What to watch during Saturday's 2nd annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400

June 30, 2012 

Three drivers who really need to win

1. Jeff Gordon. Amazingly in a star-crossed season in which he has led in 11 out of 16 races run so far (the same number as points leader Matt Kenseth), Gordon is sitting 18th in points and seems all but certain to miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup — unless he can earn a wild card by starting to win races (and it would probably take at least two).

2. Carl Edwards. After coming out on the wrong end of last year's sizzling championship duel with Tony Stewart, Edwards is mired in a 49-race winless streak and, if the Chase started now, would not be in it.

3. Kyle Busch. After finishes of 29, 30, 32 and 17 in his last four races, the NASCAR bad boy is 12th in season points and has a precarious hold on a wild-card spot for the Chase thanks to his victory at Richmond.

Four drivers as hot as the weather

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Throwing out last week's finish of 23rd on the road course at Sonoma (not Junior's cup of tea), the Crown Prince has finished sixth, fourth, eighth and first in his prior four races. The Junior Nation will explode if their driver adds a second win in three weeks.

2. Matt Kenseth. How do you earn the season points lead? Like Kenseth, you finish in the top six in seven of your last 11 races. A victory for the longtime driver of the No. 17 car on the week in which he announced he is leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2012 would be dramatic.

3. Clint Bowyer. Counting last week's road-course victory, the Emporia, Kan., product has now finished in the top seven in six of the last eight races. Don't you just know the Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan would love a bit of "revenge" from the 2012 NCAA title game by winning at Kentucky?

4. Tony Stewart: The defending Cup Series champion has run second, second and third in the last three races. Smoke is famous for revving up when the weather turns hot.

Wearing I heart Kentucky T-shirts?

These drivers have a history of running well at Kentucky Speedway:

1. Kyle Busch. The defending Quaker State 400 champion has won races in four different series — Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Trucks and ARCA — in Sparta.

2. Joey Logano. Won three straight Nationwide Series races (2009-11) in Sparta.

3. Carl Edwards. A win in Cup would allow Edwards, who won a trucks race at Kentucky in 2003 and a Nationwide race in 2005, to join Kyle Busch as the only drivers with wins in all three NASCAR national touring series at Kentucky Speedway.

4. Greg Biffle. Biffle won the first trucks race (2000) ever at Kentucky and has three second-place finishes in the Nationwide Series in Sparta.

Winning dough at the cookie cutters

Kentucky Speedway is one of seven 1.5-mile tracks that play host to Sprint Cup races. Some take better advantage of such tracks than others.

1. Jimmie Johnson. Has won a staggering 16 times on mile-and-a-half tracks.

2. Roush Fenway Racing. Of Jack Roush's 127 all-time Cup victories, 40 have come on 1.5-mile tracks.

3. Greg Biffle. Even by Roush Fenway standards, the Biff has been a terror so far in 2012 on the cookie-cutter tracks. In four prior starts on 1.5-mile tracks, the Vancouver, Wash., native has finished third (Las Vegas), first (Texas), fifth (Kansas), and fourth (Charlotte).

Go Big Blue

The No. 55 Toyota driven by Owensboro native Michael Waltrip will boast a paint scheme honoring the University of Kentucky's 2012 NCAA championship men's basketball team.

Unlike a year ago, when Waltrip needed to qualify on speed to race in the Cup Series in his home state only to see qualifying washed out by rain, this time he is definitely in the field based on owners' points.

So Waltrip will be the first native Kentuckian ever to race in a Cup event at Kentucky Speedway. In two career starts in Sparta in the Nationwide Series, Waltrip has finished 14th (2004) and 42nd (2005).

more Kentucky ties

1. Car owner Jack Roush. His Roush Fenway Racing team fields cars for Matt Kenseth (for a while longer), Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards. Roush is a Covington native and Berea College graduate.

2. Mark Jacobs. The jackman for Juan Pablo Montoya's No. 42 team is a former University of Kentucky starting defensive tackle and a four-year UK letterman (1995-98).

3. William Sturgill. The jackman for David Ragan's No. 34 car is a former Paul Laurence Dunbar High School football lineman and the grandson of the famous Kentucky coal operator and political figure of the same name.

Others: Lexington native Jason Gay is front-tire carrier for Clint Bowyer. Whitesburg product J.D. Holcomb has the same job on the pit crew of Jeff Burton. Prestonsburg's Lorin Ranier is the spotter for Jamie McMurray.

unique desirefor Kentucky win

Jeff Gordon has won on every track where the Sprint Cup Series runs except for Homestead/Miami and Kentucky Speedway. Tony Stewart has won on every track where the Sprint Cup Series runs except for Darlington and Kentucky.

Traffic

After last year's inaugural Quaker State 400 was marred by a massive traffic jam trying to get into the race, this year's event will be heavily under the microscope to see if the millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements paid for by the state of Kentucky and by Speedway owner Bruton Smith have fixed the problem.

If the traffic problems are fixed, it will be nice before the 2013 Cup race in Sparta to have the dominant story lines actually be about racing, not parking.

Mark story

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