 2nd at Charlotte, won at Michigan and finished 3rd at Chicago. It is hard to find a driver with stats as good as that. Logano used the setup from the No. 2 car in the first practice. He made a long run and was P2 from the cars not in qualifying trim. Keselowski started final practice trying to dial in the qualifying trim for Team Penske.
Ryan Blaney: Blaney loves fast tracks and Kentucky is one of the fastest 1.5-mile tracks on the schedule. After a spring slump, the No. 12 car is starting to heat up. Blaney finished 9th at Michigan and 6th at Chicago. Last year he finished 2nd at Kentucky so he knows how to get around this track.
Paul Menard: Kentucky is one of the best 1.5-mile tracks for Menard but that is not saying much. He has never finished in the top 10 at the track. His average finishing position in the last 4 large oval races is 18th. That has been a common finishing position for the No. 21 car this season.
Kyle Busch: There is no doubt Busch is one of the best drivers in the sport but his results on the large oval tracks over the past two months have not been spectacular. Busch finished 30h at Kansas, 3rd at Charlotte, 5th at Michigan and 22nd at Chicago. Kentucky ranks as his best 1.5-mile track so he should bounce back this week. Busch has a fast car. He said his car started off too tight on entry but it got better throughout the run. Halfway through final practice Busch said, “It is lose!!! F*** This! Coming To You!” Adam Stevens told him to calm down.
Erik Jones: Kentucky ranks as the best track for Jones. He has two races in the MENCS in the Bluegrass State and he finished 6th and 7th. He has also scored Stage points in 3 of the 4 Stages. Jones finished 3rd at Kansas and 7th at Chicago so the 1.5-mile program for the No. 20 team has not been too bad. Jones made a short run to begin final practice. He said, “The adjustments we made helped. The tightness is gone. Still can use a little help in 1 and 2 but we are definitely a lot closer.” He was P7 at the time.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin has not had any luck on the large ovals oval the past 3 months. He finished 16th at Kansas, 17th at Charlotte, 11th at Michigan and 15th at Chicago. He had pit road penalties in 3 of these 4 races. That is the biggest problem with the No. 11 team because they have scored the 8th most fastest laps on the large ovals so speed is not the problem. Hamlin made some long runs and said, “The car was loose into 1 and 2 but manageable. 3 and 4 are not bad as long as I do not overdrive it.” The team worked on their long run speed in practice.
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex has been a bully at Kentucky for two years. The way he has beat up on the field is not fair. He started the last 2 races on the pole, won every Stage, led 150 laps in both races and took home the trophy in 2018 and 2017. This is by far the best track for Truex since 2016. Truex was having a problem with his splitter hitting the track in the 1st practice. He was not happy with his car in final practice. He said, “The balance is all over the place. The backend has no grip at all.” Cole Pearn told him, “We got it. The track will be different at night so just hang tight.”
Matt DiBenedetto: I really expected more out of DiBenedetto on the 1.5-mile tracks this year since his team is sharing information with Joe Gibbs Racing. His results have been horrible. His average starting position on the 1.5-mile tracks is 24.7 and his average finishing position is 29.2. That ranks 31st in the Cup Series. DiBendetto made a qualifying run to begin practice and that made his lap times look faster than they actually are. DiBenedetto said, “I cannot get it into the track at all. The backend is all over the place.”
Daniel Hemric: Richard Childress Racing chooses to trim out their cars for qualifying and it helps them start up front but it kills them in the race. Hemric has a 11.7 average starting position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season and a 22.3 average finishing position. His best finish is 18th at Kansas. Hemric reported his car had good balance in 3 and 4 but needed a lot of work on 1 and 2.
Austin Dillon: Everything I wrote about Daniel Hemric can be said for Dillon. He is great at qualifying and horrible in the race. Dillon has a 6.5 average starting position and a 19.3 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He did score his 1st top-10 finish in the last race at Chicago. Dillon made some long runs and said, “1 and 2 are good. Horrible in 3 and 4.” After his last run the No. 3 team told Dillon, “That was a big improvement. We are in the ballpark now.”
Ty Dillon: Dillon has been good on the short tracks and horrible on the large ovals. His average finishing position on the short tracks is 18.8. His average finishing position on the large ovals is 26.8. Dillon has not finished any races on the large ovals in the top 20. Ty told his team, “I am too free all around. I have good speed. I just need more grip.”
Ryan Preece: The No. 47 team cannot find the speed they need to run well at the large ovals. That is surprising since the 2nd car for JTG Daugherty Racing is so good (Chris Buescher). Preece has a 24.2 average starting position and a 27.7 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Preece said his car was too tight in 1 and 2 and too loose in 3 and 4. He was P31 at the time.
Chris Buescher: Buescher has been the biggest surprise this season. He has been one of the best fantasy picks because of his ability to start in the back and finish in the front. Buescher has a 23.8 average starting position and a 13.5 average finishing position on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Do not worry about where the No. 37 car starts the race. Buescher should be able to find his way inside the top 15. Buescher made some long runs and said, “I just need something to lean on in 3 and 4. The cars slides up the track.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse might be the driver who benefitted the most from the 2019 aero package. The draft comes into play at all large oval tracks and Stenhouse has a history of using the draft to his advantage. Stenhouse has a 11.8 average finishing position on the last 4 large oval races. That is better than Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin. Stenhouse told his team, “We can get more aggressive with the adjustments. We are way off right now.” He was P23 at the time. After some adjustments Stenhouse said, “That was an improvement. Still a tad free.”
Ryan Newman: Newman has not been as good as his teammate (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has a 18.8 average starting position and a 17.3 average finishing position. Newman is known to be the hardest driver to pass. It looks like he is having a hard time passing other drivers too. Newman made some long runs and said, “We have to do something with the front. It bounces bad. I will work the splitter right off of it if I continue to run like this.” At the end of practice Newman said, “We are in big trouble if we cannot pass the 32 car (Corey Lajoie).
Favorites to win Saturday Night: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin
Good Sleeper Picks: Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, William Byron and Aric Almirola
MENCSl Final Practice Speeds
Final Practice 10-Lap Average Speed
Best Average Times from All Practices (From NBC Sports)
- Denny Hamlin 30.608
- Joey Logano 30.621
- William Byron 30.962
- Kyle Busch 30.967
- Daniel Suarez 31.070
- Clint Bowyer 31.541
- Bubba Wallace 31.623
- Chris Buescher 31.700
- Jimmie Johnson 31.711
- Ryan Newman 31.730
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