Story lines to watch at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday

mstory@herald-leader.comJune 27, 2014 

NASCAR Kentucky Auto Racing

Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked with a crew member in the garage during practice for Saturday's NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway.

JAMES CRISP — AP

The storylines to watch Saturday night in the fourth running of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway:

The terrific trio

So far, there have been 801 laps run at Kentucky Speedway in Sprint Cup competition. Of those, three drivers have combined to lead a whopping 593. Kyle Busch has led 243 Sprint Cup laps at Kentucky, Jimmie Johnson 203, and Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Quaker State 400 winner, 147.

The fantastic four

Only four drivers have run in the top 10 of the three previous Sprint Cup races at Kentucky Speedway. You might have heard of them:

■ Kyle Busch. Won in 2011, 10th in 2012, fifth last year.

■ Jeff Gordon. Finishes of 10th (2011), fifth (2012) and eighth (2013).

■ Jimmie Johnson. Has been third (2011), sixth (2012) and ninth (2013).

■ Matt Kenseth. Finished sixth in 2011, seventh in 2012 and won last year.

Love hurts?

It has not been a stellar season so far for Danica Patrick nor her boyfriend, Sprint Cup competitor Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Patrick, who drives a Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, comes to Kentucky Speedway 28th in season points with one top-10 finish. That was a seventh at Kansas, which, like Kentucky, is a mile-and-a-half oval.

Stenhouse Jr., who drives a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, is 27th with a top-5 finish and three top 10s.

Last year in the Quaker State 400, Patrick started 29th and finished 23rd; Stenhouse Jr. started 13th and ended 17th.

Who is hot

When Carl Edwards held off Jeff Gordon on Sunday on the road course at Sonoma, Calif., it snapped (barely) a five-race winning streak by NASCAR's dominant team, Hendrick Motorsports. In that stretch, Jimmie Johnson won three times, while Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. each claimed victory once.

Even by the ridiculously high standards of "the New York Yankees of NASCAR," Hendrick is enjoying a stunningly dominant year in 2014.

By the traditional points standings, Hendrick drivers stand 1-2-3 — Gordon, Johnson (-20) and Earnhardt Jr. (-25).

Who needs a win most?

Under the new "win-and-you-are-in The Chase" championship formula, anyone who has yet to win a race needs one.

However, because the traditional points system will be used to fill out The Chase grid if there are fewer than 16 different race winners (currently there are 10), drivers who have not won AND who are also low in the points really need a victory.

Winless drivers Matt Kenseth (fourth in points), Ryan Newman (eighth) and Kyle Larson (10th) cannot feel secure about making The Chase without a race win.

However, they are not yet in nearly as desperate a situation as winless points stragglers such as Clint Bowyer (14th), Greg Biffle (15th), Kasey Kahne (16th), Tony Stewart (17th) and Martin Truex Jr. (25th).

The 'Kentucky triple'

Kyle Busch is the only driver to win at Kentucky Speedway in all three NASCAR national touring series — Camping World trucks (2011 and '14), Nationwide (2004) and Sprint Cup (2011).

Carl Edwards, who won in Sparta in trucks in 2003 and Nationwide in 2005, could join the "Kentucky Triple Crown" club with a Sprint Cup victory Saturday night.

Chasing history

A Jeff Gordon victory at Kentucky Speedway would give him a win on every track on the Sprint Cup circuit.

Two other drivers within shouting distance of that distinction also need a Cup victory in Sparta.

Tony Stewart has won on every Sprint Cup track except Darlington and Kentucky. Jimmie Johnson lacks victories at Homestead-Miami, Chicagoland, Watkins Glen and Kentucky.

The bumps

The famously bumpy Kentucky Speedway racing surface has become the identity of the track — so much so, the bumps were featured in the Speedway's advertising campaign to promote this year's Sprint Cup race.

How bumpy is it?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. compared it to driving on the real roads in Michigan. "There's a lot of potholes up there, you know," he said.

Clint Bowyer said Kentucky Speedway is "probably smoother than any road you've ever been on, but the difference is that the setups in the race cars are so rigid — huge springs and very, very rigid. ... (The track surface) is definitely very rough, but it's due in part to the setups that are a big part of that."

'Home' teams?

For the third time in four years, there will be no Kentucky-born driver in the Quaker State 400.

The closest to "home teams" for Kentuckians? There are the Michael Waltrip Racing cars, the No. 15 of Clint Bowyer and the No. 55 of Brian Vickers. Michael Waltrip, an Owensboro native, founded and is part-owner of the team that bears his name.

Car owner Jack Roush, a Berea College graduate, will have Greg Biffle (No. 16), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (No. 17) and Carl Edwards (No. 99) in the field.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com.Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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