Mark Story

Winners and losers from NASCAR weekend at Kentucky Speedway

Martin Truex Jr. celebrated his victory in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night in Sparta.
Martin Truex Jr. celebrated his victory in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night in Sparta. AP

Who is up and who is down after NASCAR’s 2018 visit to Kentucky Speedway?

Checkered flag: Martin Truex Jr. The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota dominated the 2017 Quaker State 400, leading 152 laps.

In becoming the first back-to-back winner of the Kentucky Speedway’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Saturday night, Truex Jr. actually led more laps this year with 174.

No. 78 car at Kentucky.JPG
After leading 152 laps while winning the 2017 Quaker State 400, Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 car led 174 in a repeat victory at Kentucky Speedway in 2018. Kareem Elgazzar Associated Press

If Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were the “Kings of Kentucky” on the old, bumpy racing surface that lasted through 2015, Truex Jr., 38, has has been the supreme ruler of Sparta since the track has since been repaved (twice)..

“I actually discovered (something) two years ago,” Truex Jr. said. “I’ve been using it ever since. I can’t tell you what it is.”

Consider: Since NASCAR implemented stage racing last year, there have been six run at Kentucky Speedway.

Truex Jr. has crossed the finish line first at the end of every one of them.

Black flag: Brad Keselowski. “Bad Brad” finished third to snap his streak of having won every Quaker State 400 ever run in an even year, Keselowski having taken the checkered flag at Kentucky in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Nevertheless, Keselowski was encouraged with his run.

“We’ve been been good, not great, this year,” Keslowski said. “This is a sport of great. You have to be great to win. This was as close to great as we’ve been (in 2018) on a mile-and-a-half track.”

Checkered flag: Team Penske. Other than not winning the race, the night could not have gone any better for Roger Penske’s three-car team. All Penske cars finished in the top 10 with Ryan Blaney second, Keselowski third and Joey Logano 10th.

Black flag: Chevrolet. Kyle Larson was the only Chevy driver to finish in the top 10. It continued a brutal season for the Chevrolet teams, who have not won a single race since Austin Dillon claimed the season-opening Daytona 500.

Kentucky Speedway has always been a no-fly zone for Chevy in the Cup Series. Through eight Quaker State 400s, Chevrolet is still looking for its first Cup win in Sparta.

Checkered flag: Two-tire pit stops. Nobody had anything for the No. 78 car Saturday night, but at least guys including Keselowski and Kurt Busch inheriting the lead by taking only two tires on yellow-flag pit stops forced Truex Jr. to have to do some passing for the lead under green.

Black flag: Kyle Busch. It’s only because Busch has been so successful in the past in Sparta (two wins in Cup, three in Xfinity, two in trucks, one in ARCA), but a year when he “settles” for a fourth-place finish in the Cup race and third in the Xfinity race at Kentucky is a disappointment.

Checkered flag: Kentucky Speedway. The storylines out of the races in Sparta this year were compelling. Louisville’s Ben Rhodes, 21, became the first native Kentuckian to win a major NASCAR race at Kentucky Speedway on Thursday when he captured the trucks race.

Christopher Bell’s win in the Xfinity race Friday came as a major upset since Kyle Busch was in the field and it featured a final stage that saw multiple green-flag passes for the lead.

Truex Jr.’s win in the Quaker State 400 means that Kentucky Speedway remains a track where all eight Cup races have been won by drivers with series championships on their resumes.

Black flag: NASCAR parity. Three drivers — Kevin Harvick (five), Kyle Busch (five) and Martin Truex Jr. (four) — have now combined to win 14 of the 19 Cup races so far this year. Those three plus Clint Bowyer (two) have won every non-restrictor-plate race of 2018.

Is that a bad thing?

Cole Pearn, Truex Jr.’s crew chief, notes that the popularity of the NBA continues to rise “and they have pretty much all the star players stacked on the same team. I think the world of sports likes star power.”

Checkered flag: Cole Pearn. The winner of the Cup race at Kentucky Speedway receives a slimline Crosley jukebox that retails for almost $10,000 ($9,995.95).

Martin Truex Jr. now has two.

“One’s in my basement,” Truex Jr. said. “I use it all the time. That sucker is Bluetooth. You can just turn on your phone, Bluetooth, sit down there and drink beers by yourself or with your buddies. It’s really cool.”

Truex Jr. said he would likely display his second jukebox at his race shop in North Carolina, at least initially.

Ultimately, Truex Jr. said he would probably give it to the crew chief who has given him two straight rocket ships at Kentucky Speedway.

“I’d say Cole probably deserves one,” Truex Jr. said.

Mark Story: 859-231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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