1. Truex Unbeatable…Again
For the second year in a row, Martin Truex Jr. made Kentucky Speedway his personal playground. In the last two races at Kentucky, Truex has led 326 of a possible 541 laps. That’s 60 percent! The next closest is Kyle Busch, who led 112 laps in the 2017 race. He did not lead a lap Saturday night.
Truex obviously has a fast car, but he has also figured Kentucky Speedway out. Truex alluded to as much after the race.
“I actually discovered it two years ago, and I’ve just been using it ever since. I can’t tell you what it is,” Truex grinned.
Last year’s Cup champion is catching fire and that’s bad news for the rest of the field. But if you look at the numbers, Truex is statistically on pace to have a stronger season this year than he did in 2017. Through the first 19 races of last year, Truex had three wins and seven top 5s. In the first 19 races of this season, Truex has four wins and 13 top 5s. The reason we’re not talking about it is due to Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch’s fast start. Truex was practically an afterthought early on.
He’s not anymore.
Still, considering how dominant Truex was last year, it’s wild to think he could be even stronger this season and not win the title because Harvick and/or Busch outperformed him.
2. Kentucky Snoozefest
Let me throw out a disclaimer. Kentucky Speedway is about 45 minutes from my house. I attended my very first race there in 2005. My first NASCAR race was at Kentucky Speedway, the inaugural Cup event in 2011. I was over the moon when Bruton Smith bought the track and swiftly put it on the Cup schedule.
I say all of this because of what I’m about to say.
NASCAR and/or Kentucky Speedway must find a way to put on a better show.
Kentucky Speedway has come a long way since the traffic nightmare eight years ago. The track learned from its mistakes and while attendance has never recovered, the people running the facility do a good job.
Unfortunately, the racing just stinks.
Since the Cup guys started coming to Kentucky, the problem has been the same every year: little to no passing. Aside from Kyle Larson’s march to the front in the early going, passing Saturday night was almost non-existent. There just wasn’t any excitement. Part of that is because Truex ran away with the race, but what about everyone else behind him? Restarts produced about three to five laps of side by side racing, but once the field got strung out, that was it. There were only two cautions for on-track incidents, one was for a blown engine. You know it’s bad when arguably the most exciting moment of the night occurred when the infield sprinklers came on during the race, causing standing water on pit road. Speaking of, the track might want to add that to its to-do list for next year.
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s going to take another year or two for a second groove to come in due to the recent repave. Maybe NASCAR puts restrictor plates on the cars. At this point, they should be willing to try anything. To its credit, Kentucky Speedway has differentiated itself from the rest of the mile-and-a-half ovals, first with its old-school bumpy surface, followed by a reconfiguration. Unfortunately, neither has resulted in compelling racing.
In an effort to revitalize the sport, I feel like drastic changes could be coming as a whole in the next few years. Keeping in mind that I’m a little biased on this subject, I would hate to see Kentucky lose its Cup date. But if NASCAR were to eventually make wholesale changes to the schedule, I fear Kentucky would be among the first races to be affected.
3. Playoff Bubble Tightens Up
With no new winner this weekend, the playoff cutline remains the same. Alex Bowman is still on the bubble, but his gap on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Paul Menard has shrunk. Neither Bowman (39th) nor Stenhouse (26th) had a good night at Kentucky, and Menard was the beneficiary. He picked up 32 points on Bowman and 22 on Stenhouse.
Here’s how the playoff bubble looks with seven races to go:
14. Jimmie Johnson +66
15. Chase Elliott +51
16. Alex Bowman + 9
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -9
18. Paul Menard -23
19. Ryan Newman -79
Assuming there will be no new winners from outside the current playoff standings, it looks like three drivers will be fighting for two spots. However, it would be wise for Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott to avoid significant trouble.