Quaker State 400 Preview
July 11, 2018
By Micah Roberts
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We've hit the halfway marker as 18 races have passed and we've got 18 more to go beginning with Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. This is the seventh of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks and the second in the past three weeks. Kyle Busch bumping and banging his way to a Chicagoland win was great TV and it was the most exciting of the previous five races on 1.5s. Busch has three wins on them and Kevin Harvick has the other three. That's it and that's where the great divide is.
But something else happened at Chicagoland that gives hope someone other than Busch, Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr. won't win this week. I throw Truex in the group because he's won three races this season and won seven of the 11 on 1.5s last season. Harvick's teammate Aric Almirola was dominating at Chicago leading four times for 70 laps and his other Stewart Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer led 21 laps.
Kyle Larson finished second and led seven laps. Their other teammate Kurt Busch led 20 laps and Team Penske's Ryan Blaney led 19 laps. There's hope. Others are catching up. And it definitely appears Harvick's team is sharing the entire notebook within SHR for the first time this season.
Harvick has never won at Kentucky and doesn't even have a top-five there in seven starts. However, he has a 10th-place average finish and is using the same chassis this week that started from the pole at Kentucky in 2016 and finished ninth. That same chassis started second at Dover in May and won, one of his five wins on the season.
“We’ve actually run really well there the last couple of years and led a lot of laps," Harvick said of Kentucky. "I’m not sure it is any one thing that makes Kentucky challenging to be honest, just for the fact that they’ve recently repaved it and it really is a unique track that is hard to get everything just right.”
Despite no wins or top-fives at Kentucky, or winning any of the past six races on the schedule, Harvick is listed by the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook as the 2-to-1 favorite. Last season in this race, Truex rolled and started a string of winning five of the final six races on 1.5s to end the season, culminating with his first Cup Series Championship. Although he hasn't won on a 1.5-mile track yet this season, he's actually doing better than his 2017 championship season. He has the same amount of wins (3), but has 12 top-five finishes compared to only six at the same juncture last season.
“I feel good about where we’re at,” Truex said. “Having a shot to win at Daytona last week was cool. We went in there with the mindset of ‘We’ve got to figure out how to finish this race’ and we almost won so that was cool. We’ve got some good tracks coming up and, hopefully, we can take advantage of that and have a good summer stretch. Keeping the momentum going is the most important thing.”
Kyle Busch won the inaugural Cup race at Kentucky in 2011 and again in 2015 and has a track record with five top-fives and 549 laps led. He's won eight times at Kentucky between all series, so naturally, he's very fond of the track.
“I have a few favorite (Kentucky) moments, actually," said Busch who is 7/2 to win Saturday night. "The first time racing in the ARCA Series, I won that race a long time ago. And then just a few years ago when I was able to win the race at Kentucky in 2015 during my championship season, just coming back from injury, and that was the first of three races we won in a row. We were able to pass Joey Logano that year late in the race and go on to win – that was a fun one, too. The track that year was really wide. We were running four lanes off the bottom and that never happened before."
Busch has won has won the last two races on 1.5s. He should be the favorite this week.
The best value on the betting board this week is Brad Keselowski at 20-to-1 despite him not winning a race this season. He's like the San Francisco Giants of Kentucky Speedway -- titles in even years. He won there in 2012, 2014, and 2016. His car hasn't been as strong as then, but he was fourth at Charlotte and second at Atlanta. I'm going with him this week in a selection distorted a bit from reality mixed in with a lot of hope and wishful thinking. But I will be betting him to win anyway.
I'm also taking a shot with Almirola at 30-to-1. I'll willing to gamble a little bit that he'll be just as good as he was at Chicagoland.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #2 Brad Keselowski (20/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (7/2)
3) #4 Kevin Harvick (2/1)
4) #78 Martin Truex Jr (7/2)
5) #42 Kyle Larson (5/1)