Mark Story

Kyle Busch aims to reclaim Kentucky Speedway crown from Brad Keselowski in 2017

Our state’s most enduring competitive rivalry this decade may actually feature a guy from Las Vegas and a Michigan man.

To say that Vegas native Kyle Busch and Rochester Hills, Mich.’s Brad Keselowski have dominated NASCAR racing at Kentucky Speedway does not give the duo enough credit.

In Kentucky Speedway history, there have been 1,602 laps of Cup Series racing. Keselowski (483) in the No. 2 Ford and Busch (437) in the No. 18 Toyota have combined to lead 57.4 percent of those laps.

With seven major race wins in Sparta, Busch, 32, has won more at Kentucky than anyone else. He’s been to victory lane twice in the Cup Series (2011 and ’15); twice in the Xfinity Series (2004 and last year); twice in the trucks series (2011 and ’14); and once in ARCA (2003).

Yet no one has won more Cup races at Kentucky Speedway than Keselowski’s three — 2012, ’14 and ’16.

Since 2011, even when Keselowski, 34, has not won the Quaker State 400, he has won the summer Xfinity Series race, having done so in 2011, ’13 and ’15.

Even last year, when the deck was supposedly re-shuffled after Kentucky Speedway’s famously bumpy racing surface underwent a repave, Busch and Keselowski still each won a race in Sparta.

Appearing at the Kentucky Horse Park Thursday to help Kentucky Speedway promote the July 8 Quaker State 400, Busch laughed when it was suggested that, based on how he and Keselowski seem to alternate years winning Cup races in Sparta, 2017 should be Busch’s turn.

“I’d like to think it’s my year every year,” Busch said. “I couldn’t care less about (Keselowski).”

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger believes having the rivalry between Busch and Keselowski so closely associated with the Sparta track has helped give the venue Cup Series credibility.

However, can there be too much of a good thing? Might Kentucky Speedway benefit from some variety in its victory circle?

“What’s not to love?” Simendinger said. “As far as putting on a good show, (Busch and Keselowski) are as good as it gets.”

Busch was in Lexington while in the midst of a frustrating stretch of his season. The Toyota Camrys that Busch drives for Joe Gibbs Racing have been strong in recent weeks. Over the past seven Cup races, Busch has qualified in the top seven in each.

Yet fast cars have yet to yield a victory for Busch in 2017. The 2015 Cup Series champion finished second three races ago at Charlotte when Austin Dillon beat him with a fuel-mileage strategy.

In the most recent race at Pocono, Busch was running first with 19 laps to go when the caution came out. While Busch stayed on the track as the leader, the rest of the field behind him pitted for fresh tires.

When racing resumed, Busch faded and finished ninth in a race won by Ryan Blaney.

“We’ve been really close, been beating on the door to try to get that first win of the year,” Busch said. “But we just haven’t been able to close the deal. … Circumstances are just kind of working against us.”

At the Horse Park on Thursday, Busch watched a riding lesson featuring youthful summer campers. The NASCAR star saw 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin and posed for a picture with 2003 Derby victor Funny Cide.

With wife Samantha and son Brexton along, Busch’s trip to the Horse Park was a family excursion. Brexton, 2, passed on the opportunity to sit astride a horse. He seemed to relish playing in the dirt where the riding lessons were going on, though.

Whether Brexton’s dad — who said he will again enter the trucks, Xfinity and Cup races at Kentucky Speedway in July — will have a good time when he returns to the commonwealth next month is outcome dependent, of course.

For Kyle Busch at Kentucky Speedway, a positive outcome historically means having to best Brad Keselowski.

“It does seem to come down to (the No. 2 team), a little bit, being able to out-duel us sometimes,” Busch said. “Hopefully, our cars are ready for (the challenge) this time. I know I’m ready for it.”

NASCAR at Kentucky Speedway

Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up In Your Truck 225

Date: July 6

Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Xfinity Series Alsco 300

Date: July 7

Time: 8 p.m.

TV: NBC Sports Network

Monster Energy Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts

Date: July 8

Time: 7:30 p.m.

TV: NBC Sports Network

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