NASCAR comes to Kentucky
JUN 26, 2014 2:14p ET
The grounds of Kentucky Speedway in Sparta were already spotted with campers, RVs and camp sites as the first haulers entered the 1.5-mile track Wednesday morning. The haulers weren't for the stars of this weekend's fourth annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 race but the anticipation was just beginning.
The haulers were bringing in the trucks and cars for the Camping World Truck and Nationwide series races that are the prelims to Saturday night's QS 400. The big boys began entering Thursday as the Sprint Cup prepares for a final stretch to its fully-fashioned postseason.
The tripleheader weekend of racing begins Thursday night with the Camping World Truck UNOH 225 at 8 p.m. The Nationwide series runs Friday night with the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at 7:30 p.m. The Sprint Cup entrants will practice Friday morning and hold qualifying Friday afternoon beginning at 5:40 ahead of the Nationwide race.
Here's a look at some of the storylines leading up to Saturday's race...
*Hendrick Motorsports owns the top three spots in the Sprint Cup standings heading into this weekend: Jeff Gordon (580 points), Jimmie Johnson (560) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (555). Those three drivers, along with Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing, are the only ones to have at least 10 top-10 finishes in the first 16 races of the season.
*Beginning with Saturday's QS 400, there are just 10 races left before the Chase for the Cup gets going at Chicagoland on Sept. 14. The Chase field has been expanded to 16 spots this season and NASCAR has implemented new rules that place greater emphasis on winning races. The top 15 drivers with the most wins will earn a spot in the Chase field. So far there have been 10 drivers who have won races, including four who have two wins and Johnson who has three victories.
*Speaking of Jimmie Johnson, he was dominant for most of last year's race before a late caution flag and then a controversial restart cost him a chance at Victory Lane. He finished ninth. Johnson comes into the weekend as the hottest driver in the series, having accumulated his three wins in the last five races. He was second last week on the road course at Sonoma.
*Carl Edwards held off Johnson last week for his second win of the season and his first career road course victory. He's sixth in the standings, 71 points behind Gordon, but has had success at Kentucky in the past. His first NASCAR win of any kind came in 2003 in a truck series race and then won a Nationwide race in 2005.
*Kenseth won last year's race. There were plenty, including Johnson, who believed he got an unfair jump on that final restart. He is the highest ranked driver in the standings -- fourth, 65 points behind Gordon -- without a victory yet. As of now, Kenseth would be in the final Chase grid because of his place in the standings but he'd rather have a win on his resume.
*Joey Logano is seventh in the standings but is one of the four drivers with two wins. That's good for peace of mind and allowing a team to work on the little things of their race day organization and car setup that can be helpful down the road for Team Penske. Logano won three straight Nationwide races at Kentucky (2008-2010) and was fourth in last year's QS 400 after running 14th and 22nd in the first two editions of the race.
*Earnhardt Jr. won the pole for last year's race with a track qualifying record of 186.636 mph. His two wins on the Sprint Cup circuit this season (Daytona 500, Pocono 400) are his first two since 2012 and the first time he's won more than one race in a season since he won six times in 2004 when he finished fifth in the standings. He's always a crowd favorite and coming off a third-place finish at Sonoma he should be a threat to win Saturday.
*There have been three different winners of the first three QS 400 races -- Kyle Busch (2011), Brad Keselowski (2012) and Kenseth. Will there be a fourth different winner? This is a track that has a lot of character. It's not as smooth as others on the circuit and that's why it's considered a test of each driver's ability.
The weekend schedule:
9-10 a.m. - NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) practice
10:30 a.m.-noon - NCWTS final practice
4:40 p.m. - NCWTS qualifying
6:30-7:25 p.m. - NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) practice
8 p.m. - UNOH 225, NCWTS (150 laps, 225 miles)
9-10:20 a.m. - NNS final practice
10:30 a.m.-noon - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) practice
1-2:20 p.m. - NSCS practice
3:40 p.m. - NNS qualifying
5:40 p.m. - NSCS qualifying
7:30 p.m. - John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 presented by Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, NNS (200 laps, 300 miles)
5:15-6:15 p.m. - Thomas Rhett Concert, Kroger Fan Zone
6:55 p.m. - Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts, NSCS driver introductions
7:30 p.m. - Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts, NSCS (267 laps, 400.5 miles)