• Kentucky Speedway by NBC Sports
    Kentucky Speedway by NBC Sports

SPARTA, Ky. (July 8, 2020) – The most striking thing about the list of NASCAR Cup Series winners at Kentucky Speedway is just how small that fraternity is.

The big question heading into the weekend is will another driver be able to gain entry into that exclusive club on Sunday, July 12, during the 10th running of the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart. The NASCAR Cup Series race in the Bluegrass State will take the green flag at 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on FS1, PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.

Since NASCAR’s premier series began racing at Kentucky in 2011, only five different drivers have won there, and interestingly, all are past NASCAR Cup Series champions. Brad Keselowski has taken the checkered flag three times. Kyle Busch won the inaugural race and added another victory in his first championship season in 2015.

Matt Kenseth triumphed in 2013. Martin Truex Jr. dominated in 2017 and 2018, leading 152 and 174 laps in those two respective races. Last year, Chevrolet got its first Cup win at the 1.5-mile track when Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kurt Busch edged brother Kyle by .076 seconds in overtime to win the most thrilling race at Kentucky Speedway to date.

“That was an epic finish, one that I’ll remember forever, especially with beating my little brother,” Kurt Busch said. “It made it that much more special. And I don’t have to tell a story about how I lost so close at Darlington (by .002 seconds to Ricky Craven in 2003) over all these years. 

“Now I get to tell a story where I won a close one. So, I’m looking forward to these next few weeks. I think we can do really well at Talladega, Kentucky, and Indianapolis. The way that this point of the season is coming together, a lot of these tracks are going to be hot. A lot of them are going to be slick. And that’s what we have to manage without (practice).”

Kyle Busch remembers the 2019 race as a perfect storm, where a late caution set up the overtime finish.

“Looking back at last year, the 1 (Kurt) was really fast… they were good,” Kyle Busch said. “They showed good speed on the front side and the long run, so they not only had a good car that was trimmed out for the long run, but they also were good for the short runs, too. 

“The 22 (Joey Logano) was really, really fast, so I think he had the field covered and had the race won barring that late caution that came out… Then, on the restart, Kurt was able to attack really hard and shuffled the 22 and got him out of there, and then he and I raced for the win.”

Kentucky is a demanding, slick track, and drivers who win there are among the elite of the sport—with aggressive attitudes and superb car control. 

Between Kyle Busch and Truex, Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have won four of the nine Cup races at Kentucky, so arguably, Denny Hamlin—who took checkered flags in four of the first 16 races of the current season—would have to be considered a strong candidate to add his name to the roll of Kentucky victors.

Hamlin is a master at Darlington, where Turns 1 and 2 are distinctly different from Turns 3 and 4. The same can be said of Kentucky, which was reconfigured and repaved with progressive banking before the July 2016 race. Since teaming with crew chief Chris Gabehart last year, Hamlin has won nine times in 48 races.

The secret to their chemistry is mutual trust.

“I trust him, and he trusts me,” says Hamlin, who picked up his 40th career victory June 14 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, won again at Pocono on June 28 and had a strong chance to win at the Brickyard in Indianapolis this past weekend. “It just seems like I trust him to do the job. He trusts me to do the job.  

“He doesn't second-guess me. I don't second-guess him. I don't get into the nuts and bolts of the setup. That's his forte. He doesn't get into the driving aspect for me.”

Another logical choice for a Kentucky win would be Logano, who triumphed at Las Vegas and Phoenix before the coronavirus pandemic brought the 2020 season to a 10-week halt. After all, Keselowski, Logano’s teammate at Team Penske, leads the series in victories at Kentucky.

In 2008, Logano claimed his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win at the 1.5-mile track, the start of three in a row at the facility before the reconfiguration. The driver of the No. 22 Ford led 19 laps last year and held the top spot until the final caution set up the decisive battle between the Busch brothers.

Chase Elliott also has shown consistent speed this season, leading an improved Hendrick Motorsports contingent that includes California winner Alex Bowman and seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, who was cleared today by medical officials to compete in the event. Elliott, who won earlier this season at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has the skill and the pace to win at Kentucky and Johnson, meanwhile, is making likely his final start at a track where he has come close several times but has never won.

Then again, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see one of the usual suspects take home the trophy again this year.

The Kentucky Speedway race weekend includes an action-packed five events. In addition to the Quaker State 400 on Sunday, the weekend also includes a rare NASCAR Xfinity Series doubleheader under the lights with the Shady Rays 200 on Thursday and the Alsco 300 on Friday, both with 8 p.m. starts. On Saturday, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series will be showcased in a doubleheader. The Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 Truck Series race will take the green flag at 6 p.m. and will be preceded by the General Tire 150 ARCA race at 2:30 p.m. Each of those races will be televised live on FS1. PRN will broadcast the Cup and Xfinity Series races, while MRN will carry the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race.

About Kentucky Speedway 
Owned by Speedway Motorsports, LLC, Kentucky Speedway is a 1.5-mile tri-oval located in Sparta, Kentucky just 35 miles south of Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. The track attracts fans from the Tri-State area of Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and beyond. Entering its 21st season of racing, the speedway hosts all three national NASCAR series. In July, the venue will present the 10th running of the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart. Prior to 2011, Kentucky Speedway hosted stand-alone NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races.  The venue also is home to many other special events throughout the year including concerts, driving schools, car shows, and fitness runs. For more information, please visit www.kentuckyspeedway.com.