Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, KY — July 13, 2019
Eight races remain before the start of the 2019 NASCAR Playoffs. Tonight’s race at Kentucky Speedway is important as drivers make their final push to secure one of the 16 spots in the chase for the Championship.
A heavy application of traction compound on the corners was intended to provide driver’s with multiple options when it came to lane choice. Two practice sessions on Friday did little to convince drivers that moving off the bottom in turns 1 and 2 would add speed to their lap times. However, turns 3 and 4 should open up to side-by-side racing that the fans love.
Martin Truex Jr.(19) has won the last two Quaker State 400 races at Kentucky. To win his 3rd in a row he will have to do so from the 8th starting position. Daniel Suarez(41) sits on the pole with his teammate Aric Almirola(10) next to him.
During last nights NASCAR Xfinity Series race, clean air was a major factor. Winner Cole Custer said it was extremely difficult to pass. Track position may be what everyone battles for during restarts and pit stops. That’s bad news for Ryan Newman(6) who’s car failed inspection after qualifying and will start at the rear of the field.
Stages are 80/80/107 on the 1.5-mile speedway. Suarez pole qualifying speed was 184.590 mph, a timed lap of 29.254 seconds.
Track crews had a little cleanup work before the race even started. A jet dryer blowing dirt off the racing surface leaked diesel fuel onto the track in turn 1. The speedy-dry crew cleaned things up and Jeff Burton, driving the NBC test car, drove a hot lap through the turn with Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin aboard.
Suarez held the lead on the start as the field spread out 3 and 4 wide racing for positions on the opening lap.
As the field began to spread out, two and three car battles were the order of the day. Suarez comfortable lead shrank as he began to catch lapped traffic and Almirola closed to his bumper. Unable to pass, Almirola waited for Suarez to make a mistake. Kevin Harvick(4), Kurt Busch(1) and Brad Keselowski(2) gained ground on the leaders to make it a 5 car battle for the top spot.
Green flag pit stops began at Lap 40 as Clint Bowyer(14) was the first car to pit road followed by Ryan Blaney(12). Unfortunately for the pair, the caution came out on Lap 46 as Chase Elliott(9) slowed on the backstretch with a blown right front tire.
It seemed everyone had a different thought on what to do on the first pit stop of the evening. No tires, 2 tires, 4 tires scramble the field. Suarez entered the pits in 1st, took 4 tires and exited in 14th. Keselowski and Kurt Busch opted for fuel only and came out 1st and 2nd. Track position proving again to be key. With 30 laps to go in the Stage, it could be considered a gamble.
Kurt Busch raced side-by-side with Keselowski for almost a full lap before taking the lead. His brother, Kyle Busch(18), passed Keselowski on the next lap just before Corey LaJoie(32) spun in Turn 4 bringing out the caution again. Elliott, the highest position car one lap down earned the “Lucky Dog” and returned to the lead lap.
On the restart, Kurt Busch outraced his brother to Turn 1. Joey Logano(22) stuck the nose of his Ford Mustang under Kyle Busch for the 2nd position. With 18 laps to go in Stage 1, Landon Cassill(00) and Bayley Currey(51) spun coming out of Turn 2 bringing out another caution.
The race restarted again with 13 laps to go. Kurt Busch took the lead as he and Logano raced door-to-door. Logano worked his way past by the time they reached the flag stand. Only to have Kurt take the spot back into Turn 1.
How important is track position? Suarez, the pole sitter, led the first 50 laps of the race, pitted for four tires, exited 14th and has remained there for the next 30 laps finishing Stage 1.
Kurt Busch held on for the Stage win, followed by Logano and Kyle Busch.
Stage 1 Results
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||4|
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||3|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Again pit stop strategy is all over the board. Seven cars stayed on the track. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17), Bowyer, Austin Dillon(3), Newman, Blaney, Alex Bowman(88), and Ty Dillon(13) opted not to pit having stopped late in Stage 1. Kyle Busch was the first driver to exit pit road, he restarted in 8th.
Stenhouse and Bowyer quickly drove away from the pack as Kyle Busch moved up to the 3rd spot and began to track the leaders down. With fresher tires, Busch passed Bowyer on Lap 102 and two circuits later blew past Stenhouse for the lead.
