Photo: Justin R. Noe/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

After a trip down to Daytona Beach, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is just past the halfway mark of the 2018 season as they head up to Kentucky Speedway for race No. 19 on the schedule, under the lights on Saturday night for the running of the Quaker State 400.

Kentucky first joined the Cup Series schedule in 2011 and has played host ever since, with just four different drivers claiming victory in the seven races held at the track so far. The track was known as the roughest track on the schedule with bumps throughout the surface of the track, but now features a new and improved Kentucky Speedway after undergoing a repave and reconfiguration in early 2016.

In addition to the fresh coat of asphalt that the track received, the track has different banking on each end of the track. Turns 1 and 2 had their banking increased to 17 degrees, while Turns 3 and 4 are banked at 14 degrees.

By the Numbers

What: Quaker State 400, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 19 of 36

Where: Kentucky Speedway – Sparta, Kentucky (Opened: 2000, First Cup Race: 2011)

When: July 14, 2018

TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 7:30 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 1.5-mile tri-oval

Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles

Banking: 17 degrees (Turns 1-2), 14 degrees (Turns 3-4)

Stage Lengths: First two stages: 80 laps each; Final Stage: 107 laps

Pit Road Speed: 45 mph

Pace Car Speed: 55 mph

July 2017 Race Winner: Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota (Started second, 152 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (28.379 seconds, 190.282 mph – 7/07/2017)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:

  1. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 125.9
  2. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 109.6
  3. Matt Kenseth – No. 6 Ford – 106.4
  4. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 104.1
  5. Erik Jones – No. 20 Toyota – 102.7
  6. Martin Truex Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 99.5
  7. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 97.5
  8. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 94.6
  9. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.0
  10. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 90.4

From the Driver’s Seat

“Kentucky was one of the first tracks to reconfigure their banking along with the new asphalt,” said Kurt Busch. “They changed turns one and two to add a bunch of banking and then left turns three and four on the lower side of the banking. It just completely changes both ends of the track. SMI (Speedway Motorsports Inc.) is challenging themselves to almost replicate someplace like Darlington, where both ends of the track are very different. It just makes it that much more challenging. I had been going to the track for nearly a decade and it was Kentucky, it was flat on both ends. So you just have to go in with a new mindset. I still think the key is to make sure the car is cutting though turns three and four. You can make a pass coming out of turn four.”

Last Time at Kentucky

Martin Truex, Jr. dominated last July’s race at Kentucky Speedway, but his win didn’t come without some tense moments on top of the pit box and in the cockpit of his Toyota.

As Truex was laying the smack down on the competition with a lead of more than 15 seconds over Kyle Larson and eight cars on the lead lap, smoke and oil billowed from underneath Kurt Busch’s car after his engine expired, bringing out the caution before Truex could reach the white flag.

From there teams had a choice to either stay out on their old tires or give up track position to pit for fresh rubber. Truex and his team stayed out, while the rest of the lead lap cars elected for the latter option.

“I thought we were dead. I thought we were done,” Truex said of the decision to stay out, but in the end it played out exactly as it had been going before the caution.

With a push from Larson, Truex powered past Kyle Busch on the restart and never looked back holding on to the lead through the first lap of overtime before a crash on the second lap brought out the yellow and ended the race.

“It’s just – this is completely unbelievable,” Truex added. “I’m so excited to win here. It felt like we had a shot last year and it got away from us on fuel mileage and just wanted to win here so so bad after that. This is sweet redemption. I got to say hi to Sherry (Pollex) back home. She didn’t make it this weekend, so I love you babe. And all these awesome fans, thank you guys so much for coming out. What an awesome crowd. I hope they enjoyed it and that was a whole lot of fun.”

Following Truex to the line was Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, and Ryan Blaney.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, July 13

  • MENCS Practice (Noon to 12:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (2:00 pm to 2:50 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:40 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, July 14

  • NENCS Quaker State 400 at Kentucky (7:30 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – NBC Sports Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.