Quaker State 400 Preview
June 24, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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Saturday Night’s Sprint Cup race takes us to Kentucky Speedway for the fifth race this season on a 1.5-mile track. This will be the fourth race run on the mildly banked (14 degrees) speedway whose past winners have been Kyle Busch (2011), Brad Keselowski (2012) and Matt Kenseth (2013). Kenseth has the best average finish (4.7) among all drivers, and dominated on 1.5-mile tracks last season, but his only Top-5 finish on them this season was third at Charlotte last month.
Are Kenseth and the Joe Gibbs drivers getting better, or does it even matter because of how far ahead of the game the Hendrick Chevy engines appear to be in regards to horsepower. Gibbs has won two of the three Kentucky races, but they never had a horsepower deficit in those years like is the case now.
Penske Racing’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski won on the first two 1.5 tracks this season at Las Vegas and Texas, and then Hendrick Motorsports' Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson took the last two at Kansas and Charlotte. Kevin Harvick, who drives for Stewart-Haas but uses a Hendrick engine, has finished second in the last two at Kansas and Charlotte.
Those are going to be the drivers you want to key on this week, and you can throw another Hendrick driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the mix as well. And you know sooner or later Kasey Kahne, who finished second at Kentucky in 2012, is going to put all his Hendrick power to good use with a win eventually.
Much like last season, we have a clear view who the best cars are on these type of tracks. Kenseth had already won at Las Vegas and Kansas last season before winning at Kentucky. Kevin Harvick won at Charlotte and would also take the checkers later in the season in the fall Kansas race. Kyle Busch had won at Texas and later won at Atlanta's 1.5-mile layout.
You get the idea.
Chances are we've already seen Saturday night's winner between the first four races on the 1.5-mile tracks, and the most likeliest of candidates appear to be Jimmie Johnson, who has won three of the past five races overall on the season. Kentucky is one of four tracks he's never won on, but in three starts he's never finished outside the top-10, with an average finish of 6.0 which is third best behind Kyle Busch (5.3) and Kenseth.
We saw Johnson cross Michigan off his 'things to do list' a few weeks ago at a track that had eluded him longer than any other. With someone that has accomplished just about everything possible in NASCAR, winning at every track is one of those goals he has to place before himself to keep him pumped up and motivated. Sure, it's probably not too hard to jump into a car every week when you know you have the best stuff, but to keep things fresh, you play the game within the game.
For Johnson, only four tracks remained to be crossed off and it's likely only three will remain after Saturday's night race.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (5/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (6/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
4) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
Emotional Gaughan earns Nationwide win
I rarely talk about the Nationwide series, but there’s a special circumstance this week because of having just experienced my most exciting race of the NASCAR season, and the funny thing was, I didn’t even have a wager on it.
The reason for the excitement was because Brendan Gaughan, from Las Vegas, won his first Nationwide series race and ninth overall within the three major NASCAR series he’s driven in over his 18 year career. After getting himself in all kinds of trouble throughout Saturday’s race at Road America’s 4.04-mile road course in Wisconsin, Gaughan managed to run his No. 62 South Point Camaro fastest in the rain (Nationwide runs road course races in the rain), and between great pit strategy and skilled driving, he was able to drive himself to victory.
I was happy not only as a Las Vegan, but also because I know what an emotional year it’s been for the Gaughan family after Brendan’s grandfather, Las Vegas pioneer Jackie Gaughan, passed away in March. When leading with four laps to go, all I could think about was how much a win would mean not only for Brendan, but also for the entire Gaughan family.
It’s a rough stretch for a while when someone in the family passes on. I was in a daze for a year when my mother passed, but then there’s a point where you get some kind of sign that things are going to be okay. When Brendan won, it was easy to see through his emotions how he was feeling. While doing his victory interview on television, he walked over to his car and pointed to the spot above the door where his name is supposed to be and it had the name John “Jackie” Gaughan written instead.
It was a great moment that had several layers of goodness to it. The LVH SuperBook books Nationwide races all season and opened Gaughan at 40/1 odds to win at closed him at 25/1, but didn’t have many takers.
It was Gaughan’s first NASCAR win since a Truck series win at Texas in 2003, a race I remember all too well because my sportsbook got hammered on him at 10/1 odds, which in retrospect was obviously a bad price.