It has been the Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin show this season as they lead the NASCAR Cup Series with four wins and nine top-fives each heading into Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. They’ve combined to win half of the races in what has become perhaps the most bizarre and memorable seasons in NASCAR history amid the backdrop of the coronavirus while most American sports have yet to start.
The UFC and Dana White have done a great job with the UFC cards but NASCAR has been paving the way during the coronavirus pandemic for using its product to entertain us since the lockdown with its iRacing events and then live racing at real tracks which started May 17 at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR has been just what the doctor ordered for a restless America and I’m hopeful that a lot of fans of other sports have started to take notice of the stock car series when they otherwise might not in a normal year.
NASCAR has almost been my best buddy during the pandemic because they’ve kept me working. I write three articles a week for fine publications, all with a different spin, and it’s kept drips of money consistently flowing in despite nothing else going on.
I believe 2020 will be my most memorable year ever and the second half of the year has only begun. I don’t mean the worst, or the best, just the most memorable. And I think I will always hold NASCAR in a new light. Thank you NASCAR, and also to the team at Gaming Today for keeping me working.
But the fear of COVID-19 became extra real for NASCAR last week before the Indianapolis race weekend when Jimmie Johnson found out his wife had the virus so he immediately tested himself and found out he also had it despite having no symptoms. He can only come back to racing in what is his final full-time season until he tests negative and could miss two to three more races. Justin Allgaier will take over the driving duties of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Camaro.
The first thing to start with at Kentucky this week is to look at what has happened in the 11 races using the race package with the engines producing 550 horsepower. We can simplify it even more by just using races on the five 1.5-mile tracks raced on, four of which are shaped similarly to Kentucky which has 14 and 17 degrees of banking in the turns.
The last five races this week’s package on other sized tracks have seen either Harvick or Hamlin win since Darlington when the season restarted. The last two races on 1.5-mile tracks have been won by Harvick (Atlanta) and Hamlin (Homestead). But the good news of possibly seeing a driver with higher odds win is that the five races on 1.5-mile tracks have been won by five different drivers. Joey Logano won on pit strategy at Las Vegas but hasn’t come close to winning since the season restarted. Brad Keselowski, who has three wins at Kentucky, won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and then Chase Elliott won the mid-week Charlotte race.
Martin Truex Jr. has only one top-five using this week’s package and his only win came with the 750 HP package. He’s won two of the last three Kentucky races but his vibe seems off without Cole Pearn as crew chief this season. His teammate Kyle Busch has two Kentucky wins in the Cup Series as well, including the 2011 inaugural event, three Xfinity Series wins, and two Truck Series wins. Busch has no wins this season and is desperate and this could be the perfect place for him to get it.
One more thing, seven of his nine Kentucky Cup starts have been top-fives helping him to an amazing 4.6 average finish.
Kurt Busch won this race last season, winning a late battle with brother Kyle who finished second, and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Matt Kenseth was runner-up last week at the Brickyard at 100-1 odds. Kenseth won at Kentucky in 2013. Both may have a shot this week.
Hamlin and Harvick have been great, but Kentucky looks different and neither has won there for whatever that’s worth.