Fantasy NASCAR race preview: Quaker State 400
After years of legal wrangling, Kentucky Speedway finally landed on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule in 2011. Even though there is only one Cup race in which to extract data from, fantasy owners can look to the other intermediate tracks that have already held races this season. In terms of the banking around the track, Auto Club Speedway is perhaps the most similar to Kentucky even though it happens to be a 2.0-mile venue. Kansas Speedway is a 1.5-mile track with slightly more banking and held its first race of the season in late April. Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway are also 1.5-mile courses that have already been visited.
Practice sessions: Friday, June 29 at 11:30 am ET, 1:30 pm ET
Drivers to keep an eye on
In last year's inaugural race at Kentucky Speedway, Biffle started and finished in the 21st position with an average running position of 14th. However, the Biff is on a roll when it comes to intermediate tracks in 2011, having finished sixth at Fontana and fifth at Kansas, the two most similar tracks to Kentucky in terms of banking. He was also excellent on the conventional 1.5-mile cookie-cutter tracks, winning at Texas and posting a fourth-place result at Charlotte after leading more than half the laps. Back in 2000, Biffle won the very first NASCAR event at Kentucky in the Truck Series during his championship campaign.
A year ago at Kentucky, Earnhardt was a non-factor for much of the race, finishing 30th after starting 29th. In addition to matching last year's total of a dozen top-10 finishes, Earnhardt only needs one more top-five to equal his haul from the 2010-11 seasons combined. Consistency has been the name of the game for the No. 88 camp, especially on intermediates, scoring a podium finish at Fontana and top-10s at Texas, Kansas and Charlotte.
The first Nationwide Series race at Kentucky was held in 2001 and was captured by Harvick in dominating fashion. He returned to the site in 2006 with a sixth-place result and was the runner-up last year in NASCAR's top support series. Even though Harvick was mediocre in his Cup debut at Kentucky - a 16th-place finish - Happy has been excellent on intermediate tracks this season. Harvick finished fourth at Fontana and landed top-10s at Texas, Kansas and Charlotte.
With four finishes of 20th or worse over the last eight races, Truex is in need of a strong result to stay in the Chase picture. Kentucky could provide that exact solution. Truex was excellent at Kansas with a runner-up performance and led nearly 65 percent of the race. Truex also managed to finish 12th or better at Fontana, Texas and Charlotte.
In four starts in the Nationwide Series, Keselowski has finished inside the top five each time at Kentucky and won last year's event after leading 66 percent of the laps. Kes put the knowledge to good use in the Cup race, starting sixth and finishing seventh with an average running position of fifth while pacing nearly 30 percent of the race. Even though he's won two races this season, Keselowski is still seeking consistency. The Blue Deuce should find it, at least this week, in the Bluegrass State.
After building a resume that includes wins at Kentucky in both the Truck and Nationwide circuits, Edwards finished fifth at the site last year. Since recording a pair of top-fives in the first five races of 2012, including one at Fontana, Edwards has gone without over the last 11 races but has finished 11th or better eight times in that span. After scoring top-10s at Texas, Kansas and Charlotte, Edwards clearly has intermediates figured out, which bodes well for Saturday night.
In three races at Kentucky in 2011, Busch won the Truck event, finished third in the Nationwide Series after qualifying 41st and absolutely dominated the Cup race. After starting on the pole, Rowdy led nearly 47 percent of the race with a sizzling average running position of second and was rarely challenged while leading the field. After scoring his first win of the season and totaling four straight finishes inside the top five, Busch suffered equipment failures in three consecutive races until getting back on track last week. As long as the car holds together, Busch has a good shot to go two-for-two at Kentucky.
After starting fourth, Kahne slowly dropped through the field over the course of the race to finish 13th at Kentucky in 2011. Prior to crashing in two races over the last three weeks, Kahne had put together an impressive streak of seven straight finishes inside the top 10 which started at Texas, into Kansas and included a win at Charlotte. Returning to an intermediate track should respark Kahne's efforts to climb into the Chase picture.
Temper your expectations
Given three straight wins from the pole in the Nationwide Series from 2008-10 at Kentucky, Logano disappointed in last year's Cup race with a 14th-place showing. A few weeks ago, Logano may have saved his seat at JGR by winning from the pole at Pocono Raceway, but he's struggling on intermediates. JoLo qualified third at Kansas but ended the day in 15th and finished 19th or worse at Fontana, Texas and Charlotte. Without a lead lap finish on any of those aforementioned tracks, Logano will need to impress during practice to gain enough trust to consider starting.
One of the biggest storylines of 2012 has been the emergence of MWR from a middle-tier operation to having both of its full-time drivers currently sitting inside the Chase. With Mark Martin taking three more races off, the owner will get behind the wheel for the next two weeks. In addition to failing to qualify for last year's race at Kentucky, Waltrip couldn't make it into the Daytona 500 this season and finished 19th in his lone start at Talladega Superspeedway. While the Wildcats basketball team on the hood promise to have several top picks called out on Thursday, Waltrip will likely prove to be a bust selection for Saturday.
About Eric McClung
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts. Follow @EricMcClung
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