The revised NASCAR schedule due to COVID-19 takes a break this weekend with a regularly scheduled race at Kentucky Speedway. Although the 17th race of the 2020 Cup Series slate moves from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon, NASCAR had planned to be in the Bluegrass State this weekend when the original schedule was announced.
Kentucky presents a unique challenge to drivers because of its configuration and racing surface. The track was repaved a few years ago and has been unable to provide multigroove options for drivers to find various lines around the 1.5-mile layout. This will also mark the second time teams have competed at Kentucky using the rules package introduced last season, which has produced a mixed bag of racing at similar intermediate tracks.
The move to an afternoon race will have a major impact on track conditions. The expected heat and humidity will create a slick surface, but the added downforce of the rules package should counterbalance those conditions. The result will be a lot less slipping and sliding as drivers guide their cars around the high-banked track but increased tire wear because of the downforce. The combination could turn Kentucky into a strategy race more than anything, putting the onus on crew chiefs to make the right calls.
Taking all that into consideration, here are a few favorites to watch in the Quaker State 400:
While his Kentucky record isn’t stellar, Harvick has established himself as pretty much one of the drivers to beat no matter where the schedule takes the series. He scored his fourth win of the season last week at Indianapolis and comes to Kentucky well on top of the point standings. Harvick hasn’t won at Kentucky but has been relatively competitive over the years, with six top-10 finishes in the last seven races at the track, including a fifth in 2018.
Cut and paste the Harvick narrative and apply it to Hamlin. He also lacks a sterling Kentucky resume, but Hamlin is one of this year’s heavyweights. A flat tire late last week in Indy prevented the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s fifth win of the season. Hamlin has two top-five runs in the last three Kentucky races. He has four top-fives in nine career starts at the track.
He’s the clear-cut statistical leader at Kentucky since the Cup Series began racing at the track in 2011. Busch is a three-time winner at the track and has finished outside the top 10 only once in nine career starts. He has led an eye-popping 621 career laps, including pacing the field for 163 laps in his 2015 win. Oddly, Busch has not won in 2020, but he’s too good for that to continue much longer.
Another three-time Kentucky race winner, Keselowski considers the track a personal favorite. The Team Penske driver is second in laps led at Kentucky with 524 and has two wins plus a third-place finish in his last six Kentucky starts.