After years of legal wrangling, Kentucky Speedway has finally landed on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule. Even though there are no previous Cup races to extract data and trends from, fantasy owners have plenty of opportunities to get fully prepared for the inaugural race.
First, there are the Nationwide Series races that have been run at the site since 2001. In fact, eight Cup drivers (Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, David Reutimann) will be performing double duty, some no doubt to gain valuable in-race track time.
Second, there will be two testing sessions this Thursday before two practices and qualifying on Friday. Owners facing pre-qualifying deadlines will certainly want to review the results from testing.
Finally, thanks to a large number of intermediate tracks, there are some tracks that compare favorably to Kentucky. In terms of the banking around the track, Auto Club Speedway is perhaps the most similar even though that is a 2.0-mile venue. Kansas Speedway is a 1.5-mile track with slightly more banking and held its first race of the season a month ago. Chicagoland Speedway could also be added to the mix, but won’t see any action until the start of the Chase in September.
Location: Sparta, Ky.
Length: 2.50 miles
Turns 1-4: 14 degrees
Tri-oval: 8-10 degrees
Back stretch: 4 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
After capturing the pole at Kentucky for the 2005 Nationwide race, Edwards totally dominated the field in his victory after leading 150 of 200 laps. In the following four races, due in part to some bad luck, Edwards failed to finish on the lead lap. Last year, things finally fell back into place when Edwards finished as the runner-up with an average running position of 10th. This season, Edwards has one victory and two other top-five finishes in the four 1.5-mile races (Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway) giving him a series-best 6.3 average finish.
Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Kentucky may get Rowdy
With four Nationwide starts at Kentucky since 2004, Busch has one win but orchestrated an even more impressive performance in 2009. After qualifying second, he led 162 of 200 laps with an average running position of first despite finishing as the runner-up. In addition, he's finished seventh or better in two Truck starts with an average of 58 laps led. Busch owns a season-best average running position of 9.2 and is the only driver running better than 12th. Over his last four Cup starts, Busch has three top-five finishes. With impressive runs all year, strong recent finishes and a robust history at Kentucky, it's time to get Rowdy.
Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Crown Royal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Despite never putting a set of tires on the pavement at Kentucky in a race, Kenseth still deserves strong consideration. The bulk of his victories over his career have come on intermediate tracks, where the entire Roush program in general performs well. In his typical reliable fashion, Kenseth enters with a streak of seven top-15s, including his second win of the season, and two runner-up performances in the last three.
Ryan Newman | No. 29 Tornado's Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Despite possessing the sixth-best average running position of the season, Newman owns just two top-10s over his last dozen starts. However, Newman has run 15th or better, on the average, in four straight and has been a reliable performer on intermediate tracks for much of his career. If Newman's name appears near the top of the numerous practice sessions, don't let his occasional misfortune steer you away.
Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot Back to School Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
With an average running position of fifth at both Kansas and Fontana, Stewart appears more than capable of a strong performance at Kentucky. Over his last four starts, Stewart has finished 11th or better on three occasions. On 1.5-mile tracks this season, his 9.8 average finish is sixth-best in the series. Smoke typically starts to rise during these summer months and he’s already put the field on notice that no one is blocking his path anymore.
Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
When drivers head to a new track, discovering the best line to run and finding the ideal braking points are paramount. One driver that can find his own path around the track is Montoya, who will sometimes be seen running a unique line by himself. Over the last six starts, JPM has held an average running position of 15th or better on four occasions while his finish of 11.3 on 1.5-mile tracks this season is 10th among the field.
Joey Logano | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Coming off consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time this season, Logano is starting to look like the driver that ran so well for much of last year's Chase. Even if he was still struggling, Logano's stellar resume at Kentucky would still be enough to start him. In the last three Nationwide races, he's won all of them from the pole with an average running position that has never dipped below third. Of the 600 total laps, Logano only spent two of them outside of the top 15 while leading more than 33 percent of the time.
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing
The last Cup race on a 1.5-mile track was won by Keselowski on fuel mileage at Kansas. He's also run the last three Nationwide races at Kentucky, never finishing worse than fourth with an average running position of at least ninth. Despite never leading a lap, Keselowski could offer another surprise on a 1.5-mile track in what could be the most wide open race of the season.
Temper your expectations
Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 Porter Cable Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports
In the first three 1.5-mile races of the season, Ambrose finished no worse than sixth. However, the Australian was a non-factor at Kansas finishing a lap down in 26th. While Ambrose finished 11th in the 2007 Nationwide race at Kentucky and sixth the following year, he appears too erratic at the moment to trust on an intermediate.
Michael Waltrip | No. 15 Darrell Waltrip Tribute Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
To honor his older sibling and upcoming Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip, baby brother will get behind the wheel for the third time this season. As a Kentucky native, Waltrip will no doubt have the crowd behind him. Fantasy owners, however, would be wise to ignore the cheers and look elsewhere. Since entering semi-retirement in 2010, Waltrip has three DNFs in six starts and failed to qualify on two occasions.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.