Monday, July 4, 2011

Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Storylines

Welcome to the Cup series Kentucky
For the first time since 2001, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series welcomes a new track to its schedule, and the timing makes this one even more of a spectacle.

This Saturday night, in the Quaker State 400, the long-awaited and much-anticipated debut of NASCAR’s premier series takes place at Kentucky Speedway.

Besides the obvious excitement surrounding an inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race, this particular stop is vitally important for a number of drivers. Daytona hosted a wild opener to the Race to the Chase, with David Ragan’s win pushing the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Wild Card spots to the forefront.

The built-in unknowns of Kentucky add intrigue to the already dramatic playoff push.

For the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, this is business as usual. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been racing at Kentucky since 2000, the NASCAR Nationwide bunch since 2001.

Both series will continue its decade-long Kentucky tradition. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will run Thursday night, in the UNOH 225. The NASCAR Nationwide Series will run Friday night, in the Feed The Children 300.

Storylines for all three series follow…


At Long Last, Ragan Triumphs
Ragan's win impressive at Daytona, in line for Chase now
David Ragan’s story is one of perseverance.

Toiling in the shadows of three teammates – Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle – who have won at least one NASCAR national series championship, Ragan was often an afterthought.

Ragan has worked with three different crew chiefs in the last three seasons, a tough assignment in a sport where continuity is integral.

But, at Daytona, Ragan’s patience paid off. It took him 163 races – only 11 winners need more – to finally lock down his first victory.

Beyond that singular triumph, there’s a much broader storyline from the victory…

Ragan Now A Chase Contender
Ragan’s win immediately put him in the hunt for one of two Chase Wild Card spots.

After race No. 26, the top-10 drivers earn berths for the 12-driver Chase. Spots 11 and 12 go to those drivers outside the top 10 with the most wins, provided that they are in the top 20.

Currently, those Wild Cards would belong to Denny Hamlin (currently in 11th) and Ragan (17th).

If he does make the Chase, consider him a legitimate threat. A strong restrictor-plate racer, Ragan should contend at Talladega’s Chase race. Also, five intermediate tracks make up the Chase, a style firmly in Roush Fenway Racing’s wheelhouse.

Watch for Brad Keselowski, as well. He has a win, but currently resides outside the top 20. He’s 11 points outside the top 20, in 22nd.

Harvick Nabs Points Lead
Going into Daytona, Kevin Harvick already owned more wins than any other driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Now, he owns more points than any other driver.

Harvick’s seventh-place finish, combined with Carl Edwards’ 37th place run at Daytona, gave Harvick the points lead for the first time since last September after Atlanta.

Edwards had held the points lead for 10 consecutive weeks.

Daytona Boosts Already Big Competition Figures
Last Saturday night’s race at Daytona saw a race-record 57 lead changes and a track-record 25 different leaders.

Those numbers ballooned already record-breaking figures. In 2011, there has been an average of 14 leaders and 31 lead changes per race, the most through 17 races in series history.

Additionally, Ragan became the 12th different winner in 17 races, the most since 2003.

Debut At Kentucky Speedway, Second In State
There’s not much history in Kentucky for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; in fact it’s one-race long.

But there are some interesting names involved. The race took place at Corbin Speedway, a ½-mile dirt track in Corbin, Ky. on Aug. 29, 1954. NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty won the event, and was one of only two drivers to finish on the lead lap. Hershel McGriff was the other.

A couple other notable participants: NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees Buck Baker (3rd) and Herb Thomas (4th).

Who’s The Favorite?
There are no statistics to go on at Kentucky, not on the NASCAR Sprint Cup side anyway.

But the track has been hosting races for 11 years, and there are NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck statistics to dig through.

The top pick: Joey Logano. He has won three consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Kentucky, all from the pole – the first driver in series history to do that.

Logano, who finished third last week at Daytona, is the guest on this week’s NASCAR national teleconference, Tuesday at noon.

- NASCAR Media Services

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