Mark Story

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

Who is up and who is down after a scintillating Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway:

Checkered flag: Kurt Busch.

A week ago at Daytona, an act of God — a lightning bolt seconds after Busch had pitted from the lead under caution — essentially cost the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.

In the course of one week, what the racing gods took away, they gave back.

With six laps to go in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 Presented by Wal-Mart at Kentucky Speedway, it appeared Busch, 40, was destined to finish fourth in a race Joey Logano had in the bag.

Then, a Bubba Wallace spin brought out a caution flag and changed everything.

If they run Cup races for a full century at Kentucky Speedway, odds are good there will never be a better finish than the green-white-checker that saw Logano and the brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch battle it out for the win.

As the race leader, Logano chose to start on the final restart outside on the front row. Running second, Kyle Busch was to his inside. In fourth place, Kurt Busch started behind Logano.

A bad restart for Logano turned into a paint-trading, two-lap shootout between the Busch brothers — Kurt, 40, and Kyle, 34. The narrow victory for Kurt Busch was the kind of finish that is NASCAR at its best.

The two brothers had been scheduled to fly home together from the Kentucky race on Kyle Busch’s plane.

Kurt celebrates.JPG
Kurt Busch celebrated his win in the Quaker State 400 Presented by Wal-Mart on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway. It was his 31st career Cup victory. Timothy D. Easley AP

Said younger brother: “No hard feelings. That was fun. That was good. (Kurt’s) got to find his own way home. I’m not waiting on him.”

Said older brother: “We’re going over to (Kyle’s) house tomorrow, actually, for a little get-together on a Sunday off — and I am going to plop the trophy down right on his kitchen counter.”

Black flag: Joey Logano.

On Friday, the reigning Cup Series champion laughingly predicted he would be the driver who broke the choke hold that Brad Keselowski (three wins), Kyle Busch (two wins) and Martin Truex Jr. (two wins) have had on the Quaker State 400.

“Yeah, there’s gonna be a different winner — I am going to win,” he said.

On Saturday night, Logano was walking the talk.

The driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford was six laps from victory with an insurmountable lead — when a Bubba Wallace spin brought out the yellow flag.

Then came the regrettable restart for Logano.

“I just got stopped on the left rear tire,” Logano said. “Kyle got into me. It is what it is.”

After finishing seventh in a race that he had seemed certain to win, Logano was asked about his frustration level.

“Yeah, it was frustrating. When you are fast enough to win and you don’t win, it’s frustrating,” he said.

Checkered flag: Kentucky Speedway’s championship pedigree.

In nine Quaker State 400s, the winner of every race either:

A.) went on to win their first Cup Series championship in the same year after first winning in Sparta;

B.) had already won a Cup Series championship.

Kurt Busch was the 2004 Cup Series champ.

Black flag: Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.

Of the three drivers who have dominated Cup Series racing at Kentucky, only Kyle Busch (race-high 72 laps led) was a major factor in 2019.

After starting third, Keselowski led only three laps and finished 20th. Truex Jr. took a costly late-race penalty for speeding on pit road and finished 19th. He led no laps.

All-time in Cup racing at Kentucky Speedway, the top five lap leaders are now: 1. Kyle Busch 621; 2. Keselowski 524; 3. Truex Jr. 373; 4. Jimmie Johnson 206; 5. Kurt Busch 137.

Checkered flag: Kentucky Speedway jukeboxes.

The decision in 2015 to award Crosley jukeboxes to winners of major races at Kentucky Speedway is one of the best public relations moves the track has made.

Drivers who win them uniformly express excitement.

After earning a top-of-the-line Crosley Slimline jukebox (retail value: $8,995.95) for winning the Cup race, Kurt Busch beamed.

“I love it. I love it when there are special trophies from our series and from the different tracks and states where we race,” he said.

Busch said he envisioned installing the jukebox in his personal race shop.

“I have tons of cool cars,” he said. “To me, (the jukebox) belongs with my ‘69 Chevy Camaro. It belongs with my ‘65 Cobra. I’ve got a ‘70 Challenger. (The jukebox) to me, just reminds me of that era.”

Kurt with his jukebox.jpg
Kurt Busch stood in front of the Crosley Slimline jukebox (retail: $8,995.95) he earned by winning the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. Mark Story

Black flag: Kentucky Speedway victory circle.

It turns out, victory circle in Sparta is the most dangerous area of the track.

After winning the 2016 Quaker State 400, Keselowski had to go to the infield care center for stitches after cutting his hand trying to open a bottle of champagne.

This year, following Cole Custer’s win in the Xfinity Series Alsco 300, the Stewart Haas Racing driver literally fell off his car onto his back while celebrating in victory circle.

At least in this case, Custer hurt nothing other than his pride.

“I didn’t look too good, falling off the car like that,” he said.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.