NASCAR roars into Kentucky Speedway this week with Monster Energy points leader Kyle Larson and the rest of the pack looking to break the stranglehold Brad Keselowski seems to have on the track’s main event. NASCAR’s three top series — Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks — all have races in Sparta this week. Here’s a guide for what to expect.
Keselowski has won three of the six Cup series races held at Sparta, including last year’s Quaker State 400. Kyle Busch got two of the other wins with Matt Kenseth sneaking in there in 2013.
Busch, who has won in the Cup, Xfinity and Trucks series races at the track, has entries in all three again this year and will try for the rare sweep. Busch is the only driver to sweep all three of NASCAR’s top series in a single weekend, having done so at Bristol in 2010.
After a repaving that eliminated the track’s notorious bumps last year, Kentucky Speedway put down another new layer of asphalt in the fall, meaning the drivers will likely be dealing with an entirely new set of challenges, as is the case whenever a course is repaved.
The Saturday race also likely marks the last time fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., will race at Kentucky as he is set to retire at the end of this season.
NASCAR gets you up close with the drivers and the event like no other sport with television coverage of practices and qualifying in addition to the race.
Monster Energy Cup Series: Quaker State 400 TV coverage by NBC Sports Network begins with the final practice at 1:30 p.m. Friday, followed by qualifying at 6 p.m. Friday. The NBCSN pre-race show begins at 7 p.m. Saturday followed by the race at 7:30 p.m.
Listen to the race on the Performance Racing Network’s Lexington affiliate, WLXO-FM 96.1.
Xfinity: NBCSN will broadcast the final practice for the Alsco 300 at 6 p.m. Thursday. Qualifying will be on NBCSN at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The Xfinity prerace show on NBCSN begins as 7:30 p.m. followed by the race at 8 p.m.
Camping World Trucks: The truck series is covered exclusively by Fox Sports 1 beginning with qualifying at 5 p.m. Thursday, followed by the prerace show at 7 p.m., and the race at 7:30 p.m.
Monster Energy: While Kyle Larson leads the Cup series, he’s followed closely by Martin Truex Jr., who has racked up more stage wins and thus regular season and playoff points in the new system.
Truex has been gobbling up the new format, which breaks down each race into three stages. Truex’s 11 stage wins are the most, by far, of any Cup driver, and that would help put him at the head of the field if the playoffs started this week. (They don’t start until the Sept. 17 race at Chicagoland Speedway).
Kyle Busch has famously been frustrated with his lack of wins this season, but sits third in the points standings.
Xfinity: Series leader Elliot Sadler has no victories this season, but only two finishes outside the top 10 in 15 races. He’s followed closely by 19-year-old rookie William Byron, and 31-year-old veteran Justin Allgaier. All three drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s dominant JR Motorsports.
Camping World Trucks: Defending series champion Johnny Sauter holds a slight edge over Christopher Bell, who is in his second full season racing trucks for Kyle Busch Motorsports, and rookie Chase Briscoe, a Brad Keselowski Racing driver who won the 2016 ARCA Series.
Kentucky Speedway ripped up 20,000 seats on each end of the frontstretch, reducing the capacity of the track to 86,000.
The reduced capacity should make for an improved atmosphere at the venue which hasn’t come close to a sellout since the inaugural Cup race in 2011.
A glance at the tickets available via its website Kentuckyspeedway.com/tickets, shows plenty of seats available, especially in the upper and lower reaches of the grandstands. A rough estimate would put grandstand sales at well more than half capacity, a positive sign given the soft sales of prior years.
In Turn 1, where those seats have been removed, the speedway has created a berm area for college students called “Action Alley.” A $30 ticket there will get you a grandstand seat and access to tailgate activities and discounted concessions.
If you are driving a Toyota, Lexus or Scion, you’ll get funneled to the forward section of the track’s Toyota parking lot across from the track. A pedestrian tunnel under Route 35 takes you to the track. Toyota was named the official vehicle of the Kentucky Speedway this year.
NASCAR at Kentucky Speedway
Monster Energy Cup Series
Quaker State 400: 7:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN)
Alsco 300: 8 p.m. Friday (NBCSN)
Camping World Trucks Series
Buckle Up in Your Truck 225: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (FS1)
Complete schedule: Kentuckyspeedway.com