The NASCAR Cup Series has already run 16 races in 2020, but last year's season champion Kyle Busch still does not have a single win. He's 0-for-16, and despite being runner-up in three races, I don't remember him as a legitimate contender to win any of them. But that may change in Sunday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway's 1.5-mile layout, a track he's been winning at since he was an 18-year-old racing in the ARCA Series.
Busch hasn't won, but he's run well enough to finish sixth or better in nine of his 16 starts, he just hasn't led a lot of laps. He's also still got crew chief Adam Stevens running the show, so there's nothing like it could be the cause of Martin Truex Jr.'s struggles in 2020. Busch also has Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin lighting up the circuit with four wins and nine top-fives.
All those attributes are part of why the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has Busch as the 5/1 co-favorite with Kevin Harvick to win on Sunday despite no wins in 2020. The other part is he's collected the most trophies from Kentucky than any other driver. It's been his best track.
In addition to his 2003 ARCA win, where Kyle led a race-high 91 laps, he also has three Xfinity Series wins and has led 877 in 11 starts. In the Truck Series, he's won twice and led 310 laps. He's kind of got a pattern of excellence growing, but his Cup consistency is the most remarkable.
He won the inaugural Kentucky Cup race in 2011 to start a nine-race run where he'd score seven top-fives with his worst finish being 12th. He'd also win in 2015 and has totaled 621 laps led. In last year's race, he'd led a race-high 72 laps but settled for runner-up in a thrilling battle he lost to older brother Kurt Busch.
"It was a great finish to the race, just wish I was the one that came out on top," Kyle Busch said. "On the last lap, I knew I cleared him into (turn) three, and if I stayed in the gas, I was never going to exit, I was going to plow the fence. Maybe I should have just gotten in front of him and messed up his air. I missed my chance over there, I guess, and that's about all I could have done differently. Hoping we'll have a chance to bring home a win this time around with our M&M'S Fudge Brownie Camry."
NASCAR Cup Odds
Quaker State 400 Odds
Sunday, July 12, 2020
Sunday's Quaker State 400 may have to wait until Monday as rain showers have a 50 percent chance of happening, down from the 80 percent forecast on Monday. But whatever day it runs on, it will be the sixth race run on a 1.5mile track. The first five have been won by five different drivers, although the last two have been won by Hamlin (Homestead) and Harvick (Atlanta).
Hamlin and Harvick share the series lead with four wins and nine top-fives apiece through 16 races and have taken control of the weekly pre-race storyline. They have been the story since the pandemic shut the season down in March, especially with this week's race package featuring engines producing 550 horsepower that has seen them win seven of the nine races.
"Yeah, it's interesting for sure," Harvick said of the Harvick-Hamlin NASCAR show. "We kind of went back and forth there (Indy), I was leading, then he was leading, then he has trouble. You have to sort of smile about it because it's two teams performing at a tremendously high level. It has cycled around to the two of us for several weeks now. I think as you look at that, it makes it fun.
"You want to have the upper hand on the who finishes in front of who ratio at this point, especially because if that's the guy you're racing and the team you're racing, you want to at least stay even par. Those guys are good. They're doing a great job. Obviously, leading the charge at Joe Gibbs. Our guys are doing the same. On days when you think you're out of it, you keep grinding, all of a sudden you wind up in victory lane, those are the days you smile because you know everybody did their job and kept themselves in the game."
Both Harvick and Hamlin have raced in all nine Cup races at Kentucky, but neither has won there. Hamlin has four top-fives with a 14th-place average finish while Harvick has just one top-five and a 10th-place average finish. Is past data at a track enough to make me pass on either one this week despite the current form that appears light years ahead of the rest of the teams?
Be Bullish on Almirola, Bowyer
Well, for whatever reason, I thought the track itself offered some nuances to leave them off my initial betting strategy. They win all the time, but they've been winning on tracks they're great at. Yeah, I know, they're probably going to burn me, but it's a gamble every week. I would like to see a long shot cash, and of course, have a bet on him.
Aric Almirola's best Kentucky race was eighth-place in 2018, his first year with Stewart-Haas Racing, and between his team influenced by teammate Harvick's and scoring top-five finishes in his last five starts overall I'm betting him again at 30/1 odds.
"We're in a position now to where we can gamble a little bit, and we can be a little more aggressive," Almirola said. "We can be less conservative and not worry about points. Not that we're going to throw caution to the wind, but we can certainly be more aggressive. A win is coming."
I love the confidence of Almirola, and I love hearing drivers preach that a win is coming. It's something that makes investing in them much easier to swallow as if we're on the same page.
While we're looking at considering Harvick's teammates as a long shot bet into the betting portfolio, consider Clint Bowyer who is set at 40/1 odds to win this week.
"We were pretty good there last year," Bowyer said. "We led 40 laps and finished sixth. It's a tricky place. Usually, Kentucky is hit-or-miss with some really strong runs, and then times you just struggle for grip. I imagine it's going to be hot and slippery Sunday afternoon."
The SHR Fords are going so well lately that rookie Cole Custer brought his No. 41 into fifth-place on Sunday at the Brickyard. While this will be his first cup Start at Kentucky, he knows the track well, considering he won the Kentucky Xfinity Series race last season. If believing any of this case that any SHR car can win, Custer is offered at 200/1 odds to win this week.
I won't have a bet on Custer, but I'm going to try reviving Alex Bowman again. This should be a good track for him despite his record saying so. He led 110 laps before winning at Fontana and then was runner-up at Darlington after leading 41 laps. Somewhere in that time, he signed a contract extension, and he's been terrible since. But I'm on him this week at 25/1 odds to win.
I'm expecting Bowman and several of his Chevrolet mates to have strong runs this week. Chase Elliott, William Byron, Kurt Busch, and Matt Kenseth are intriguing looks this week. Perhaps Kenseth and his crew have things on the same level, which helped them finish second last week at Indy.
And then we have Jimmie Johnson back in the No. 48 after he missed last week's race at Indy, the first missed race of his career. Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday night after voluntarily taking the test immediately after his wife found out she was tested positive. Johnson regularly runs marathons and might have the hardest immune system COVID-19 ever tried to crack. He tested again on Monday and came up negative, and then the entry list had Johnson's name on it, not replacement Justin Allgaier's. Johnson tested again on Tuesday, and it was negative. Maybe his first test was simply wrong, or perhaps Johnson is such a badass that the virus ran away scared when finding zero ailments in his system to hang onto. Johnson has 83 Cup wins everywhere, but has never won at Kentucky.