Mark Story

Who’s up, who’s down after Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway

Martin Truex Jr. celebrated his first-ever victory at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night.
Martin Truex Jr. celebrated his first-ever victory at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night. AP

Who is up and who is down after the seventh Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway:

Checkered flag: Toyota. In May, Kentucky Speedway announced that Toyota had replaced Ford as “the official vehicle” of the Sparta track.

With NASCAR in Sparta over the weekend for the first time since that announcement, Toyota certainly treated the joint like it owned it.

Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Toyota dominated the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400, opening a lead of more than 15 seconds and lapping all but seven cars by the end of the race.

Even forced into overtime on old tires by a late caution, Truex Jr. still drove off from rivals on fresher rubber Saturday night to win at Kentucky Speedway for the first time ever.

“I think this was probably the best car I’ve ever had in my whole career,” Truex Jr. said. “I can never recall saving fuel and pulling away from everybody before.”

A year ago, Truex Jr. had a car capable of winning at Kentucky, but the race got away late because he was on the wrong side of a fuel mileage scenario.

“We definitely remembered last year,” Truex Jr. said. “… It was a little bit of motivation.”

Earlier Saturday, Kyle Busch drove a Toyota to victory in the rain-delayed Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race. Late Thursday night, Christopher Bell wheeled a Toyota to a win in The Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 in the Camping World Truck Series.

Toyota certainly looked like “the official vehicle of Kentucky Speedway” over the weekend.

Black flag: Brad Keselowski. It was an unusually futile weekend at Kentucky Speedway for a driver who came to Sparta this year having won a major race — three Cup, three Xfinity — in the commonwealth for six straight years.

Keselowski didn’t run in this year’s Xfinity race. He barely registered in the Cup race, either. He got loose on Lap 89 while entering the tricky Turn 3 and collected Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson in a three-car crash.

It ended the night early for “Bad Brad.”

“I just wrecked it,” Keselowski said. “It stinks.”

With Kyle Busch having led 112 laps in the Quaker State 400, he has supplanted Keselowski for most Cup Series laps led at Kentucky Speedway by a count of 549-483.

Checkered flag: Young guns. The young drivers on whom so much of NASCAR’s future rests gave a good account of themselves on the challenging Kentucky Speedway tri-oval.

Kyle Larson, 24, finished second in spite of having to start the race from the rear because his car failed inspection. He also overcame an in-race penalty for speeding on pit road.

Chase Elliott, 21, quietly drove to a third-place finish. Erik Jones, 21, was sixth; and Ryan Blaney, 23, finished 10th.

Darrell Wallace Jr., 23, was 11th in what may have been his final race filling in for the injured Aric Almirola in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Ford.

Black flag: Matt Kenseth. After finishing third in the second stage, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver — until the end of this season — faded to finish 17th.

It means Kenseth, 45, no longer holds the distinction of being the only driver to finish in the top 10 of every Cup race ever held at Kentucky Speedway.

Checkered flag: Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans. In what presumably was the final time the retiring Junior will drive in Sparta, he was not much of a factor in the race while finishing 12th.

Thanks to pit cycles, however, Earnhardt Jr. was shown as the leader of three laps. So the Junior Nation at least got that.

For his career, Earnhardt Jr. led 13 total Cup laps in Sparta and had an average finish of 10.5 in six Quaker State 400 runs.

Black flag: Jimmie Johnson. It was not his fault he got caught up in Keselowski’s wreck, of course.

Still, Johnson’s 40th-place finish (dead last) probably won’t cause the six-time Cup Series champion to have any warmer feelings toward Kentucky Speedway, one of only three tracks (Watkins Glen and Chicagoland) on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit where he’s never won.

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