Kentucky Speedway: July 8, 2017, 7:30 pm
The Quaker State 400 fired off just five hours after the Alsco 300 race concluded at Kentucky Speedway. The fresh rubber laid down by the Xfinity Series drivers turned into an advantage for the Cup Series cars. With two grooves burned in the track the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race got off to a smooth start. Unlike the Xfinity race that went yellow almost as soon as the green flag waved.
Kyle Busch(18) jumped to the early lead. However, the “Master of the Stage,” Martin Truex Jr.(78), drove to the front before the green and white checkered concluded Stage One. It was Truex’s 12th Stage win of the year.
After the break for the Stage ending caution flag on lap 80, Stage Two started with a bang. Brad Keselowski(2) bobbled in the middle of turns three and four, he collected the car of Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson(48). Sending both cars to the garage, done for the evening.
With track position so important restarts provide an ideal opportunity to pick up positions. Stage Two proved the significance of that strategy. But, intense racing leads to accidents. An accident brings out another caution. Which then leads to another restart. Five yellow flags shuffled the field during stage two.
Trevor Bayne(6) and Kasey Kahne(5) tangled in turn one after a restart and two more cars exited the race. Bad new for these drivers who both sit below the cut line for the final playoff position.
Kyle Larson(42) started at the rear of the field. Larson’s car failed inspection prior to qualifying and the team was prevented from taking to the track to post a time. He passed 37 cars on his way to a third-place finish in Stage 1. However, a speeding penalty on pit road during the yellow sent him to the rear of lead lap. After taking the green flag in 23rd position, Larson again worked his way towards the front. By the end of Stage Two, Larson had passed 53 cars for position finishing in ninth. Truex won the second Stage, now his 13th in 2017.
The Race to the Checkered Flag
The Fords of Joey Logano(22) and Ryan Blaney(21) did not pit at the end of Stage Two. Taking advantage of the clean air they led the first four green flag laps of the Final Stage. On the fifth lap after the restart, Truex again drove to the front passing both cars that opted to start the stage on old tires. The only drama that remained would be the final pit stop for fuel.
Truex pitted with 42 laps to go having lapped most of the field. A clean stop returned Truex to the front of the pack. Dale Earnhardt Jr.(88) took the lead with Truex pitting. The camera on the top of Junior’s car showed the windshield bolts vibrating loose and flying off the car. The windshield could be seen being buffeted by the force of running 180 mph.
When the cycle of pit stops finished, Truex held a 10 second lead with 12 cars on the lead lap. Only a caution could derail the celebration in the Kentucky Speedway Victory Lane.
Caution Lap 265 of 267
Just before the white flag unfurled, the engine in Kurt Busch’s(41) car expired. Oil covered the front stretch just past the start-finish line. With overtime looming, every car on the lead lap pitted for tires, except Truex. As fans sat on the edge of their seats, NASCAR prepped the track for the green-white-checkered finish. Truex chose the outside line, Kyle Busch to the inside was the king of restarts all weekend. No worries for Truex who shot to the lead by five car length into turn one. A push from Larson helped seal the win for Truex. The second time this year that Truex has swept the first two Stages and won the race.
Cars spinning under the white flag on the front stretch brought the race to a yellow-checkered finish. Larson finished second, Chase Elliott(24) third, Denny Hamlin(11) fourth, and Kyle Busch fifth.
Bad Day for Fords at Kentucky
Joey Logano finished eighth, Kevin Harvick(4) ninth, and Ryan Blaney came home in 10th. Darrel Wallace Jr.(43) finished a clean 11th in what might be his last ride in the Richard Petty Motorsports Fusion. Aric Almirola was at the track this weekend and rumor has it he may be in the car next week at New Hampshire. Clint Bowyer
Clint Bowyer(14) finished 13th after a spin in Stage One. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) finished in 14th. One spot ahead of girlfriend Danica Patrick in 15th. Harvick could have contended for the win running third when the final caution flew. He was penalized for too fast entering pit road on the final stop.
Kyle Larson held onto the points lead with his second-place finish. Truex is one point back. It appears that the Regular Season Championship will come down to these two battling out at Richmond. Kyle Busch set third in the standings but is 100 points behind Truex. Harvick sits fourth, Keselowski eighth, and Bowyer 10th. Logano remains outside the top 16, seven points behind Matt Kenseth(20). Who remains on the bubble in the 16th and final playoff position.
Next week it’s back to Sunday racing with the Overton’s 301 set to go at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Brickyard runs the following week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.