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Quaker State 400 Preview

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Saturday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway will signify the halfway point of the 2016 Sprint Cup season and it will also take us right into the middle of the 1.5-mile season. There are 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks during the season and five have been run on already.

So far we've seen Jimmie Johnson win at Atlanta, Brad Keselowski win at Las Vegas, Kyle Busch win at Texas and Kansas and Martin Truex Jr. take Charlotte. Those drivers all figure to be excellent again this week, but there's a little added twist this week.    
NASCAR announced in mid-May that they would be reducing the spoiler from 3.5-inches to 2.5-inches and the splitter down to 2-inches to enhance the racing, but that the package would be on a trial period only for races at Michigan and Kentucky. After Saturday's race, that package will be shelved until being discussed again in the off-season.
Last year Kentucky was the site of reduced downforce on a trial basis and it turned out to be the best race of the season which ushered the changes into being permanent for 2016. Now they're trying to make things even better, I guess -- the racing on 1.5-mile tracks this season looked nothing like Kentucky's 2015 race.
When looking back at last month's Michigan race, the racing wasn't all that good. In fact, it was rather boring. Only eight drivers led a lap and there was only 14 lead changes -- yawn. Joey Logano led a race-high 138 of the 200 laps, including the final 47.

Let's hope Kentucky's 1.5-mile layout produces some better racing like it did last season.
What we can use Michigan for is to look at who fared well in an attempt to keep up with Logano. Chances are that they'll all be good again this weekend. Chase Elliott led 35 laps and had his best career finish with second-place. Kyle Larson was third, Brad Keselowski was fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
Surprisingly, no Joe Gibbs Racing drivers were in the top-five -- Carl Edwards was sixth. Last year at Kentucky in the pacakage debut, JGR drivers were way ahead of the game with four of its drivers in the top-five. Could it be that Team Penske has this thing figured out best? Its only two drivers in the top-four is a strong indicator they know what's up.
Even though Logano won at Michigan, Keselowski would be the driver to key on of the Penske duo. This guy loves Kentucky. He won there in 2012 and 2014 in the Cup Series and then he's also got three wins in the Xfinity Series. For the past five seasons he's won some kind of NASCAR race at Kentucky. Logano was runner-up in this race last season and he's won three times in the Xfinity Series.
If just looking on past history at Kentucky, Kyle Busch would be King. All he's done is average a 3.8 finish in five starts, which includes a win in the inaugural Cup race in 2011 and last season. His worst finish was 10th in 2012. He's one of three drivers to have top-10 finishes in all five Kentucky Cup races (Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson the others). He also has two of the five wins on 1.5s this season.
Let's go with Keselowski and Busch to battle it out for the win. The two are tied for the series lead with three wins and they don't really like each other too much, which makes it even more fun. I'm sure Brad still remembers the days when Kyle was calling the young and brash Keselowski "Brad Crash-a-lot-ski." I'm also sure Kyle remembers how it felt when Keselowski won a championship before he did.

Mutual respect now, though, for sure. Maybe.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:

1) #2 Brad Keselowski (10/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #24 Chase Elliott (18/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (8/1)
5) #22 Joey Logano (8/1) 

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