Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR
Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR

Bumpy, Bumpy, Bumpy

The story of Kentucky Speedway is the bumps. It’s pretty much impossible for a driver to be entirely comfortable while making laps at this track. Kansas Speedway is somewhat similar to Kentucky in terms of track configuration, but the former was recently repaved and is very smooth. The Sprint Cup teams got all of their track time on Friday, with two practices in the heat of the afternoon followed by qualifying in the evening. For the results of each practice session, click here: Practice #1Happy Hour. As usual, be sure to read Ryan’s notes on each as well: Practice #1Happy Hour. Brad Keselowski won the pole for Saturday night’s Quaker State 400, and the full starting lineup can be found by clicking here. Keep in mind that there will be quite different track conditions during the race this week than what we saw in practice. Also, track position tends to play a role here at Kentucky for whatever reason.

Final Top 15 Ranking For Quaker State 400:

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11. Kyle Busch – Starts 18th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 8th (change: -3)
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

There are more than enough reasons not to like Kyle Busch this weekend: it’s very apparent that the Joe Gibbs cars are lacking in pretty much every department right now; this #18 team hasn’t finished better than 9th since Richmond in April; that 9th-place result at Charlotte has been their only top 10 over that span of seven Sprint Cup races. However, Rowdy is very good here at Kentucky Speedway. He just has this race track figured out better than most, and has ended up finishing inside the top 10 in all three Sprint Cup races ran here, including his dominating win from the pole in the inaugural event where he led 125 laps. Kyle even led 118 laps here in 2012 despite finishing 10th. He was solid in both practice sessions on Friday, ending up 11th-fastest in the first and then 9th in Happy Hour. As mentioned before, teams are running the same tire combination here at Kentucky that they did at Dover earlier this month, and Busch seemed to have a top 5 car there before his accident. I think the #18 Toyota is going to be a top 10 threat again on Saturday night but I don’t see Rowdy challenging for a top 5, at least heading into the Quaker State 400.

12. Kasey Kahne – Starts 20th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 7th (change: -5)
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I rarely trust Kasey Kahne at any track, which is the reason I normally have him in the “High Risk” category. However, he has yet to really burn anyone here at Kentucky. Obviously we’ve only ran three Sprint Cup races here, but still; Kahne has never finished worse than 13th at this race track, and his best finish was his runner-up to Brad Keselowski here in 2012. That’s just one of the reasons I like Kahne a little more than normal this weekend. He has Hendrick horsepower backing him, and we’ve seen over the last month that those engines are above and beyond stronger than pretty much everyone else. Also, this #5 team is starting to get a little momentum, with their 5th-place run at Michigan and (very surprising) 6th-place finish at Sonoma last Sunday. Kasey was 10th on the speed chart in Practice #1 on Friday and wound up 15th-fastest in Happy Hour after an early spin (there was no damage). He ended up 5th in ten-lap average during Practice #1. Kahne finished 3rd at Kansas earlier this year, which is one of the most similar tracks (configuration-wise at least) to Kentucky Speedway.

13. Paul Menard – Starts 12th – Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 13th (change: none)
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

I’m not sure if many people have noticed, but Paul Menard already has a career-high nine top 10s this season, and has finished inside that mark in four of the last five Cup races. Also, this team has put together back-to-back top 5s after their (very surprising) 5th-place run at Sonoma last weekend. Here at Kentucky, Menard hasn’t been great, but he does have a 12th-place result to his credit, which came back in 2012. At a track like this, I tend to take momentum into consideration a little more than normal. Menard was 22nd-fastest on the speed chart in Practice #1 and wound up 20th-fastest in Happy Hour. What I have found, however, is that he rarely shows his hand in practice, making it very difficult for guys like me to handicap him. One positive note is that Menard had the 2nd-best ten-lap average in Practice #1 behind Brad Keselowski. What I like the most out of the #27 Chevrolet this weekend is how good this team has been on the intermediate tracks all year long. Paul is running chassis no. 454 this weekend, which is the same one he used at Las Vegas, Texas, and Charlotte this season, finishing 3rd, 9th, and 8th, respectively. I think Paul could sneak into the top 10 once again on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400.

14. Clint Bowyer – Starts 11th – Yahoo! A Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 15th (change: +1)
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

Clint admitted during Practice #1 that the Hendrick engines have a definite advantage, which isn’t something you really want to hear out of your fantasy driver. However, it’s nice to hear someone being honest, and that doesn’t mean that fantasy owners are going to get a terrible run out of the #15 Toyota on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400. With his 10th-place run at Sonoma last weekend, Clint has now finished 11th or better in every single June Sprint Cup race, and I think he might be able to extend that streak here at Kentucky. Bowyer posted a career-best 3rd-place finish here last season after ending up 16th in the 2012 event. On Friday, he was 12th-fastest in Practice #1–with the 4th-best ten-lap average–and ended up 22nd on the Happy Hour speed chart. This team has been a little up and down on the intermediate tracks this season, so there’s some risk in taking the #15 this week. 

15. Ryan Newman – Starts 7th – Yahoo! B Group
Pre-Practice Rank: 14th (change: -1)
**Risk Factor: Medium Risk**

“The Rocketman” has had a pretty typical weekend here at Kentucky Speedway. The #31 Chevrolet should be a top 15 car on Saturday night with a shot at a top 10 if the team plays its cards right and keeps up with the track. They have been able to post top 15 finishes in five of the last six Sprint Cup races, and I think they’ll make it six of the last seven on Saturday. Newman was 17th-fastest in Practice #1 and picked it up to 13th-quick in Happy Hour on Friday. He finished 14th here at Kentucky last year and ran 4th in the inaugural event in 2011. You can’t expect a flashy performance out of Newman, but he’s pretty reliable. I think there are better options in this tier this weekend but you never know what will happen on race day, especially when you practice in the afternoon and race at night. Newman is running chassis no. 441 this weekend, which is the same one he used to post top 10s at both Phoenix and Darlington this season.

The Next Ten:

16. Denny Hamlin
17. Kurt Busch
18. Brian Vickers
19. Danica Patrick
20. Austin Dillon
21. A.J. Allmendinger
22. Aric Almirola
23. Carl Edwards
24. Greg Biffle
25. Martin Truex, Jr.