NASCAR Picks for Kentucky
Length: 1.500 miles
Shape: D-shaped oval
Location: Sparta, Kentucky
The Cup Series heads to Kentucky Speedway this weekend, and while the 1.5-mile layout is nothing new to the drivers and teams, the track itself is. Kentucky has only been a part of the series schedule since 2011, and Saturday night's Quaker State 400 will mark just the third Cup race ever held at the track. Not surprisingly, there is still a feeling-out process going on, and drivers are still figuring out the best way to get around the track while crew chiefs are trying to figure out the right setup.
For fantasy owners, the small sample size of races can make setting a lineup a little tricky. After all, it is tough to project whether a driver will continue to have success or continue to struggle with just two starts in the books. As a result, looking purely at the results from the past Kentucky races can be a bit misleading in some cases. Of course, there are ways to combat the lack of concrete statistics at Kentucky specifically. Perhaps the most-effective alternative is to look at how drivers have performed at similar tracks in recent years. In this case, examining driver results and trends at 1.5-mile tracks along with the results from the two races at Kentucky can help the cause.
Jimmie Johnson, #48 Lowe's/Kobalt Tools, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Although Kentucky is on the short list of tracks where he hasn't won, Johnson has been plenty strong in his two starts. His 4.5 average finish at the track is the second best in the series, and he is the only driver to have finished sixth or better in both Cup races at Kentucky. When in doubt, go with the five-time champ.
Matt Kenseth, #20 Husky/Dollar General, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Kenseth has been rock solid in the two races at Kentucky, finishing sixth in 2011 and seventh last year. He has also been a stud at 1.5-mile tracks in general. Kenseth's three wins in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile ovals lead all drivers, and he has scored the second-most points of any driver during the stretch.
Kyle Busch, #18 Mars Brands/Interstate Batteries, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class B]
He won in dominating fashion in the inaugural Cup race at Kentucky in 2011, and he followed it up with a top-10 run last year. Busch has also delivered his share of strong performances at 1.5-mile tracks lately. In the last 10 races at the cookie-cutter ovals, he has a series-high six top-five finishes and has led a series-high 600 laps.
Kasey Kahne, #5 Farmers Insurance/Quaker State, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
After a 13th-place effort in his Kentucky debut, he nearly went to victory lane last season. He eventually settled for second, and runner-up finishes at 1.5-mile tracks have been a theme for Kahne. In fact, he has finished second in three of the four races at 1.5-mile ovals this year so he should make an excellent fantasy option this weekend.
Brad Keselowski, #2 Miller Lite, Penske Racing [Yahoo Class A]
The defending series champ is also the defending winner of this weekend's race, and his 4.0 average finish at Kentucky is the best of any driver. Of course, running up front at 1.5-mile tracks is nothing new for Keselowski. He has logged seven top-10s in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks, posting a 9.4 average finish during the stretch.
Denny Hamlin, #11 FedEx, Joe Gibbs Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Hamlin finished a solid but unspectacular 11th in the inaugural race at Kentucky in 2011, but he bounced back last year with a third-place run. Granted, he has been plagued by some terrible luck since returning from his back injury, but in his lone start at a 1.5-mile track since his return, he finished fourth. Hamlin needs to start winning races to have any hope of making the Chase, so fantasy owners can rest assured that he isn't going to settle for anything less than his car is capable of.
Jeff Gordon, #24 Drive to End Hunger/Axalta, Hendrick Motorsports [Yahoo Class A]
Coming off a second-place run at Sonoma last weekend, Gordon will finally have a little momentum on his side. More importantly, he has been stellar in two starts at Kentucky. Gordon finished 10th at the track in 2011 and notched a fifth-place finish last year, making him one of just five drivers to record top-10s in both races at Kentucky.
Martin Truex, Jr., #56 NAPA Auto Parts, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Fresh off of a win at Sonoma that snapped a massive winless drought, Truex will head to a Kentucky track where he finished eighth last season. More importantly, he has been the best driver in the series at 1.5-mile tracks lately. Truex leads all drivers with nine top-10s in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile ovals, and his 6.7 average finish during the stretch is also the best in the series.
Kevin Harvick, #29 Budweiser/Rheem, Richard Childress Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Although he has yet to log a top-10 finish at Kentucky, Harvick's 13.5 average finish at the track is still solid. He has also been incredibly reliable at the intermediate ovals lately. In fact, Harvick has scored the third-most points in the series in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks, and he hasn't finished worse than 16th during the stretch.
Clint Bowyer, #15 5-Hour Energy, Michael Waltrip Racing [Yahoo Class A]
While his 25.5 average finish at Kentucky is far from inviting, Bowyer has been too solid at similar tracks over the past year to write off. Bowyer has seven top-10 finishes in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks, and he ranks fifth in the series in scoring during the stretch. Don't let his two mediocre starts at Kentucky fool you. Bowyer can deliver a solid finish this weekend.
Carl Edwards, #99 Fastenal/Aflac/UPS/Subway, Roush Fenway Racing [Yahoo Class B]
Edwards finished an unimpressive 20th at Kentucky last year, but he finished fifth at the track in 2011. He has also been one of the safer fantasy picks all year and at 1.5-mile tracks in general. Edwards rolls into Kentucky second in points, and he has scored the 10th-most points in the series in the last 10 races at 1.5-mile tracks. He probably won't win Saturday night, but fantasy owners should be able to count on him for a solid showing.
Tony Stewart, #14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1, Stewart-Haas Racing [Yahoo Class A]
Although he is still looking for a top-10 run at Kentucky, his career numbers say it will only be a matter of time. After all, 15 of Stewart's 48 wins have come at 1.5-mile tracks. Even in the last 10 races at tracks with similar layouts, he has been one of the 10 most-productive drivers. This isn't the week to use Stewart in survival-type formats, but he could certainly deliver a useful result for fantasy owners.