Monday, June 25, 2012

Kentucky Quaker State 400 Storylines

MWR won at Sonoma, how about two in row with Truex Jr.? (Getty)
Clint Bowyer was perhaps the most disappointed driver of 2011. He was the first outside the top 10 in points after 26 races to miss qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. Bowyer won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup road race at Sonoma on Sunday and hopes it builds momentum toward a Chase berth, which would be Michael Waltrip Racing’s first trip to the postseason.

Saturday night’s second Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway marks the beginning of the Race for the Chase – the season’s second-most important 10 weeks that ends with the 12-driver Chase field determined Sept. 8 at Richmond International Raceway. Nine of last year’s top 10 after the first 16 races made it to post-season play – ironically Bowyer being the odd man out.

Also interesting to note: champion Tony Stewart was 12th after Sonoma’s road race in 2011. He scratched and clawed his way into the Chase field and with five victories outlasted Carl Edwards on a tiebreaker.

Edwards continues to suffer through a championship near-miss slump. He’s 11th in points but, without a victory doesn’t currently figure in the Chase "Wild Card" battle headed by Quaker State 400 winner Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle again are one-two in series points, the 15th week that one or the other has held the No. 1 spot. RFR loves the 1.5-mile intermediate tracks where in 25 seasons of NASCAR Cup competition the organization has collected 40 of its 127 victories.

NASCAR resumes its "tripleheader" format as the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series join the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway.

Joey Logano won three consecutive NASCAR Nationwide events in Kentucky (2008-2010) before Brad Keselowski stopped his streak a year ago. Logano has been red-hot in the series in 2012 winning four of the last five races he’s entered. The Feed the Children 300 is set for Friday night.

Keselowski will being doing triple duty at Kentucky Speedway beginning with Thursday night’s UNOH 225 in which he continues to seek his first NASCAR Camping World Truck victory to complete a sweep of all three NASCAR national series. The spotlight, however, may be on Nelson Piquet Jr. based upon what he did over the weekend. Piquet, a former Formula 1 competitor, became the first Brazilian to win a NASCAR national series event as he captured the NASCAR Nationwide Sargento 200 from a Coors Light Pole start.


Race To The Chase Starts Now
Obviously the final 10 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season comprise the most important segment of the season. The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ crowns the 2012 champion. But first you have to get there. The next 10 weeks – the Race to the Chase – sets the 12-driver field for the post-season beginning with Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 (TNT live 7:30 p.m. EDT) at Kentucky Speedway. The Chase lineup will be set following Richmond International Raceway’s event on Sept.8.

A look back at last year’s Race to the Chase: With 10 races to go, nine of the then-top 10 survived for post-season competition. Only Clint Bowyer missed the cut – and ironically Bowyer picked up his first victory of 2012 on Sunday in Sonoma. He’s ranked seventh, one spot better than a year ago.

Bowyer became the season’s 12th different winner – the most since 2003. Only two drivers ranked among the top 10 – Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick – are without a victory.

Of note: Tony Stewart, the 2011 champion, was 12th following last year’s Sonoma race.
Michael Waltrip Racing Comes of Age

Bowyer’s Sonoma victory was just the team’s third since formation in 2002. But it’s hard to say MWR and "dark horse" in the same sentence. Both Bowyer and Truex sit in the top 10. Truex led 15 laps in Sonoma where part-time MWR driver Brian Vickers, who’d spent the previous weekend competing in Le Mans’ famed 24-hour race, finished fourth.

MWR never has qualified a driver for the Chase, a short coming that likely will be ended this season.

‘Wild Card’ Competition Still Wide Open
A year ago, Brad Keselowski wasn’t being mentioned even as a favorite to pick up a "wild card" berth in the Chase, one of two spots reserved for drivers ranked 11th through 20th who have the most victories. But he’s a pivotal figure this year, battling Carl Edwards for the 10th points position which Keselowski grips by 11 points. Edwards, last year’s No. 2 points finisher, is "odd man out" at this juncture – out of the top 10 and without a victory thereby qualifying as a "wild card."

The top two "wild card" aspirants are Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman with one win apiece and ranked 12th and 13th.

Prominent Names Still Winless in ’12
Jeff Gordon, the active driver with the most NASCAR Sprint Cup victories (85) heads a number of 2011 winners still waiting for their turn in Victory Lane. Gordon led all three practices at Sonoma, qualified second (to Marcos Ambrose – winner of Coors Light Poles in back-to-back weeks) and finished sixth after leading 13 laps. Ambrose, eighth in Sonoma, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith also won a year ago but haven’t repeated in the season’s first 16 races.

Roush Fenway Racing Drivers One-Two Again
Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle again hold the top two spots in the standings and along with Edwards look forward to competing on Kentucky Speedway’s 1.5-mile layout. Roush Fenway Racing, celebrating its 25th season in NASCAR, counts 40 of 127 victories (31%) 1.5-mile intermediate tracks. The organization is the top winner at three: Homestead-Miami Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. Biffle won at Texas earlier this spring.

Second Year On Cup Schedule For Kentucky
Kyle Busch dominated last year’s inaugural Quaker State 400 leading the most laps from a pole position that was set via the rule book due to inclement weather that canceled qualifying. Busch needs a pick-me-up for sure. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has averaged a finish of 27.0 over his past four starts and has fallen from ninth to 12th in the points standings.

Two drivers who could use a Bluegrass State victory to close on career track sweeps are Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Each lacks wins on one additional scheduled facilities – Gordon at Homestead and Stewart at Darlington. Gordon led his 23,000th lap in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition on Sunday in Sonoma. He’s the active leader of the category and seventh in the history of laps led.

Kentucky Etc. Edwards can join Kyle Busch as a winner in all three NASCAR national series at Kentucky Speedway. He won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck race there in 2003 as a rookie and added a Nationwide Series victory in 2005.

- NASCAR Media Services

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