Related: NASCAR Fantasy Live | Streak to the Finish
The Quaker State 400 by Advance Auto Parts (Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) requires compromise. With only two races at Kentucky Speedway in the books, teams have a very slim notebook. And while it is often useful to think of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks as a group, each of them behaves differently enough that data from the current track takes precedence over trends on the combined courses.
Teams practiced during daylight and will race into the night, which will require a setup that has built in adjustability. The morning practice session on Friday began at 11:30 a.m. ET, and while Happy Hour was not all that much later in the day, track conditions changed enough by 1:30 p.m. to hopefully give crew chiefs and drivers an opportunity to see how their cars would change.
Four drivers posted top-10 fastest speeds in the morning and afternoon sessions, and they are this week’s top picks following practice.
Jimmie Johnson is a favorite every time the series rolls onto a similarly-configured, 1.5-mile track and he confirmed that in practice. He posted the second fastest lap in the first session with a speed of 177.690 mph, but he rocketed to the top of the Happy Hour chart with the only circuit north of 181 mph. During Happy Hour, he also posted the fastest 10-lap average, which means he is going to be fast immediately following caution periods and during long runs as well.
Kyle Busch can be erratic on similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, but he has been strong at Kentucky in both previous races. He dominated the inaugural event after leading the field to green when that race was set by NASCAR’s rule book and his victory was never in question. Last year, he tagged the wall during the race or he might have been just as dominant. This weepiend, he picked up where he left off and posted the sixth fastest time in practice one and the third best time in Happy Hour.
Jeff Gordon hopes he can capitalize on the momentum a second-place finish at Sonoma gave him. He was extremely consistent in his two practice sessions with the fifth-best time in the morning and fourth-best in Happy Hour. Gordon, Johnson, and Busch are also three of five drivers who swept the top 10 in Kentucky’s two previous races, so they should be strong on Saturday night.
Austin Dillon could be the best dark horse in the stable. He was fast out of the gates with the 11th-best time in the morning session and he improved as the day progressed. By the end of Happy Hour, he had the eighth-fastest speed of 179.829 mph, which lifted him above marquee drivers like Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, and Matt Kenseth. As a bargain pick in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game, he will be on a lot of rosters for the Quaker State 400.