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NNS Kentucky Preview: Kyle Busch…Underdog?

NNS Kentucky Preview: Kyle Busch…Underdog?

by June 27, 2014 0 comments

Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway

SPARTA, Ky. — Tonight marks the first of two visits the NASCAR Nationwide Series will make to the Bluegrass State this year as the series readies to run the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at the Kentucky Speedway.

Tonight’s race will be the 12th running of the 200-lap event and will feature four former Kentucky NNS winners in its starting lineup – Kevin Harvick (JR Motorsports), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), and Ryan Blaney (Team Penske.)

Harvick may be the driver that the rest of the field may be chasing throughout tonight’s 300 miles of racing action. Of active drivers, Harvick possesses the lowest average finish of all drivers entered for tonight’s race with a figure of 3.0. The driver of the No. 5 Kroger/P&G Camaro is noted as being the winner of the inaugural John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 in 2001, the win from 13 years ago is the only win at the track for the two-time series champion.

Out of the trio of drivers JR Motorsports entered for tonight’s race, Harvick was the only one to gain a good grasp of the track in its current state as he would run a lap of 30.524 seconds in this morning’s final practice session. By comparison, the next quickest JR Motorsports driver was Regan Smith, who ran a lap of 30.960 seconds this morning.

If there’s any team that has been downright unstoppable at this 1.5-mile circuit it has been Team Penske. For the first time this season, the team has entered two cars as Keselowski will pilot the No. 22 Discount Tire Mustang while Blaney will sit behind the wheel of the No. 12 Snap-On Mustang. Both drivers swept both races at Kentucky last year with Keselowski winning last year’s running of the HERO Campaign 300. Blaney earned his first career series victory here in last September’s race.

The Penske teammates have been consistent in both practices leading up to tonight’s event with both drivers running top-10 times in both yesterday evening’s session and this morning’s session. The speed from this morning carried over to qualifying as Keselowski was able to take his 16th career series pole with Blaney qualifying solidly in ninth. Keselowski should be considered a threat based on his qualifying performance alone as six of the 15 Nationwide Series races held at Kentucky have been won from the pole.

Richard Childress Racing unloaded at Kentucky on Wednesday with four race cars that had the speed to hang out around the top of the speed charts in both testing sessions on Wednesday and both practice sessions for the race. RCR’s four drivers for the weekend – Brian Scott, Ty Dillon, Paul Menard, and Brendan Gaughan – are red-hot entering this race weekend and the organization presently has a two-race win streak heading into tonight’s race. With their solid pace evidenced in all four testing/practice sessions leading up to tonight, any of the four Richard Childress Racing drivers entered for tonight’s race should be considered a favorite to take the win.

Gaughan is the most successful driver in the RCR stable at Kentucky in the Nationwide Series. Last week’s Road America winner has three top-fives in three career series starts at this track with his best result being a third-place finish that came at his last race at the track in 2012.Menard has not started at Kentucky in an NNS car since 2010 where he would retire with engine issues, Menard does have a top-five and two top-10 finishes to his credit, however, at the track in four starts.

Dillon has never started at Kentucky in NASCAR’s second-tier series before but has proven to be quite successful at the track in the Camping World Truck Series. In four starts here in the trucks, Dillon has one win and has three top-fives/top-10s. Scott, in six starts in the Nationwide Series, has yet to score a top-10 at the track and may be considered RCR’s ‘weak link’ at Kentucky. Scott, however, is off to a career year thus far in the series and with a strong race car could very well put in a winning drive later tonight.

Joe Gibbs Racing may be facing a bit of an uphill battle tonight… boy, did that felt really weird to write.

Toyota have not won at the Kentucky Speedway in the Nationwide Series since 2010 but despite that, their drivers do have strong histories at the track. Busch is a former winner at the track with one win coming with Hendrick Motorsports in 2004; the driver of the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry has three top-five/top-10 finishes in five other career starts at the track. Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 11 OneMain Financial Camry, has proven to be consistent at Kentucky in the past with three top-fives and four top-10s coming in five series starts at the track. Matt Kenseth, who’s making his return to the series this weekend, has never started at Kentucky in an NNS car in the past but, like Busch, is a former Sprint Cup Series winner at the track.

Last September, Blaney provided a surprise as he – a Camping World Truck Series regular – would claim his maiden victory in the Nationwide Series at this track. Could we see another surprise winner tonight? Or could we perhaps see the sixth different Nationwide Series regular earn the win tonight? Tune in to ESPN at 7:00 p.m ET to find out!

Kyle Pokrefky
Follow Kyle Pokrefky on Twitter at @KPokrefky

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