At the halfway point of the race, Lap 134, the top 5 were Kyle Busch, Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Bowman, and Hamlin. Kyle’s lead was over eight seconds. Only 19 of the 36 starters remained on the lead lap. Green flag pit stops began just after the mid-point mark.
Kyle Busch pitted on Lap 150. With just 10 laps to go in the Stage, he took 4 tires and a full tank of Sunoco Racing Fuel. After pit stops cycled through, Busch was back in the lead. followed by Erik Jones(20), Austin Dillon, Bowyer, and Logano.
Kyle Busch coasted to the Stage 2 win and will no doubt preserve his track position having pitted so late in the Stage.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
In a strange move, Kyle Busch pitted for a splash of gas, and even though he exited 1st he will line up behind 4 drivers who did not pit. Bower, Kurt Busch, Almirola, and William Byron(24) choose to remain on the track.
On the restart, it was three-wide for the lead and three-wide for 4th. As positions settled out it was Bowyer, Byron, Almirola, Kurt, and Kyle Busch as the top 5.
On Lap 178 Jimmie Johnson(48), who was running 7th at the time, spun coming off Turn 2 bringing out the first non-Stage ending caution since the first Stage. The front of the pack stayed on the track, while the remainder of the field pitted hoping to use the stop to help gain track position later.
With passing during regular runs difficult to accomplish, restarts become the optimum time to gain positions. William Byron jumped the green flag and was penalized for a restart violation. A drive through pit road penalty cost Byron dearly as he returned to the track just ahead of the leaders.
The top 5 after the shuffle of positions, Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, and Aric Almirola. Kurt Busch began attacking Bowyer, but could not complete the pass. Running next to each other the front two allowed Kyle Busch, Logano and Almirola close up making it a five-car race for the lead.
Green Flag Pit Stops
Working on a strategy of minimizing the number of pit stop needed to complete the distance, Bowyer pitted for fuel as soon as the fuel mileage window opened on Lap 206. Kurt Busch followed a few laps later. Jones and Almirola were the next of the leaders to pit road on Lap 218.
Kyle Busch and Logano pitted together on Lap 225, each for two tires and fuel. They left pit road running in the same order. Truex was too fast exiting pit road on his stop and served a drive-through penalty, likely ending his chances for a three-peat.
With 20 laps to go, all the leaders had pitted. At the same time, Logano was challenging Kyle Busch for the lead. They swapped positions until Busch overdrove Turn 1 and Logano drove away with the lead, opening the margin to over a second in just two laps.
With 10 laps to go, Logano had built the lead to two seconds. With 6 laps to go, Bubba Wallace(43) cut a right rear tire and spun off Turn 2 bringing out the caution and setting up a real dash for the finish.
The restart is almost guaranteed to go three wide. The first three rows are Logano and Kyle Busch, Jones and Kurt Busch, Hamlin and Larson. Caution laps push the finish into NASCAR Overtime.
Erik Jones made it three-wide, but could not power past into the lead. Down the backstretch, the battle for the win came down to the Busch brothers.
After losing the race at Daytona last week to a lightning strike. Kurt Busch created a bolt of lightning of his own, bumping past his brother on the way to the checkered flag for his 1st win of the year. Michigan’s Erik Jones finished 3rd. Logano dropped to 7th place at the finish.
Kurt Busch’s win did not drop anyone out of points contention as he was well established sitting 8th in the standings. The night’s biggest loser was Daniel Suarez. Despite winning the pole, leading the first 50 laps of the race, and finishing 8th, Suarez dropped out of the top 16 playoff positions.
Clint Bowyers 6th place finish was enough to push him into the 15th position in points with 444. Sitting 16th in the final playoff spot, just one point behind, is Ryan Newman. Jimmie Johnson, in 13th, with 474 points and Kyle Larson in 14th with 473 are in danger if they encounter difficulties between now and Indianapolis.
Suarez is 13 points and Erik Jones in 23 points off the cut line. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard are quickly approaching the point where they may need a win to qualify for the post-season.
|5||Martin Truex Jr.||597||4|
|Playoff Cut Line|
|19||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||398||0|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Next week the series travels to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on Sunday afternoon.
Results of the Quaker State 400 From Kentucky Speedway
|12||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2.597||269|
|19||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-1||268|