Two hundred and eighteen races later, Martin Truex Jr. finally visited victory lane again last week with a win at Sonoma. It was the second year in a row that Michael Waltrip Racing took home the checkered flag, as Clint Bowyer won in 2012. The writing was on the wall for Truex to finally break through and get his second career Sprint Cup victory, considering he’s had fast cars all year, but with the win he’s now got himself in great position to make the Chase with only 10 races to go before the cut-off at Richmond.
Elsewhere, Jeff Gordon bounced back from an early pit road penalty and finished second. Had there been a late caution flag, we might very well be talking about him in victory lane. Denny Hamlin continued to struggle and his chances of making the Chase are nearly impossible at this point in the season. Points leader Jimmie Johnson came home 9th, and Danica Patrick, since I know you care, finished 29th.
This week, we’re back to a Saturday night affair under the lights as the series hits up Kentucky Speedway for only the third time in Sprint Cup history for the Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts. In 2011, the racing was overshadowed by the speedway’s lack of preparedness for the traffic that comes with hosting a race, resulting in many fans arriving late or missing the event completely. Kentucky is another 1.5-mile track, and one of the flat and wide variety. We’ll see how the Gen 6 cars like it.
In 2012, eventual champion Brad Keselowski took home the checkered flag, and he’ll be looking to recapture some of that magic Saturday night, as he’s still winless in 2013.
- With only 10 races to go until the Chase field is decided, expect a mixture of desperate win-grabbing and experimentation, depending on a driver’s status. For folks like Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth, who have multiple wins under their belt and are firmly in the top five in points, these next few races offer an opportunity to try some things for later in the year when they’re racing for the title. For folks like Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch, who are all outside the top 10 and winless, nothing matters but getting to victory lane. Look for drivers in the latter category to take some risks and go for the big money.
- Even though there are plenty of 1.5-mile tracks on the NASCAR circuit, the notebook on Kentucky is still relatively small, and bringing the Gen 6 cars to the track practically makes this a brand new race once again. Just like in 2011, the rewards will go to the team that can figure out the track the quickest and put together a set up that doesn’t go away in the later stages of the race.
- Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I don’t think we’re done this year with the Toyota engine failures. Even though a Toyota was in victory lane on Sunday, I’d still be concerned if I was driving a Camry Saturday night.
Who To Watch
- Since this is only the third time we’ve been to Kentucky, go with the folks who’ve conquered it before. Kyle Busch won the inaugural race in 2011 and has been out of the conversation the past few weeks, so he’ll hope to rebound on Saturday.
- Like I mentioned, Brad Keselowski hasn’t won a race in 2013, and sits dangerously close to the bottom half of the top 10, a treacherous spot to be in if you haven’t got a victory to land you a Wild Card spot should you fall out. He won in 2012, and there’s no doubt he wants to go back-to-back.
- He’s finally got his mojo back and confidence up after winning at Sonoma, so Martin Truex Jr., with the monkey firmly off of his back, should have all the swagger in the world as he attempts back-to-back victories.
Who Will Win
It’s another intermediate track, so how can you bet against the man who’s dominated them thus far in 2013? Matt Kenseth gets the win on Saturday.
Sprint Cup Standings (after 16 of 36 races)
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Carl Edwards -25
3. Clint Bowyer -45
4. Kevin Harvick -63
5. Matt Kenseth -92
6. Greg Biffle -94
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -94
8. Kyle Busch -112
9. Brad Keselowski -119
10. Martin Truex Jr. -120