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Quaker State 400 Preview

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We've got a nice trend going the past two seasons of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing that has seen the Las Vegas winner also win the Kentucky race and if that’s to be the case again Saturday night for the Quaker State 400, then you might want to go out and make a quick bet on Las Vegas winner Kevin Harvick to win. Or maybe not.

This will only be the fifth Cup race held on the Kentucky Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout and two of the races have been won by Brad Keselowski in 2012 and 2014. The trend with Keselowski last season was that he was good on all the 1.5-mile tracks -- winning on three of them (Las Vegas, Kentucky, Chicago). In 2013 it was Matt Kenseth who won four of the races on 1.5-mile tracks (Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky, Chicago).

Las Vegas is higher banked and faster than Kentucky, but the set-up and rules package remained the same over each of the seasons. That’s not going to be the case this week as NASCAR has implemented a new rules package just for this race. If it’s determined that the fans and drivers like the type of racing we see then they may continue the package for the rest of the season on all down force tracks. The idea for the change is to get more passing and this package is definitely going to make that happen.

The spoiler height will be reduced to 3.5 inches from the current 6 inches and the splitter will have a 1 ¾ inch less overhang than the current splitter which will force the cars to slow down a little more around the turns or they’ll be smacking the wall. It will be a very difficult race for all the drivers as they float on egg shells around the turns, but it will be fun to watch.

While we’re calling this ’new’ because they’ve never run the package in an official race, they have been running the package at various stages of testing for the past 18 months, so each of the teams are prepared and know what they have to do to give their driver the best set-up possible to win.

Since we’ll be seeing something new, can we expect to see several new drivers step up on these type of tracks? Kevin Harvick has finished first of second in four of the five races run on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Jimmie Johnson has won three of those races and Carl Edwards won the marathon at Charlotte. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished fourth or better in all five and Martin Truex Jr. has finished ninth or better in all five. Do these drivers still dominate, or does it open the window for someone else?

I wish I had the answer right now, but I won’t completely know until I see practices run on Wednesday -- yes Wednesday -- and then there will be another set of practice and qualifying on Friday before Saturday’s race. The additional practices are there specifically because of the new changes. My guess would be that the advantage drivers have had so far this year with their set-ups will be somewhat erased.

So before you go following the trend of Vegas winners taking Kentucky too, and bet Harvick, you might want to wait until seeing Wednesday’s practice times and then make your wagers. There’s a very good chance that because of Wednesday being such an odd day for practices that several books might not make the adjustments and you can find the [...] sleeping at the wheel.

Say, for instance, the Joe Gibbs drivers have things figured out the most Wednesday where Edwards, Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have a clear advantage in single lap speeds and average speeds. Hamlin, Busch and Edwards should have odds around 15-to-1 based on their performances on 1.5-mile tracks and they should be bet immediately. It's an opportunity to gain an edge.

The Harvick and Johnson advantage will be diminished, I think, so it brings lots of value to several drivers hovering above 10/1 odds. However, it would foolish to believe that both Harvick and Johnson won’t be good, it’s just that they won’t have the edge like we’ve seen all season so far. So 9/2 odds on Harvick or 6/1 on Johnson just don't make sense this week, or at least not prior to Wednesday.

I’ll be looking for drivers to excel right away that like driving loose cars and those begin with Dale Earnhardt Jr, Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #11 Denny Hamlin (15/1)
2) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (10/1)
3) #5 Kasey Kahne (15/1)
4) #19 Carl Edwards (15/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (12/1)

NASCAR Expert Picks
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