The NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Friday from Kentucky Speedway proved one thing. Clean air is King. The driver that captures the lead on the restart has a big advantage over the field. Christopher Bell won the Alsco 300, in part because Kyle Busch had no clean air.
Busch led the most laps, but an unscheduled pit stop placed him in the middle of the field at the halfway point. A deficit he was unable to erase, Busch finished 3rd.
Kyle Busch(18) starts 5th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Quaker State 400. With his 200 laps of Xfinity work to draw on, he has to be considered one of the favorites. The other two members of the “Big 3” start in the front also. Martin Truex Jr.(78) won the pole. Kevin Harvick(4), starts in the 3rd position.
The interloper in the group is last week’s Daytona winner Erik Jones(20). Jones starts second, on the front row with his teammate from last year Truex Jr. Jones passed Truex Jr. during overtime at Daytona to capture his 1st Cup Series win. A victory at Kentucky and Jones might lay claim to being in the “Big 4.”
An underlying theme for the race will be the feud between Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) and Kyle Busch. After Stenhouse Jr. caused a wreck at Daytona that took Busch out of the race. They both traded verbal jabs before and during Cup qualifying yesterday.
The Start of the Quaker State 400
Truex Jr. wasted no time in driving away from Jones on the start. Brad Keselowski(2), who seems to always run well at Kentucky moved into 2nd place early in Stage 1. Stage lengths at Kentucky are 80, 80, and 107. Necessitating a visit to pit road for fuel during all race Stages.
Most pit stops in Stage 1 occurred on laps 40-45. A few drivers stayed out hoping to catch a caution and improve their track position. Kurt Busch(41), Joey Logano(22), William Bowman(88), and Jimmie Johnson(48) pushed it the farthest. Pitting on Lap 61-66, returning the lead to Truex Jr.
Keselowski was caught speeding on his exit from pit road. He incurred a drive-through penalty that dropped him from the leading group of cars. After pit stops cycled through Truex Jr. had built almost a 2-second lead over Kevin Harvick(4). Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney(12), and Paul Menard(21) rounded out the top 5
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
Logano did not pit at the end of the Stage, having been to pit road just 17 laps earlier. Kurt Busch, benefiting from his late pit stop, only took 2 tires and exited in 1st. He lined up next to Logano for the restart, Truex Jr. lined up 3rd.
Kurt Busch jumped to a big lead when the green flag waved. Truex Jr. ran him down and took the lead on lap 98. Looking like he might dominate in a similar fashion to last year. Truex Jr. built a 3-second lead only to see it wiped out when Bowman cut down a tire on Lap 108. The damage from hitting the wall in turn 3 sent Bowman to the garage. Pit stops will give teams enough fuel to complete Stage 2.
Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch share the front row for the restart after Bowman’s crash. Harvick, Blaney, and Menard make up the top 5 as the race goes green on Lap 114. Truex Jr., Kyle Bush, and Blaney went 3-wide down the backstretch. Martin pulled away through turns 3 and 4. He quickly established a 1-second lead, as Busch and Blaney battled for 2nd.
No one could challenge Truex Jr., who easily captured his 2nd Stage win of the night. His 5th Stage win of the season.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
The Final Stage
Keselowski gambles taking just 2 tires, he exits the pits first. Lining up on the front row next to Truex Jr., the clean air makes the gamble pay off. Keselowski jumps into the lead as Truex Jr. battles Harvick for 2nd.
Kyle Larson(42) makes his first appearance at the front of the pack. He passes Truex Jr. for 2nd. Larson missed driver introductions and had to start from the rear of the field. He doggedly worked his way into contention.
Larson Fades, Truex Jr. Surges
Short run speed took Larson to the front and the car went away just as quickly. Problems with the track bar in the rear of the car cost Larson a shot at the lead. Truex Jr. passed and began to close the gap on Keselowski. By Lap 201, Larson had faded to 7th and Truex Jr. reassumed the lead.
On Lap 206 J J Yeley(23) stuffed his car into the wall in Turn 4 bringing out the caution. This time Kurt Busch was the gambler taking just 2 tires and exiting 1st. Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Blaney, and Harvick followed.
Kurt Busch found the same success as Keselowski as he shot to the lead with a push from Blaney. Truex Jr., whose car seems to get stronger with a few laps on it, quickly closed on Busch’s bumper. Taking the lead on Lap 233 and pulling Blaney with him into second.
While the cars slugged it out on the race track. Some comic relief treated the fans in the grandstand. The track’s sprinkler system, apparently on a timer, activated and soaked the outer lane exit of pit road. The cars don’t need to pit again unless there is another caution.
The official count showed 14 lead changes. When Truex Jr. was not in the lead, he was just loaning it to another driver. Just like last year, Truex Jr. dominated every facet of the race. Further entrenching himself as one of the Big 3 in 2018.
The only thing that got away from Truex Jr. all night was his car in the post-race celebration. After crawling out the window and standing on the door to salute the fans, the 78 car began rolling toward the apron of the track. Martin jumped off just as the NBC crew arrived to interview him. Did not seem to phase him in the least.
No on-track drama between Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The two had little interaction. Busch finished 4th and Stenhouse Jr. 26th, 1 Lap down. Stenhouse Jr. seemed to give Busch a wide berth when Kyle passed.
Results of the Quaker State 400 presented by WalMart
|1||78||Martin Truex Jr.||—||267|
|26||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||266|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||689||4|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||418||0|
* Ford Fusion Drivers