Quaker State 400 Preview: Can Gibbs Earn Their Second Win?by Kyle Pokrefky June 28, 2014
Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
SPARTA, Ky. — Joe Gibbs Racing have won two out of the three Sprint Cup races that have been held at the Kentucky Speedway and on Saturday night, they’ll be looking to go three-for-four.
Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) has something going for him at Kentucky that sets him apart from every single driver in the field, Busch is the only entrant for the Quaker State 400 who has two top-fives in the three races that have been held at the track. Busch is also a member of a prestigious group of drivers that have finished in the top-10 in every single race held at the Kentucky Speedway to date, Busch is one of four drivers who have been outstanding at the circuit alongside of Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing), Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports), and Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports.)
Kenseth is the defending winner of the Quaker State 400 and is looking to finally break through and score his first win of the season in his second year with JGR. By this time last year, Kenseth had earned three wins and was sitting comfortably in fifth in the points standings. Flash forward a whole year and Kenseth is fighting for his life for a playoff spot in the 2014 edition of the Chase. Kentucky is looking fruitful for the No. 20 team to punch their ticket into the Chase, the team has finished in the top-10 at every single 1.5-mile oval this season and now are preparing to race at a track that handed them their fourth win of the season last year.
Stopping the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut, however, may be a tall order for the Joe Gibbs Racing duo to fill.
As mentioned earlier, both Johnson and Gordon have finished in the top-10 in every single Kentucky race to date – however, neither driver has ever made it to victory lane at the 1.5-mile cookie cutter oval. Both drivers have momentum on their side as they head into the 17th race of the season; Johnson has been white-hot on oval tracks in the past few weeks while Gordon is the most recent winner at a 1.5-mile track after winning at Kansas earlier in the year, a track that is very similar in terms of layout to Kentucky.
Kasey Kahne (Hendrick Motorsports) has been very consistent at Kentucky in the past, although he doesn’t have the same number of top-10s that his two elder teammates at Hendrick have. Kahne has never finished worse than 13th at Kentucky and has a best finish of second at the track that came in 2012. Kahne is the only Hendrick Motorsports driver that is yet to get to victory lane this year, Saturday should provide the driver of the No. 5 Great Clips SS with one of his best chances of the season to strike.
When it comes to 1.5-mile tracks, it’s best to never count out Team Penske. For the third time this season, both Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano locked out the front row for the team in qualifying and both will now prepare for a race that Keselowski won two years ago. The Penske teammates have not been nearly as consistent at Kentucky than the drivers at Gibbs and Hendrick have in the past, but the form the two have had at the intermediate tracks this year has been absolutely phenomenal.
Keselowski won at Las Vegas earlier in the year, a track that’s more similar in layout to Kentucky than Texas where Logano earned his first win of the season. The key for both drivers is to rocket out from the pack early on in the race from their front row starting positions and to respond well to the changing track conditions as the sun goes down in the Bluegrass State. Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon were able to adapt well to the sun going down at Richmond earlier in the year as the team would pick up their second victory of the year in the dusk-to-night race.
A dark horse for this weekend who could potentially earn his best finish of the year is Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing.) The Mayetta, New Jersey native returns to a track that has been very kind to him in the past with a strong finish on his mind to start a rally that could potentially place himself and his No. 78 crew in the Chase later this year. Truex’s results at Kentucky have been steadily improving since he first ran in the inaugural race three years ago. Truex finished 18th in the 2011 event, eighth in the 2012 event, and seventh in last year’s race.
The Furniture Row Racing team have begun to piece together some strong race cars that have been able to drive Truex to two top-10 finishes in the last four races; if they supply their driver with another quick vehicle, Truex could better his best finish of the year (sixth at Dover) with a win.
Television coverage for the Quaker State 400 will begin at 6:30 p.m ET on TNT while radio coverage will be provided by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM Satellite NASCAR Channel 90. If you’re unable to keep up with the race via those two forms of media, follow @KPokrefky on Twitter to receive live updates on all of the action at Kentucky on Saturday night.