The usual suspects showing up

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There have been eight NASCAR Cup races on the 1.5-mile layout at Kentucky Speedway and seven of them have been won between three drivers, the very same three drivers who have combined to win the most races in 2019.

Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr, and Brad Keselowski have combined to win 11 of the 18 races this season and they’ve dominated at Kentucky, which is the reason they’re the big favorites to win Saturday night’s Quaker State 400.

Kyle Busch won the inaugural Kentucky race in 2011 from the pole and he also won the 2015 event. His worst finish was 12th in 2016. He leads all drivers with six top-five finishes, a fifth-place average finish and 549 laps led. He’s also won three Xfinity Series races and two Truck Series races and an ARCA race there.

Truex Jr. is tied with Busch with a series-leading four wins this season and has only two top-fives at Kentucky, but they’ve both come in the last two seasons and they were both dominating wins. It might be the most dominating back-to-back performances I’ve ever seen. In 2017, he started second, won the first two stages and led 152 of the 274 laps before winning. Last season, he took it up another notch by winning from the pole, leading 174 laps and winning the first two stages.

Keselowski was the last driver to win at Kentucky before Truex took over. He’s the track leader with three Cup wins (2012, 2014, 2016) and he’s also got three Xfinity Series wins. He’s led laps in six of his eight Cup starts, including 38 laps led last season when he started fourth and finished third. He has three wins this season and two of them came on 1.5-mile tracks. He’s the only driver with multiple wins between the six races run on 1.5s in 2019.

Truex won at Charlotte in May leading 116 laps for his only win on a 1.5 this season, but surprisingly, Busch doesn’t have a win on any of them yet. His wins using this race package with aero ducts and 550 horsepower came on the 2-mile layout at Fontana and the 2.5 tricky triangle at Pocono.

The other winners on 1.5s besides Keselowski and Truex have been Joey Logano at Las Vegas, Denny Hamlin at Texas, and Alex Bowman at Chicagoland and all three of those should be considered this week as well because their odds should be boosted higher than normal due to the low odds posted on the three favorites.

Logano should be a driver to search around for the best odds. He’s never won a Cup race at Kentucky but has led laps in four of his last five starts there with a best finish of runner-up in 2015. He also won three straight seasons at Kentucky in the Xfinity Series (2008-10). He’s been third or better in the last two races on 1.5-mile tracks.

Bowman is going to be the real interesting odds look this week based on how strong he’s been in the last three races on 1.5s — runner-up at Kansas leading 63 laps, seventh at Charlotte, and leading 88 laps and winning at Chicagoland two weeks ago. Hendrick Motorsports has turned the corner and I’m expecting more wins from the team in the second half of the season from Bowman, Chase Elliott, and Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson has finished fourth or better in his last two starts on the schedule but has gone 77 races since his last win. He’s got 83 Cup wins in his career, but none have come at Kentucky, one of three tracks he’s never won at. It would be quite a celebration if Johnson finally gets back into the winner’s circle.

Hamlin’s best finish at Kentucky was third-place twice and was fourth in 2017. He was fast at Chicagoland, but his team got hosed with bad judgment call by NASCAR officials who penalized him for a tire not being controlled during a pit stop. 

Anyway, he had the look of possibly being able to run with the leaders and take over late like he did at Texas. He’s going to have odds to win approaching 20-1 at a few sportsbooks which offer great value for a Joe Gibbs Racing car capable of winning any race. JGR has 10 of the 18 wins this season.

The lone JGR car that doesn’t have a win this season is Erik Jones in the No. 20 who should be in the 25-1 range. In two Cup starts at Kentucky he’s finished sixth and seventh. He has been capable of winning on 1.5s a couple of times already this season with a fourth-place at Texas and third-place at Kansas.

I don’t like betting on things that haven’t happened, such as him winning a race this season, but like Hamlin, the JGR association is attractive.

On the same line of betting on something that hasn’t happened, I can’t bet on Kevin Harvick to win this week because his odds are going to be way too low for a driver that hasn’t won yet in 2019. He has led the most laps in two of the last three races on 1.5s but didn’t finish in the top-10 of either. 

He’s been stained with bad luck all season, and shaking bad luck in NASCAR is hard to do. It just seems to follow certain drivers around with a black cloud over their cars all season. And I’m not even getting baited at taking 12-1 odds. But he certainly has a car and set-up capable of winning.

It’s hard to believe that Harvick, who had five wins at the halfway point last season, has none in 2019 while Justin Haley has a win and it came in his only third career Cup start. Haley happened to be at the right place at the right time Sunday at Daytona, getting some help from NASCAR in duping Kurt Busch to pit, and then do a rain dance for Mother Nature. 

I always say anyone can win at Daytona and Talladega, but Haley’s win is way off the grid of that statement.

NBC announcer Rick Allen said, “there are actually Vegas odds that had him at 1,000-1 to win this race,” but I didn’t see it. The highest odds I saw was 50-1 as part of the field at CG Technology who said they had one ticket bet on it.

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