Starting near front especially important at Kentucky Speedway

By Jeff Cogliandro  (Point Spread Weekly) 

July 14, 2018 02:54 AM

The stars of the NASCAR series will bring their wild pack of thoroughbreds on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET) into Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400. 

There are only 8 races remaining before the playoffs begin on Sept. 16 in Las Vegas. This short sprint is causing a scramble to see who can make the postseason by getting a playoff clinching victory. Last week at Daytona, we saw drivers taking whatever means necessary in order to win, and while those tactics did not yield positive results, there is little chance it will stop. 

Based on NASCAR data that spans only 7 races at Kentucky Speedway, we have a limited view of the analytics this week. However, even in it’s short history we have learned that starting near the front at Kentucky is a major advantage. 

Having clean air push down on the hood of the leading race car allows for better front tire contact on the track. This downforce generally enables the lead car to take the corners well, and run a preferred line. 

Once a race car is in a following position, it encounters interrupted air flow to the hood. This causes the car not to handle in the corners like a race car with clean air. With on-track passing expected to be at a premium, pit road could be a major factor in deciding the eventual race winner. 

Let’s take a look at a few Kentucky Speedway stats:

  • 4 of 7 races at Kentucky have been won from the front row
  • 6 of 7 races have been won from a top 10 starting position
  • Brad Keselowski leads all drivers with 3 wins at Kentucky

Kyle Busch has the best career average finish (5.14) at Kentucky Speedway

Martin Truex Jr. who started 2nd in 2017, is the defending race winner

Below is a look at the drivers who are listed as contenders based on current odds to win.

Martin Truex Jr. (plus 200): Starting from the pole, Truex has the benefit of not only a very fast car but he also has the best pit stall on the track. This is important at Kentucky because having the lead on restarts puts a driver in a great spot to run off all alone. Additionally, Truex has the crew chief that is aggressive and will make the changes to the car that are needed during an evening, to night race transition. 

Kevin Harvick (plus 250): Lined up in third to begin the race will be Kevin Harvick. Not blazing fast in either practice session over a long run, Harvick will need to keep up with the track changes to have a shot to win. Harvick has yet to win at Kentucky, However he has never been to Kentucky with this level of car. While he could easily win, his odds are too short.

Kyle Busch (plus 250): Starting 5th, Busch is well deserving to be among the favorites at Kentucky. He was in the top 5 of both practice sessions in terms of total average lap times. This bodes well for Busch as  long green flag runs are expected with a premium on track position. Busch has two career wins at Kentucky Speedway and should be deep in contention as the race nears an end. As a late note, it appears that Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had another flare up on Friday. Watch for this to either motivate or consume Busch. At current odds, Busch is too much of a gamble this week.

Kyle Larson (5-1): Lined up in the 18th position is Kyle Larson, who has an average finish of 24th in four career races at Kentucky Speedway. If Larson were to pull off the win, it would come from the deepest starting spot of any Kentucky winner yet. At miniscule odds of 5-1 there is simply no way to begin to entertain this wager. 

Clint Bowyer (10-1): Bowyer is amongst the group of outside contenders. He has been in the top 5 fastest cars on long runs during practice this weekend. With 3 drivers being less than 3-1, and Kyle Larson being mispriced, it has created a little more value down the odds sheet. Bowyer is where that value begins at a marginal level. 

Ryan Blaney (10-1): Perhaps the best car during all the practice sessions combined, Blaney looks to be very strong. However, as a caution we should remember that being fast in the sunlight does not directly translate into a fast, and well handling car during a night race. Starting 7th, Blaney will need to get up front and not lose any ground on pit road if he is to have a shot. Both Blaney and Bowyer show some mid priced value.

Brad Keselowski (20-1): Starting in the 4th spot, Keselowski looks like a good dark horse at Kentucky. He was in the top 3 in adjusted overall lap speeds for both practice sessions. With a top starting spot, Keselowski appears to carry good value at current odds. 

Erik Jones (20-1): Last week’s winner has been busy with media obligations and celebrations after getting his first career win. Although he is starting in the 2nd position, it is going to take a lot for Jones to beat a field that is intact and racing in a traditional manner. There are no restrictor plates this weekend, and most of the field should be around for the finish. Jones has the pure numbers on his side as the last two winners at Kentucky both started in the 2nd position. Clean air is a huge benefit at Kentucky and if something were to happen to Truex then Jones could inherently become his handcuff. If playing the longshots, Jones should be included. 

Denny Hamlin (20-1): Starting 36th is simply too deep to endorse this wager. There is no doubt that Hamlin will jump through the field quickly, but he will probably encounter significant resistance once he approaches the top 12. Even if he makes the front runners he will need to avoid getting buried on pit road. Hamlin has already had several penalties on pit road this season for speeding and other infractions. Short of a field demolition, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Hamlin is in the top 3 late in the race. 

Joey Logano (20-1): Qualifying in the 19th spot, Logano would likely need to use a strategic anomaly in order to be in contention. With an average career finish of 14th, Logano has not had a high level of success at Kentucky. There is better value on the drivers above at these same odds.

Looking at the drivers to win the race it is hard to go against Martin Truex Jr. as he appears to be worthy of being the favorite. Having the best pit stall and clean air will be tough to overcome for the rest of the field in trying to get past Truex. 

When looking at the field as a whole it appears the odds on the top 4 drivers are too low, especially in the case of Larson. Taking a shot on a few of the mid-priced drivers might be a good alternate strategy in comparison to taking a shot on one of the big three. 

Last week we went 1-0 in driver matchup wagers, which brings our season total 38-24. This week appears to have a few more opportunities for us to possibly take advantage of. Regardless if a wager is made on a race winner, the focus should be back on the driver matchups. Below are the matchups that made the cut this week. 

Clint Bowyer (-130): over Denny Hamlin ( 110): 

Bowyer has been significantly faster in every session this weekend as he unloaded very well. Hamlin did not pass inspection and will start from 36th. Trying to push the car to the front at a track like Kentucky, can sometimes be the source of major trouble.

Brad Keselowski (-110): over Denny Hamlin (-110):   

The former three-time Kentucky winner Keselowski has been at the top of the speed charts the entire weekend. This is in addition to a supreme difference in starting spot that favors Keselowski especially on pit road. 

Aric Almirola (even): over Kurt Busch (-120):

Busch had a transmission issue very late in the qualifying session, and there is a strong chance his team will have to make a gear change. If in fact they do, then Busch will have to start from the rear of the field. This appears to have flown under the radar as it was hardly referred to.

If any driver is sent to the rear of the field for a pre-race infraction, he should be removed from wagering consideration, as track position is too critical at Kentucky Speedway. Twitter is often the source that I use for pre-race news. If there are any major changes I will do my best to relay it as well.

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