Photo: Drew Hallowell/NASCAR via Getty Images

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 hits the halfway mark of the 2017 season as they head up to Kentucky Speedway for race No. 18 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 three different drivers claiming victory in the five 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 this year’s race will debut a new and improved Kentucky Speedway after undergoing a repave and reconfiguration over the first half of the year.

In addition to the fresh coat of asphalt that the track received, the track now 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

Opened: 2000 (First Cup Race: 2011)

Track/Race Length: 1.5-mile oval (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 2016 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started second, 75 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (28.603 seconds, 188.791 mph – 6/27/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:

  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 125.6 – 2 wins
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 119.2 – 3 wins
  • Matt Kenseth – No. 20 Toyota – 107.9 – 1 win
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 102.8 – Best finish: 7th
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 102.1 – Best finish: 3rd
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 91.5 – Best finish: 2nd
  • Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 78 Toyota – 91.3 – Best finish: 7th
  • Kasey Kahne – No. 5 Chevrolet – 91.0 – Best finish: 2nd
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 89.1 – Best finish: 3rd
  • Ryan Newman – No. 31 Chevrolet – 89.0 – Best finish: 3rd

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s a pretty challenging racetrack,” said Kyle Busch. “It used to be a place that lends itself to different kinds of setups because it was so rough. Fast lap times at Kentucky come from momentum. The place is so round that there’s not a ton of banking compared to some other 1.5-milers. It’s all about how round the corners are and just being able to maintain corner speed and stay on the gas.”

“I think the biggest thing we saw last year is that the groove goes from being so wide coming out of turn four and down the front straightaway, it kind of narrows up getting into turn one and the racetrack width narrows up, not to mention the groove is probably only one car wide. Then, on the other end getting into turn three, the track kind of widens out down there and you have plenty of room, but again it narrows down and there’s only one groove. We tried our best to get it rubbered in during the test. It seemed, in turns one and two, the rubber laid down well but it was more of a challenge in turns three and four. We’ll see how it is this weekend.”

Last Time at Kentucky

On a night that started off with several yellow flags in the first half of the race, last year’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky would come down to fuel mileage in the closing laps to determine the race winner.

With about 16 laps to go, the lead lap cars began peeling off of the track onto pit road to top off on fuel, but race leader Brad Keselowski kept his No. 2 Ford out front as he tried to save enough fuel to make it to the end of the race for his fourth win of the season and third win at Kentucky.

Keselowski would seem to have run out of fuel with two laps to go, allowing Carl Edwards to close the gap in search of the lead, but Keselowski was able to get his car to refire and held off Edwards for the win.

“We almost didn’t, but I’ve got to give credit to my guys, the Roush Yates Engine shop, and everybody at Ford,” said Keselowski. “We knew the fuel mileage.  We went out and we set a really fast pace there on that restart and was just using fuel, and then it became obvious that you were gonna have to save fuel at the end, but I already used so much.  It’s a testament to our guys to have the fuel mileage that we did to be able to get back what I burnt early in the run and get the Miller Lite Ford in Victory Lane.”

“It’s number four this year.  Gosh, that’s great.  Usually these repaves are kind of my Achilles heel, but to get a win here at Kentucky.  I know it’s been a good track for us in the past, but this isn’t the same Kentucky, I can tell you that.  These cars were tough to drive today, but a good tough.  This was a hard-fought battle and I’m really proud of everybody on the 2 crew to get win number four and take that first place.”

“I have to give credit where credit is due,” said Edwards. “He did a really good job. He played it perfectly. That was really frustrating. He baited me in there, I thought he was surely out (of fuel) and then he just won the race. He did a good job. We had great power all night, great fuel mileage with TRD (Toyota Racing Development). Man, it’s hard to swallow that one. We thought we had it no problem. He played it perfectly.”

Following Keselowski and Edwards across the line was Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex, Jr. to round out the top-10

The newly repaved and reconfigured Kentucky track had a lot of unknowns heading into the weekend and by the end of the race, the caution flag flew 11 times, tying the track record for the most cautions.

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, July 7

  • MENCS Practice (10:00 am to 11:55 am – No TV, NBC Sports App)
  • MENCS Final Practice (1:00 pm to 2:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (6:15 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, July 8

  • MENCS 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.