Quaker State 400 at Kentucky
For just the seventh time in 19 races and the second week in a row, there will be a 40-car field this Saturday. Ironically, it was at this same Kentucky track in 2014 that saw the Cup Series’ first short field since 2001.
The #75 Beard Oil Chevrolet is not entered this weekend (and will likely not return until this fall’s race at Talladega), but what a run they had last Saturday with Brendan Gaughan. Despite contact from Kurt Busch sending his car into the wall, Gaughan rebounded to finish 7th, his best Cup performance since running 6th in the 2004 season finale at Homestead.
Welcome back Carl Long and the #66 Motorsports Business Management Chevrolet, a team we last saw finish 28th at Dover with Timmy Hill. While Long is listed as the driver, a tweet by Hill indicates he may again be the driver of the green-and-gold machine. Regardless, it will be the first-ever Kentucky start for either Long or Hill in the Cup Series. (Both Long and Hill are again entered in the XFINITY race with Long in the #40 Chevrolet and Hill in the #13 Toyota).
Also back in the Cup garage is Gray Gaulding, who we last saw in the series last month at Pocono, finishing 29th in BK Racing’s #23 Toyota. A tweet from Gaulding on June 27 indicated that he will be driving for Premium Motorsports at both Kentucky and next Sunday in New Hampshire. Which of the two Toyotas is still to be determined. The #15 is currently listed with the driver “to be announced” while Derrike Cope is listed in the #55 that was piloted last Saturday by Reed Sorenson. Depending on who is placed where, it could be either Gaulding and Cope’s first Cup start at Kentucky or Sorenson’s fourth in a row, following a 27th-place run here last year.
Speaking of BK Racing, the team has elected the same driver lineup at Daytona with Corey LaJoie and Ryan Sieg. Both drivers had very different nights - while the first of a series of early engine failures ended Sieg’s run in the #83, leaving him last, LaJoie worked his way into the Top Five late and finished a career-best 11th. Sieg will run double-duty at Kentucky this weekend, a track that has been one of his best. In six previous starts, his best finish was a 12th in 2015, and he’s never finished worse than 21st.
Also listed as “to be announced” is Rick Ware Racing’s #51 Chevrolet, which we last saw at Sonoma with road racer Josh Bilicki. The Ware team’s two best finishes of the year came in the two previous night races on 1.5-mile tracks with Timmy Hill coming home 28th at Kansas and 29th at Charlotte. If Hill is selected to drive MBM’s #66 and Cody Ware is still recovering from back issues from last month, it is anyone’s guess who will be behind the wheel.
With Aric Almirola’s expected return drawing near, Darrell Wallace, Jr. is again in Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43 Smithfield Ford. Wallace had a good run going last Saturday in Daytona, making his own bid for a Top 10 in the late stages before settling for 15th. In four XFINITY starts at Kentucky, Wallace has led in three of them and never finished worse than 9th with a track-best 5th last year.
Another driver to watch will be Cole Whitt, who ended up next-to-last in Daytona in TriStar Motorsports’ third engine failure since the Coca-Cola 600. Last year, Whitt’s second-best finish of the Cup season came at the Kentucky track, where he finished 21st in the #98 Speed Stick Chevrolet. RTIC is again the listed sponsor for Whitt’s blue #72 Chevrolet.
Give a call to Michael McDowell, who not only finished a career-best 4th at Daytona after challenging for the lead on the final lap, but also ran 14th the previous week in Sonoma. McDowell is another driver to watch on the 1.5-mile track as his second-best finish of the year came at Kansas, where he ran 13th. This year, he will finally get a chance to run a Cup race at Kentucky for the first time since 2013, when he finished 38th for frequent LASTCAR contenders Phil Parsons Racing.
Alsco 300 at Kentucky
For the first time since the second race of the season in Atlanta back in March, there are 44 cars on the preliminary entry list for 40 spots.
Last week at Daytona, JD Motorsports withdrew their fourth team, a #15 Chevrolet to be driven by Corey LaJoie. This time around, the car is again entered, this time with Joe Nemechek behind the wheel. If he qualifies, Nemechek will make his first XFINITY Series start since July 1, 2016 at Daytona, when he ran 36th in his own #87 Fleetwing Toyota after an early crash. If he finishes last on Friday (or in Thursday’s Truck Series race, where he again runs his #87), he will break a tie with Morgan Shepherd for the second-most last-place finishes in NASCAR history with the 40th of his career. Shepherd, who also withdrew last week in Daytona, is again entered in his #89 Visone RV Chevrolet.
