We’ve had a nice mix of races the last four weeks with a superspeedway that runs like a road course, a wide two-mile track, a road course and a superspeedway with restrictor-plate racing.
This week we get back to racing on a type of track that will ultimately decide who wins the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
Kentucky Speedway gets it’s first Cup race ever this week and it should be a fired up crowd filled mostly with folks from Ohio as the track is located near the Ohio river. The 1.5-mile track could best be compared to the old Las Vegas configuration and is comparable to the current Kansas Speedway layout.
Just before we got into the stretch of races at vastly different tracks, Kansas had a race run on June 5 that was won by Brad Keselowski. The race came down to fuel mileage, but was thoroughly dominated by Kurt Busch who sat on the pole and led four times for 152 of the 267 laps. Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin all ran very well, too.
We should expect a similar cast of characters to be contending for the win this week, but to dig deeper we can reference Michigan, Fontana and sprinkle in data from the higher banked 1.5 mile tracks like Las Vegas, Charlotte and Texas.
Kurt Busch is the driver to key on here, but right behind him are the Fenway-Roush drivers who thrive on these type of tracks. It’s no coincidence that Edwards’ lead in points has been seized by Kevin Harvick over this stretch because he’s now had back-to-back races on tracks that aren’t his best, or rather, where he’s not considered the favorite.
Looking at all the tracks we consider to be relevant to Kentucky, no one has been better on all of them this year than Carl Edwards. He won at Vegas, finished sixth at Fontana, third at Texas, won the All-Star race, and was fifth at both Kansas and Michigan.
Although none of that means he will win this week, it does provide a pretty good resume to make him the favorite. Edwards also has a 2005 Nationwide series win at Kentucky, making the resume look even better.
Matt Kenseth also has numbers similar to Edwards, including wins at Texas and Dover this year. If we use some old school data, we can also fit his two Vegas wins under the old layout as a reference.
The scariest driver of all, though, may be Kurt Busch. After screaming at his crew and engine builders over the radio – for all to hear – during the Richmond race, there has been a noticeable change in their performance, most notably the horsepower. It was never more evident than in Kansas that they were becoming an elite team.
Denny Hamlin also used Kansas as a stepping stone to getting back close to his 2010 form with his third-place run. He followed that race up with leading the most laps at Pocono and then finally winning a race at Michigan the ensuing week. He should be expected to be able to continue his upward swing this week.
Even though Keselowski won Kansas as a 100-1 long shot, thanks to the race becoming a fuel mileage race, it’s more likely this week’s race will come down to the heavyweights.
(Note: Micah Roberts will be guest hosting Sports Book Radio on Fox Sports 920 AM Tuesday through Friday from 2-3 p.m.)