Sprint Cup Series
Quaker State 400 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, Kentucky
The Sprint Cup Series will compete at Kentucky Speedway for just the fourth time on Saturday night.
Kentucky was added to the series schedule in 2011. Kyle Busch won the inaugural race here that year, and Brad Keselowski scored the victory during his 2012 championship season. Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag at this 1.5-mile track one year ago.
Who will be the next Sprint Cup driver to pull into victory lane in the "Bluegrass State?"
Two weeks ago, Jimmie Johnson scratched Michigan off of his list of tracks where he has yet to win a race on the current Sprint Cup schedule. The six- time and defending series champion is now aiming to do the same at Kentucky.
"It would be great to go to Kentucky and win, to cross another track off our list," Johnson said.
Chicagoland, Homestead and Watkins Glen are the other tracks where Johnson is seeking his first win.
Busch, Kenseth, Johnson and Jeff Gordon are those drivers who have scored top-10 finishes in each of the first three Sprint Cup races at Kentucky.
In last year's event at Kentucky, which was delayed one day due to rain, Johnson put on a dominating performance by leading 182 of 267 laps, but he got loose and spun around while running in second following the last restart. Johnson ended up finishing ninth.
"We've been close," he said. "It's just on that last run, varying mistakes have kept us from going to victory lane. We've had a car capable of winning. I think two of them, at least. I'm not sure about the third. So it's just executing in that final run."
Johnson has won three of the last five races (Charlotte, Dover and Michigan). He finished sixth at Pocono and seventh at Sonoma.
Gordon is the current points leader. He enters this race (the 17th of the season) with a 20-point advantage over Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate. Gordon, a four-time series champion, has won at every track on the current schedule except one -- Kentucky.
"Winning at all the tracks would be something that I would be very proud of," Gordon said. "But it seems every time we get close to accomplishing that goal, another track is added. I think winning at all the tracks would be a pretty awesome feat."
Gordon has one win this season, which came in the May 10 nighttime race at Kansas, a 1.5-mile track similar to Kentucky.
Kentucky and Darlington are the only tracks where three-time series champion Tony Stewart has yet to win. Stewart's hometown is in Columbus, Indiana, which is located roughly 100 miles southeast of this track.
"I'm a Southern Indiana guy, so the track is not very far from where I grew up and where I currently live," Stewart said. "It's kind of a home track to us, and that's kind of the feeling we have going into it. You always want to run well at your home tracks. Even though Indy has always been my home track in the past, now having Kentucky Speedway there, it's as much home to me as Indy. We're definitely looking forward to it."
Stewart has not won since June 2013 at Dover (39 races ago). Last season, he was sidelined for the final 15 events due to a leg injury. Stewart is presently 17th in the point standings.
Kenseth is hoping to get his first win of the season this weekend at Kentucky, where he leads all drivers with the best average finishing position (4.667). In last year's race here, he led the final 24 laps to claim his fourth of seven wins for the season.
"It was a good track for us last year, for sure, so hopefully this weekend we'll have some speed and be a factor," Kenseth said.
Last weekend at Sonoma, Kenseth finished 42nd after he crashed late in the race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. went up and over the curb and bumped into Kenseth's right-rear, causing him to spin out and slam hard into the tire barrier.
Forty-two teams are on the entry list for the Quaker State 400, which is one short of a full field.
John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, Kentucky
Once again, Kyle Busch is attempting to win all three NASCAR national touring series races at a track on the same week.
On Thursday night, Busch was successful in the first leg of his "triple crown" effort at Kentucky Speedway by winning the Camping World Truck Series race in dominating fashion. He started on the pole and led 91 of 150 laps, beating his teammate, Darrell Wallace Jr., to the finish line by nearly two seconds. It was the second time Busch won a truck event at Kentucky. His first victory in the series here occurred in 2011.
The second leg in Busch's triple duty at Kentucky is Friday night's 300-mile Nationwide Series race. Busch topped the charts in Thursday's practice session but placed 11th in final practice, held on Friday morning. NASCAR gave Nationwide teams a full-day of testing at this 1.5-mile track on Wednesday.
