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Driver Reports: Previewing the Kentucky race

June 26, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Can Gordon complete career sweep? Will JGR teams rebound?

Editor's note: Driver Reports includes the 16 drivers currently in the Chase Grid, ranked in order of the current points standings.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 580 points.
Current Chase seed: 6
Past five races: 2nd at Sonoma, 6th at Michigan, 8th at Pocono, 15th at Dover, 7th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 1 win, 6 top-fives, 12 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Gordon's average finish is 7.7 and his average running position is 13.2 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five and three top-10s.
Quick hit: The sample size is small -- just three races -- but given the data we have, Gordon is among the most successful drivers in the Bluegrass State. His average finish ranks fourth among all drivers, and although he's never led a lap, that should change Saturday. In four 2014 races on 1.5-mile tracks (Kentucky is also a mile-and-a-half), he has one win, one runner-up finish and four top-10s. This is also the only track on the tour at which Gordon has never won.

2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is second in the standings with 560 points.
Current Chase seed: 1
Past five races: 6th at Sonoma, 1st at Michigan, 6th at Pocono, 1st at Dover, 1st at Charlotte.
Season stats: 3 wins, 6 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kentucky, Johnson's average finish is 6.0 and his average running position is 3.9 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five, three top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Johnson's streak of consecutive top-10s should go from six to seven after Saturday night's event. Not only did "Six-Time" win the series' most recent race on a 1.5-mile track, he led a whopping 182 laps in the 2013 Kentucky race before finishing ninth. There's unfinished business for the No. 48 team.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is third in the standings with 555 points.
Current Chase seed: 2
Past five races: 3rd at Sonoma, 7th at Michigan, 1st at Pocono, 9th at Dover, 19th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 2 wins, 8 top-fives, 11 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 15.3 and his average running position is 13.7 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five, one top-10 and one pole.
Quick hit: Forgot Junior's fluke fiery crash at Texas -- like his Hendrick Motorsports teammates above him in the standings, his speed on intermediate tracks has been there all season. HMS has proven to be a step above every other team with its horsepower in 2014. Having all four of its drivers finish in the top seven this week (like at Sonoma) might be too much to ask. The top 10? It's a feasible, if not reasonable, thought.

4. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is fourth in the standings with 515 points.
Current Chase seed: 11
Past five races: 42nd at Sonoma, 14th at Michigan, 25th at Pocono, 3rd at Dover, 3rd at Charlotte.
Season stats: 5 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kentucky, Kenseth's average finish is 4.7 and his average running position is 8.3 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one win, one top-five and three top-10s.
Quick hit: The defending race winner, Kenseth is one of just three drivers (along with Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch) with both an average finish and average place of less than 10.0. His average finish of 4.7 is the best in the series, and he's never finished worse than seventh here. Kentucky is the perfect place for Kenseth to notch his first victory of the year.

5. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is fifth in the standings with 512 points.
Current Chase seed: 7
Past five races: 22nd at Sonoma, 3rd at Michigan, 2nd at Pocono, 2nd at Dover, 10th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 1 win, 7 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kentucky, Keselowski's average finish is 13.7 and his average running position is 13.2 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one win, one top-five and two top-10s.
Quick hit: Ignore Keselowski's loop data numbers this weekend. A wreck last year relegated the No. 2 car to a 33rd-place finish, but Keselowski's two previous starts here resulted in a seventh-place effort and a win in 2012. Team Penske's dominance on intermediate tracks this year is another reason to count Kes among the favorites.

6. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is sixth in the standings with 509 points.
Current Chase seed: 3
Past five races: 1st at Sonoma, 23rd at Michigan, 41st at Pocono, 14th at Dover, 4th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 2 wins, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Edwards' average finish is 15.3 and his average running position is 9.8 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: As one of four two-time winners this season, Edwards' Chase berth is secure so long as he attempts to qualify for every remaining regular-season race. He can also go back-to-back for the first time since the end of the 2010 season, although his Kentucky history is spotty with two finishes of 20th or worse in just three races.

7. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is seventh in the standings with 483 points.
Current Chase seed: 4
Past five races: 16th at Sonoma, 9th at Michigan, 40th at Pocono, 8th at Dover, 12th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kentucky, Logano's average finish is 13.3 and his average running position is 14.1 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: Logano has three top-fives in four races this year on 1.5-mile ovals, and he finished fourth in this race last year. Considering his two recent finishes outside the top 15 were on non-traditional tracks (Sonoma, Pocono), he may be among the drivers in the garage most excited to get to Kentucky this week.

8. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is eighth in the standings with 473 points.
Current Chase seed: 12
Past five races: 11th at Sonoma, 15th at Michigan, 7th at Pocono, 31st at Dover, 15th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Newman's average finish is 17.3 and his average running position is 15.6 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: An 11th-place finish at Sonoma continued Newman's run of remarkable consistency. His average start and average finish in 2014 are both 14.6., and he actually moved up three spots in the standings heading into Kentucky. Newman doesn't need to feel nervous about his Chase chances -- although that will likely change if another driver notches his or her first win of 2014 on Saturday night.

9. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is ninth in the standings with 472 points.
Current Chase seed: 5
Past five races: 20th at Sonoma, 2nd at Michigan, 14th at Pocono, 17th at Dover, 2nd at Charlotte.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 3 poles.
Track history: At Kentucky, Harvick's average finish is 12.3 and his average running position is 12.2 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-10.
Quick hit: Harvick has been steady at Kentucky, with finishes of 10th, 11th and 16th. Given that he's in better equipment this year, expect a better finish. In fact, he and Jimmie Johnson are the clear-cut favorites when it comes to Las Vegas odds. As always, performance on pit road could present a problem to the No. 4 team.

10. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 10th in the standings with 470 points.
Current Chase seed: 13
Past five races: 28th at Sonoma, 8th at Michigan, 5th at Pocono, 11th at Dover, 18th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: Larson does not have a Sprint Cup Series start at Kentucky. In two NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, he has one top-10.
Quick hit: Despite his terrific qualifying effort, last week's showing at Sonoma was the first time this season that the rookie Larson truly looked like … well, a rookie. He's still a good value on Fantasy Live play this week as he's improved on 1.5-mile tracks throughout the season.

11. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is 11th in the standings with 465 points.
Current Chase seed: 8
Past five races: 25th at Sonoma, 41st at Michigan, 12th at Pocono, 42nd at Dover, 9th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kentucky, Busch's average finish is 5.3 and his average running position is 5.4 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one win, two top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch enters Kentucky mired in his worst slump this season. He's gone four consecutive races without a top-10, and his last top-five was at Richmond in April. Two of his past four races have been finishes outside the top 40 -- both resulting in three-point days. Yes, Busch is the first-ever Sprint Cup winner at Kentucky, but his -- and Joe Gibbs Racing's -- recent swoon is cause for concern.

12. Paul Menard (No. 27)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Menard is 12th in the standings with 459 points.
Current Chase seed: 14
Past five races: 5th at Sonoma, 4th at Michigan, 26th at Pocono, 10th at Dover, 8th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 9 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Menard's average finish is 22.0 and his average running position is 20.5 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, his best finish is 12th in 2012.
Quick hit: Menard is in the midst of perhaps the best-ever stretch of his career. Not only has he notched two consecutive top-fives for the first time, he has four top-10s in the past five races. He's been good -- and at times excellent -- on 1.5-mile tracks this year. So why stop now?

13. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 13th in the standings with 435 points.
Current Chase seed: 9
Past five races: 26th at Sonoma, 29th at Michigan, 4th at Pocono, 5th at Dover, 22nd at Charlotte.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 2 poles.
Track history: At Kentucky, Hamlin's average finish is 16.3 and his average running position is 12.5 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: Hamlin's performance on 1.5-mile ovals this year mirrors the collective struggles of Joe Gibbs Racing. He doesn't have a top-10, although he had a chance for at least that at Texas before getting hit with a late pit-road speeding penalty. A crash last year at Kentucky drops his average finish considerably, but even a strong showing in 2013 wouldn't be enough to recommend Hamlin as a Fantasy Live play.

14. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota

Standing: Bowyer is 14th in the standings with 452 points.
Current Chase seed: 15
Past five races: 10th at Sonoma, 10th at Michigan, 11th at Pocono, 4th at Dover, 17th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Bowyer's average finish is 18.0 and his average running position is 15.0 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: Bowyer's ability to drive back through the pack for a top-10 after last week's wreck showed real gumption. This is a team that has worked its way back into the current Chase field and heads to a track where Bowyer has bettered his finish for two consecutive years. That may be hard to replicate, though, given that he finished third in 2013.

15. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is 15th in the standings with 444 points.
Current Chase seed: 16
Past five races: 9th at Sonoma, 20th at Michigan, 16th at Pocono, 38th at Dover, 21st at Charlotte.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Biffle's average finish is 25.3 and his average running position is 20.6 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, his best finish is 21st in 2011 and 2012.
Quick hit: Biffle has been uncharacteristically middling on intermediate ovals this year, and he has yet to record a top-20 in three starts at Kentucky. It's a recipe that could bounce him from the provisional Chase Grid on Saturday night.

26. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 26th in the standings with 347 points.
Current Chase seed: 10
Past five races: 12th at Sonoma, 13th at Michigan, 3rd at Pocono, 18th at Dover, 40th at Charlotte.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Kentucky, Busch's average finish is 11.3 and his average running position is 13.3 over the past three years. In three career starts at Kentucky, he has two top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch and his No. 41 team have held it together for four consecutive races. With two top-10s in three races at Kentucky, expect the good fortunes to continue. It likely won't be enough to vault Busch above 25th in the standings, but that matters less than ever before due to his previous victory this season.