The Sprint Cup series heads to Kentucky Speedway for the third time as the weather is heating up. That means the race to the Chase is as well. It should be no surprise who the favorite on the betting lines is for the Quaker State 400, but he’ll have some competition.
Jimmie Johnson (+700 on the NASCAR odds) has never won at Kentucky, but he has an average starting position of 3.0 (including a pole) and an average finish of 4.5, so he has been in the mix. The five-time champion leads the standings and three points-race wins in 2013, so the #48 team can take some chances in regards to different setups. But this year, it doesn’t seem to matter how the car is set up, Johnson can wheel it around the racetrack and this Saturday night should be no exception.
But he’ll have to deal with Kyle Busch (+700) and Matt Kenseth (+750) as well, and Busch won the inaugural race here in 2011. Everyone knows he is one of the most talented drivers to step foot into a NASCAR stock car, so Busch is going to be up there in the odds at a lot of tracks. Kenseth has one more win than his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Busch, at three, but he has cooled off significantly. The #20 driver has finished 15th or worse in four of his last five races, however, he has been good at Kentucky before with an average finish of 6.5 in two races.
Kasey Kahne (+850) finally had a good finish last week at Sonoma, coming in sixth, and Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate has had some bad luck throughout 2013. His rank in the standings (11th) doesn’t indicate how well this car team runs to their potential, and they can win a race on any given day.
Denny Hamlin (+1000) hasn’t set the track on fire since returning from a back injury, and if he is going to make the Chase, he has to spark a winning streak that starts now. His 7.0 finishing average is fifth among active drivers, a spot ahead of Kahne’s 7.5, but Hamlin has three finishes of 23rd or worse in his last four starts. He can’t afford many more days like that.
And then there is reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski (+1200), who won this race last year and has an average finish of 4.0 in the two Kentucky races. But the champ (and NASCAR’s Twitter king) hasn’t been consistent at all in 2013 and has just one top-10 in his last nine starts, counting the All-Star race. Keselowski has been eking out points and sits at ninth in the standings, but a win would take some of the pressure off his shoulders.
It is getting to that time in the season where drivers are going to go all-out to make the Chase and Kentucky will be an important track. Get ready for a barnstormer of a race on Saturday night.