B.J. McLeod is back in his own #8 Chevrolet this week, and the driver for his #78 Chevrolet is still “to be announced.” Tommy Joe Martins, who challenged for a Top 10 in the #78 at Iowa, has stated he will run the car again in Indaianapolis at the end of the month. In his place will be Angela Ruch (formerly Angela Cope), who will drive to raise funds for the “Give a Child a Voice” foundation. Ruch, whose last XFINITY start was a last-place run at Charlotte in 2012, took on the cause after her 16-year-old nephew Eric Erdman was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Jeff Green, who finished 20th for McLeod last week in Daytona, is back with RSS Racing this time around, where he will likely be on “start-and-park” duty in the #93 RSS Racing Chevrolet. A last-place finish by Green would allow him to take the 2017 LASTCAR XFINITY Series lead from Jordan Anderson on a bottom-five tiebreaker of 8-6.
Following the disastrous wreck that eliminated both of Mario Gosselin’s cars at Daytona, King Autosport has just one car entered this week – the #90 Chevrolet for Brandon Brown. While Brown has never made an XFINITY start at Kentucky, he has made two races there in the Truck Series for his family’s team Brandonbilt Motorsports with a best finish of 20th last year.
JGL Racing will again be ones two watch this weekend. Jeb Burton, fresh from his 4th-place run last week in Daytona, is back in the #24 Estes Express Lines Toyota. Burton’s last XFINITY start here came in 2013, when he finished 8th for Turner Motorsports, and he ran 9th for Turner in that year’s Truck Series race. His teammate, Dakoda Armstrong, roars into Kentucky with finishes of 5th at Iowa and 3rd at Daytona in his last two starts, extending a streak of six consecutive top-twenty finishes. Armstrong’s best XFINITY finish at Kentucky was his first in 2013 where he ran 13th, and he’s never run worse than 20th in seven series starts.
Another one to watch will again be Quin Houff, who makes his fourth XFINITY Series start this weekend in the #46 beatincancerwithduke.org Chevrolet. This Friday marks Houff’s first series start on a track over a mile in length, following a 12th at Iowa, 15th at Bristol, and 27th at Richmond.
Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky
After three races struggling to make full fields, 34 trucks are entered to attempt the Kentucky weekend opener’s 32-truck field, including Kansas last-placer Stewart Friesen, who returns after the Halmar Friesen Racing team’s two-week hiatus.
Despite the size of the list, six trucks are missing from the previous entry list, all of them from smaller teams: the second Al Niece Chevrolet #38, the second Randy Young entry #20, the second Mike Mittler / D.J. Copp Chevrolet #36, Ted Minor’s #14 for owner Boyd Long, the Martins Motorsports #42 that was withdrawn in Iowa, and Jesse Little’s #97 which came home a solid 9th at Iowa.
Returning in their place are four fully-sponsored entries: Austin Wayne Self in his family’s #22 Airflotek / Don’t Mess With Texas / Snap Track Toyota, triple-duty driver Kyle Busch in his own #46 Banfield Pet Hospital Toyota, Parker Kligerman in Charlie Henderson’s prolific #75 Food Country USA / Lopez Wealth Management / Tide PODS Toyota, and Regan Smith in the Ricky Benton’s #92 BTS Tire & Wheel / Commercial Tire & Service / Advance Auto Parts / Carquest / Valvoline Ford (a fifth truck returning this week is Faith Motorsports’ #44 - more on that team below).
Currently, two teams do not have drivers listed. The first is the second Norm Benning truck, #57, which we last saw trail the field at Iowa with J.J. Yeley. Yeley is this week listed in D.J. Copp’s #83 Fr8Auction.com Chevrolet in addition to his TriStar entry in XFINITY. Tommy Regan, who drove the #57 at Gateway before his Cup debut at Sonoma, returns to Jennifer Jo Cobb’s #0 Driven2Honor.org Chevrolet with Cobb herself in the #10. The other “to be announced” entry is Faith Motorsports’ #44 Chevrolet, which last took the green flag with Donnie Levister at Gateway before withdrawing at Iowa.
Austin Hill returns to the #02 Whitetail Heaven Outfitters Ford for the first time since Gateway, where he again tied his season-best finish of 14th from Martinsville and Kansas. This will be Hill’s second-straight start in this event after he ran 18th here last year. Also returning for the first time since Gateway is Travis Kvapil, who we last saw finish 27th for Bolen Motorsports. The 2003 series champion will now drive for his third different team in 2017, taking the controls of Mike Mittler’s #63 Mittler Brothers / Ski Soda Chevrolet. The Bolen entry returns to XFINITY regular Ross Chastain, who last raced in the series during his tripleheader at Dover, finishing 15th on the Truck side.
Ryan Truex – he of the best fan t-shirts in the game – comes into Kentucky looking to continue his solid 2017 season. Overheating issues at Iowa ended a streak of six straight top-ten finishes that have put him 7th in the standings, a streak highlighted by a season-best 4th at both Charlotte and Texas. Truex has never made a Truck Series start at Kentucky, but he finished 33rd in his lone Cup start there in 2014 for BK Racing and 28th for Biagi-DenBeste Racing in 2015’s XFINITY event.