Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 Kentucky Quaker State 400: Truex Jr. Presents Great Value This Week

By Micah Roberts

Truex Jr was ultra-fast through entire Kansas race, one late glitch (Getty) 
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series makes their second visit to the Blue Grass State with Saturday night’s event at Kentucky Speedway, a 1.5-mile facility with 14 degrees of banking. Last season’s event won by Kyle Busch was filled with all kinds of pre-race anticipation, the only problem for fans was actually getting there. Thousands missed the race due to being stuck in traffic, a problem the track and state troopers vowed to have fixed this year.

Because there hasn’t been enough data accumulated at Kentucky to give us a good read on past history, we have to incorporate a few similar tracks like Kansas and Chicagoland, both of which have similar banking at the same distance.

In the April Kansas race, Denny Hamlin held on for the final 30 laps to get the victory, but it was Martin Truex Jr. who dominated the afternoon leading 173 of the 267 laps. Truex Jr. settled for runner-up and was followed by Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle.

Truex Jr. thoroughly dominated the race until a late seven or eight lap sequence where Hamlin caught and passed him. I still don't know what happened that caused Truex Jr. to slow, because after that sequence he was running the same lap times as Hamlin, if not a little better until the end of the race.

In Johnson’s case, the No. 48 team hadn’t hit their full stride when Kansas came around, but they are on a full throttle boogie right now. Since winning at Darlington, Johnson has won the All-Star race, won at Dover and is on a streak of four straight top-five finishes.

Johnson describes a lap around Kansas as rough and bumpy and says it's kind of in its own league among the 1.5-mile tracks.

"It’s the roughest and fastest track we go to," Johnson explains. "Well, Atlanta is fast, but there are big swells and I still don’t feel like we’re driving as hard at Atlanta as we are at Kentucky. At Kentucky, you’re driving it like a freshly repaved track. You have high frequency bumps and banking doing weird things. It’s a fun track for those reasons and it has a lot of character to it.”

Kenseth and Biffle are sitting 1-2 in the standings and this type of track has been Roush-Fenway Racing’s bread and butter over the years. The duo finished in the top-5 at Kansas this year and have been fast on all 1.5-mile tracks this season with Biffle grabbing a Texas win.

It was announced earlier in the week that 2012 would be Kenseth's last season with RFR with Ricky Stenhouse taking over the No. 17 ride. This is a relationship few expected to ever see end because it was Jack Roush who nurtured the rising Kenseth to become a Cup Champion that is considered now one of the best drivers on the circuit.

But this is the process Roush has had with all his drivers. he brings them up while their young and willing to listen, gives them good cars and then watches them leave. It's happened with Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch and now Kenseth.

In relation to what Kenseth being a lame duck driver means for the upcoming races, we shouldn't expect to see Kenseth's performances be any less that it has been throughout this season. The team still has eyes on a Championship, a title that would still hang in the Roush rafters.

"I'm very thankful to Jack Roush for the opportunities he's given me over the past 14 years. Together we have enjoyed a lot of success," Kenseth tweeted on Tuesday. "And as a team we are committed as ever to the remainder of the 2012 season and chasing a 3rd sprint cup title for Jack and RFR. Although I have nothing to announce regarding 2013, I feel the timing of this announcement gives RFR ample time to get things lined up..."

Although Kenseth hasn't announced where he will be driving in 2013, it's thought that Joe Gibbs Racing will be his next stop in either the No. 20 currently driven by Joey Logano or else a fourth JGR car. Tony Stewart and Richard Childress will both likely be needing a driver for 2013 as well.

The Michael Waltrip Racing drivers come off their first win of the season on the road course at Sonoma and could make in two in a row this week because they have shown to have perhaps the most consistent power among all the Toyota’s despite getting the same information as the Joe Gibbs drivers.

The added incentive this week is that car owner Michael Waltrip is from Kentucky and would love to get a win in his home state. Waltrip will even be taking the wheel of the No. 55 car and try to get the win himself.

Clint Bowyer won last week, but look for Truex Jr. to be the star Saturday night. I like the angle of him doing well at Kansas this year as well as the No. 00 MWR car finishing runner-up at Kentucky last season.

Truex Jr. should have very attractive odds this week that make the play worth while despite not winning a race since 2007.

Some other drivers that have performed recently that should have good runs include Joey Logano and Tony Stewart.

Logano seems to be on the upswing with rumors swirling about his status for next season. No driver in NASCAR has the kind of resume Logano has at Kentucky that saw him win from the pole in three straight Nationwide races from 2008-10. With a Pocono win in his back pocket and assurance from Joe Gibbs that he'll be back, he could be a nice long shot to target this week.

Stewart has to be considered just because of the chassis he's using this week, a car that has two wins to its credit. Stewart took this car to a win at Chicagoland last year to start the Chase, and he also drove it to victory at Las Vegas this season.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #56 Martin Truex Jr (25/1)
2) #16 Greg Biffle (8/1)
3) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
4) #17 Matt Kenseth (10/1)
5) #18 Kyle Busch (10/1)

    Cool Picture of the Week
Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, prepares to race 2012 Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey during a visit to the FedEx Express Hub in Anchorage, Alaska, on June 25, 2012. (Getty)

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