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NASCAR week at Kentucky Speedway highlighted by the Monster Energy Cup Series Quaker State 400

Kentucky Speedway in Sparta takes its place in the NASCAR spotlight with three big races, including a stop on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, this weekend.

The action starts with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up In Your Truck 225. The NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300 takes center stage Friday, followed by the main event, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400, presented by Advance Auto Parts, Saturday.

The Quaker State 400 is a key stop on the Monster Energy Series calendar and two drivers that have had success at Kentucky Speedway, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth, are looking to lock in a playoff spot with a victory.

Kyle Busch will be looking to secure a spot in the Monster Cup Series playoff with a win at Kentucky Speedway Saturday (archive photo)

The races will provide plenty of action for NASCAR fans, but a full weekend of activities, including a pre-race concert by Sawyer Brown and an 80th birthday party for “The King” Richard Petty are on tap.

A breakdown of each race, and what’s at stake for the drivers, starting with the Quaker State 400, follows.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts

Stenhouse Surges to Second Victory

NASCAR might have a new restrictor-plate ace. Nearly two months after visiting Victory Lane at Talladega, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. surged past David Ragan in overtime of Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway to win his second career race.

Stenhouse joins Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers with multiple victories this season. The Roush Fenway Racing driver is having a career year. He’s tied his career best with four top fives and already claims a career-high seven top 10s.

Kentucky Fried King: Keselowski Goes For Record Fourth Win In The Bluegrass State

Kentucky Speedway has hosted six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. Brad Keselowski has won a track-record three of them, including last year’s race.

Keselowski will go for a fourth career win at Kentucky in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts. In addition to his four victories, the No. 2 Team Penske driver claims three top fives, five top 10s and an 8.2 average finish. He’s led a track record 483 laps.

Keselowski currently ranks fifth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 132 points behind leader Kyle Larson. He is tied with Larson for third in playoff points with 13 (via his two wins and three stage wins).

Busch Hopes To Grab First Win Of Season At Kentucky

Kyle Busch sits third in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings, 108 points behind leader Kyle Larson, but he still hasn’t won a race this season. He’ll try to change that this weekend at Kentucky Speedway where he’s visited Victory Lane twice (2011, 2015).

In addition to his two Kentucky wins, Busch boasts four top fives, five top 10s and a 5.2 average finish in six starts there. He has never finished lower than 12th.

Busch’s streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes was snapped last weekend at Daytona after finishing 20th. He has four stage wins, four playoff points, six top fives, nine top 10s and a 13.1 average finish this season.

Larson Looks To Extend Points Lead

Kyle Larson continues to prove the future is now for NASCAR’s young stars. Seventeen races into the season, the 24-year-old Californian leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings by 18 points over Martin Truex Jr.

Larson’s 10.2 average finish is tops in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He ranks second in average running position (8.9) and driver rating (105.8). The No. 42 Chevrolet driver is third in laps led (721, 14.6 percent).

Larson has struggled at Kentucky throughout his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. In three starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has never finished higher than 19th.

Playoff Watch: Nine Races Left For Drivers To Earn Postseason Berths

Nine races remain for drivers to earn berths in NASCAR’s playoffs.

The following drivers would get in if the season ended today: Jimmie Johnson (three wins, 16 playoff points), Kyle Larson (two, 13), Martin Truex Jr. (two, 21), Brad Keselowski (two, 13), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (two, 10), Kevin Harvick (one, eight), Ryan Blaney (one, eight), Kurt Busch (one, five), Ryan Newman (one, five), Austin Dillon (one, five), Kyle Busch (117 points above Joey Logano on the cutoff line, four playoff points), Chase Elliott (+82, two), Jamie McMurray (+62), Denny Hamlin (+56, 2), Clint Bowyer (+27), Matt Kenseth (+3, two).

The first four out would be: Logano (three points below Matt Kenseth on the cutoff line), Erik Jones (-56), Daniel Suarez (-88) and Trevor Bayne (-91).

Remember, a win gets a driver into the playoffs. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are winless drivers who have visited Victory Lane Kentucky Speedway.

Race details:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts
Saturday, July 8
7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)

NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300

Friday Night Under The Kentucky Lights: A Playoff Preview

Performing well is especially important this weekend at Kentucky Speedway in the Alsco 300, because not only is the 1.5-mile track nestled in the ‘Bluegrass State’ hosting some great racing action this weekend, but it will also host the first event in the opening round of 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs. Friday night competitors will get their chance at not only going for the win to lock themselves into the playoffs, but also preparing for the post-season itself.

