Quaker State 400
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After a crash-filled trip to Daytona that saw drivers like Michael McDowell and Cole Whitt finish in the top 15 and David Ragan, David Gilliland and Michael Annett crack the top 20, it should be back to business as usual this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
Yes, the 1.5-mile oval underwent a repave and a reconfiguration since last season's race, but even a new-look 1.5-mile oval is going to produce a much more predictable race than a restrictor-plate track like Daytona.
As with most races at intermediate ovals, maximizing the points you earn in the laps led and fastest laps run categories is a must, and the laps led category could be particularly important. In each of the five Cup events at Kentucky, one driver has led at least 118 of 267 laps.
I'm not convinced the new pavement is going to change the trend, at least not this weekend. Removing Kentucky's incredibly bumpy surface should eventually help produce exciting racing, but until the track has time to develop multiple grooves, clean air is likely to be king.
If one or two proven fantasy studs qualify up front and show a lot of speed in practice, I'm going to build around them. I wouldn't be surprised if the race ends up being a one-sided affair.
With that in mind, let's take a first look at the drivers to keep an eye on heading into this weekend's activities. Qualifying is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. ET Friday evening, and the Quaker State 400 can be seen at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN.
Martin Truex Jr. ($10,400)
His numbers at Kentucky to date aren't great, but you can't ignore what Truex has done at 1.5-mile tracks in 2016. His 739 laps led in the five 1.5-mile races this year are 596 more than any other driver, and he has led 705 laps in the last three races alone, leading to most laps at Texas, Kansas and Charlotte. Needless to say, he could dominate the laps led and fastest laps run categories this weekend.
Kyle Busch ($10,200)
Kentucky has been Busch's personal playground. He won here last year for the second time, and his 3.8 average finish, four top five finishes and 437 laps led at the track are all tops in the series. Perhaps most importantly, he has led more than 100 laps in three of the five races at Kentucky.
Brad Keselowski ($9,800)
Keselowski is a two-time winner at Kentucky, and he has logged four top 10s in the five races here. He also ranks second with 408 laps led and leads all drivers with 253 fastest laps run. His consistency at the track is also a strong selling point, and Keselowski has led more than 60 laps in four of the five races at Kentucky.
Matt Kenseth ($8,700)
He has hit a bit of rough patch after his win at Dover, but Kenseth is a potential bargain at Kentucky. His 4.6 average finish at the track ranks second, and he has finished seventh or better in all five races here. Kenseth also ranks fourth in fastest laps run here, and he has finished in the top five in all three races with Joe Gibbs Racing, winning the 2013 event.
Kasey Kahne ($8,100)
His numbers at Kentucky are solid, and Kahne has finished 13th or better in five races at the track. As a bonus, he ranks fifth in fastest laps run at the track. If he starts in the middle of the pack or deeper, he could be a sneaky mid-priced alternative.
Austin Dillon ($7,900)
Dillon has finished outside the top 15 in all three of his Cup starts at Kentucky, but his recent performances at 1.5-mile tracks suggest he could be a mid-priced steal. He has six top 15s in his last seven races at 1.5-mile ovals, and he has four in five races this year, including two finishes of sixth or better.
Trevor Bayne ($6,900)
The sample size is small, but Bayne's lone start at Kentucky makes him an intriguing option heading into the weekend. He started 28th in last year's race, moving up 15 spots to finish 13th. If he qualifies deep in the field again, he deserves your attention.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($6,800)
Stenhouse showed some promise at 1.5-mile ovals last year, including an 11th-place run at Kentucky, and the success has carried over into 2016. He has finished 16th or better in all five races at mile-and-a-half tracks this year, so he should be a reliable, affordable addition to lineups, especially if he starts deeper in the field.
Ty Dillon ($6,400)
His status as a part-time driver depresses his salary, but Dillon's potential far exceeds his price tag. He has logged top 20 finishes in both starts at 1.5-mile tracks this year, combining for a place differential of +11 in those two races. Dillon has finished in the top 25 in all seven of his Cup starts this year. If he qualifies deeper in the field, he is a must-own source of cap relief in cash games.
Casey Mears ($6,200)
While he doesn't have a ton of upside, Mears has been relatively consistent at Kentucky. He has cracked the top 25 in all five of his starts at the track, finishing in the top 20 three times. If he starts deep enough in the field, Mears could make a great alternative source of cap relief.