Let's get one geographically correct: the race this weekend will be sponsored by Quaker State, the motor oil company, but it will not run in the actual Quaker State state (Pennsylvania). It will run nearby at Kentucky Speedway (about a state and a half from Pennsylvania), as the third Sprint Cup Series race in the track's history.
In first season, the rural area of Sparta, Ky., was surprised by the amount of people that descended on the track. It was a learning experience like the one that then-New Hampshire International Speedway built upon after our first Cup race in 1993. More lanes, more parking, more crowd control, more amenities, it's all a part of Speedway Motorsports Inc.'s "fans first" motto.
By all accounts, last year's experience went much smoother with a year of experience, and the third time will likely be the charm in turning Kentucky into a Cup regular. However, from a Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing standpoint, it's still hard to pick a team based on just two races worth of statistics, so this week might require a few other areas of analysis. Here are the week's suggestions:
While there's only two races of data, Kentucky Speedway is a 1.5-mile cookie-cutter and data from other intermediate tri-ovals can help predict finishing position at the track. It has less banking than some of the other intermediates, but still has more than a "flat" track like the one here in New Hampshire.
This is the third time in three paragraphs that I've mentioned it, but lack of statistical history at Kentucky will make it harder to predict this race than most other tracks on the circuit. It's likely that five years from now, we'll regard one driver as being great at Kentucky and another as being terrible, but we're still in the process of shaping those expectations.
Along with Racing-Reference, which I usually use, I called upon DriverAverages.com to help take a closer look at intermediate track data. This site takes a look at the last 24 races on tri-ovals (dating back to Feb. 2011) and will help to pick out good drivers on this layout.
#2 Brad Keselowski - He had a better season going last year before his win at Kentucky, so keep that in mind before shooing him into the lineup. However, he's good at lighting a spark when needed, and he needs it this week.
#20 Matt Kenseth - The driver of the No. 20 has the highest average finish of any driver on intermediate tracks dating back to the start of 2011. He's had a lot of strong races this year and has two top-10s in both career races at Kentucky.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - In a week when it's hard to determine the forest from the trees, there's Johnson. He won five consecutive championships thanks to his ability on intermediates and has finished third and sixth in the two Kentucky races.
#11 Denny Hamlin - Sonoma marked his third finish outside the top-20 in the last four weeks. It's probably fair to assume that his back still affects him and realize that we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.
#18 Kyle Busch - So much for consistency. Busch has finished sixth or better in five of the last eight races, he's finished (that word being used lightly) 35th or worse in the other three. I'd bank on this being a good week for him, as he won at Kentucky in 2011 and started second there in 2012.
#22 Joey Logano - He hasn't finished worse than 11th in the last six races. I had the chance to speak with him briefly on a walk to the NHMS Media Center during yesterday's test session and he sounded confident that the team is gaining a little each week. It's also worth noting that he has three Nationwide Series wins at Kentucky.
#56 Martin Truex Jr. - Fresh off the win at Sonoma, the No. 56 is a good option. Since the start of 2011, Truex ranks 10th (third on the B-list) with a 12.92 average finish on intermediates. That matches his 13.0 average in two Kentucky races and is an acceptable option.
#99 Carl Edwards - Similar to Jimmie Johnson, Edwards is a safe pick in the face of doubt. I call him "Consistent Carl" for a reason and he's averaged over seven fantasy points more per race than any other driver on the B-list.
#9 Marcos Ambrose - This is more just a reminder that anyone that had him in at Sonoma should promptly remove him. His seventh-place wasn't the win his owners had hoped for on the road course, but was his highest finish of the year.
#39 Ryan Newman - The intermediate tracks have never been Newman's strongest layout. He did get a fourth at Kentucky last year, but there are better options this week.
#47 AJ Allmendinger - Bobby Labonte has been on the B-list with the No. 47 much of the season. He's really struggled with his highest finish being 15th, but with the car on the C-list, it's worth considering for a start with Allmendinger. The No. 47 is one of the few C-list cars that won't be expected to finish a few laps down.
#51 Austin Dillon - While it won't translate to direct success, Dillon has won each of the last two Nationwide Series races at Kentucky. That's good enough for me to consider him on the C-list.
#10 Danica Patrick - She's finished 29th in three of the last five races and that's been about where she's been all season. There's just not enough upside to pick her, as the hope to is to get a top-20 out of the C-list driver.
Drivers are listed by car number and not necessarily in rank order.
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