Getting off to a good start in the playoffs is key, as the first two rounds are just three races each. The Round of 12, which opens the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series post-season, includes Kentucky Speedway, Dover International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. Then comes the Round of 8, which has Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, and leads into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last season’s mid-summer Kentucky event proved to be quite the preview to what happened in the playoffs later that season. While Kyle Busch won last July’s race, Daniel Suárez (third) and Elliott Sadler (sixth) were the some of the highest finishing championship contenders. Later that season in the playoff opener at Kentucky, Sadler won and Suárez finished runner-up. Both went on to make it to the Championship 4, with Suárez edging Sadler out for the title.

Sunoco Rookie Spotlight: JR Motorsport’s William Byron Looks To Take Three In A Row

No NASCAR XFINITY Series driver is hotter right now than JR Motorsport’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender William Byron. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native is coming off back-to-back wins at Iowa and Daytona, and now heads to Kentucky Speedway for the Alsco 300 to become the first rookie in series history to win three races in a row and the eighth driver all-time to accomplish the milestone.

This weekend will be Byron’s first series start at Kentucky Speedway, but the 19-year-old made one NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at the 1.5-mile track last season and won.

Busch Is Back To Win: Only Two Checkered Flags Away From 175 NASCAR National Series Victories

Since Richard Petty has earned the nickname ‘The King’ it is only fitting then Kyle Busch be called ‘The Prince’ as he is second only to Petty (200) on the NASCAR national series wins list with 173 checkered flags, and this weekend the winningest driver in NASCAR XFINITY Series history (87 wins) returns to defend his victory at Kentucky Speedway and add another notch closer to the King’s total.

Busch will not be the only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver to compete in the Alsco 300 this weekend. Paul Menard, Ty Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick will also be making an attempt at the win this Friday night.

Race details:

NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300
Friday, July 7
8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 7:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

Magic Number 8: John Hunter Nemechek Eyes His Third Consecutive Win

John Hunter Nemechek is doing more with less, and has made it look effortless, especially in the last two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races (Gateway and Iowa), where he snatched the lead late and parked his No. 8 NEMCO Motorsports Chevrolet in Victory Lane. Now the ascending star has banked two wins and rolls to Kentucky Speedway this weekend for the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 looking to become the eighth driver in series history to win three consecutive races or more.

If Nemechek pulls off the win this weekend, he is looking to join some of the best to ever compete in the series like Ron Hornaday Jr. (who holds series record for most consecutive wins with five in 2009, he also won three straight in 1997), Johnny Benson (2008), Greg Biffle (2000), Todd Bodine (2005), Kyle Busch (2011 and 2014), Kevin Harvick (2011) and Mike Skinner (1996 and 2007) as a three-consecutive race winner.

Nemechek has a solid chance of joining that list this weekend. In two career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Kentucky, he has posted an average finish of 6.5; including finishing runner-up last season.

Stage Left: Sauter, Bell and Briscoe Racking Up Mid-Race Points

It shouldn’t be too surprising the top three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship points, GMS Racing’s Johnny Sauter (points leader), Kyle Busch Motorsport’s Christopher Bell (second) and Brad Keselowski Racing’s Chase Briscoe (third) are the same three drivers that lead the series in the accumulation of stage points this season.

Johnny Sauter has held the series championship standings lead since Martinsville back in April, and has since opened the gap between second to 42 points following Iowa. A big key to Sauter’s success this season is his ability to gather stage points, having amassed 134 – the series-most.

Kyle Busch Goes For The Triple Header

Sweeping a triple header has only been done once in NASCAR national series history and that record belongs to Kyle Busch, when he won all three races at Bristol Motor Speedway during the August 2010 events. This weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Busch will again try to match his record and compete in all three NASCAR national series including this Thursday’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at 7:30 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). This weekend’s race will be Kyle Busch’s fourth start of the season, in his previous three starts he has posted two wins (Kansas and Charlotte) and an average finish of 9.3.

Busch has made six series starts at Kentucky Speedway posting two wins (2011 and 2014), three top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 8.0. In last season’s race, he finished 30th after being caught in an accident.

Playoff Bubble: Seven Races Left For Drivers To Seal The Deal

Only seven races remain until the cutoff for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs, meaning time is of the essence for drivers without wins to click their ticket to the post-season. Four drivers (Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter and Kaz Grala) are already locked in on wins, leaving four playoff spots up for grabs.

Louisville’s Ben Rhodes (+18), currently in seventh in the playoff outlook and then Grant Enfinger is eighth with the last and final playoff spot – just eight points ahead of ninth-place Ryan Truex. Both Rhodes and Enfinger needs wins as soon as possible, because all it will take is a bad run and they could be on the outside of the playoff cutoff line looking in.

Rhodes has had a career season thus far, having posted three top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 10.9. Rhodes made his series track debut at Kentucky last season, starting ninth and finishing 13th.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Grant Enfinger currently sits in the final playoff spot (eighth) just eight points ahead of ninth-place Ryan Truex.

Race details:
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Buckle Up In Your Truck 225
Thursday, July 6
7:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 225 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 35),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

From NASCAR Integrated Marketing and NKyTribune staff

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