The 400-mile Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky is scheduled for Saturday night.
In August 2010, Busch won all three NASCAR races at Bristol on the same week, becoming the first driver in the history of the sport to accomplish that feat.
When all three series competed at Dover four weeks ago, Busch won the Camping World Truck and Nationwide events but finished 42nd in the Sprint Cup race after he was involved in an accident in the early going.
Can he pull off the trifecta at Kentucky?
"I think so," Busch told Fox Sports 1 during his victory lane interview in the Truck Series race at Kentucky. "My Nationwide car wasn't great [in Wednesday's test session], but we made whole sale changes to it and got it a lot better here for this practice that happened before the truck race. My chances are there, and I hope it comes true."
Busch won the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky in 2011. He also has one Nationwide victory here, occurring in 2004.
"I love Kentucky," he said. "It's a pretty challenging racetrack. It's a place that lends itself to different kinds of setups because it's so rough. Fast lap times at Kentucky come from momentum. The place is so round that there's not a ton of banking compared to some other 1.5-milers. It's all about how round the corners are and just being able to maintain corner speed and stay on the gas."
Busch holds the record for most career Nationwide wins with 66. Three of those victories have come this season -- Phoenix, Bristol and Dover.
Forty-four teams are on the entry list for the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston - NRG Park - Houston, Texas
After taking the past two weeks off, the 2014 IndyCar Series season resumes with a weekend doubleheader in Houston.
The series held a doubleheader at Houston's NRG Park (formerly known as Reliant Park) for the first time last October. Recently, organizers of the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston made corrections to the turn 1 area of this 1.683-mile, 10-turn circuit.
Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves is very happy that changes have been made to that area of the circuit after he was a victim of circumstance there in both races last year. Track workers grinded a bump that was in turn 1. The bump had caused damage to Castroneves' car in the first and second events.
Before the 2013 doubleheader in Houston, Castroneves had a season-high 49- point lead in the championship standings. In race 1, Castroneves suffered damage to his gearbox after his car bottomed out in turn 1 in the early going. He spent nine laps behind the wall and ended up finishing 18th, as his lead was trimmed to just eight points over Scott Dixon, who won the first race.
In race 2, Castroneves started on the pole and led the first 10 laps before he stalled on the track due to a cracked gearbox. He spent nearly half of that event behind the wall and wound up placing 23rd. Dixon finished second and took over the points lead, holding a 25-point advantage over Castroneves. Dixon went on to win his third IndyCar championship by a 27-point margin.
Castroneves enters this year's doubleheader in Houston ranked second in the standings, 39 points behind leader and teammate Will Power.
"I'm very pleased that they made some changes," Castroneves said of the Houston street circuit. "We didn't finish last year because of an issue that was outside of our control. Hopefully, we'll continue what we're doing and continuing on to the championship."
Castroneves is a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 but has yet to claim a championship in the series.
There were additional areas on the circuit that had smaller bumps, but they have been grinded as well.
"We surveyed the area in February and established the perimeter of where the bumps were and totally demolished that part of the track and repaved with new concrete," said Martyn Thake, director of operations for the Grand Prix of Houston. "We had some smaller bumps between turns 9 and 10, and we ground those down about an inch to 1 1/2 inches. We also ground a couple of small places here and there and did spot repairs, including in pit lane.
"We had some areas that had some surface break up, and we fixed those as well. We have an advantage with these temporary courses in that we can make improvements and do retro fits every time we build it."
On Friday, Power topped the time charts in the first practice with a lap in 60.4427 seconds. Castroneves was sixth quickest (60.8357). Power won race 2 in Houston last year.
"I think we all learned a little from 2013 on what you need to do to strengthen the car to make it last over the Houston track, which can be pretty rough, although they have smoothed out some of the areas," Power said. "With the street courses, you have to absolutely wring the car's neck to be fast. You have to play offense at all times. I've done that all year long in the Verizon [team sponsor] Chevy, and that's what I plan on doing this weekend."
Twenty-three teams are on the entry list for the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston.