Everything you need to know for Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky

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Intermediate-sized ovals make up the majority of the landscape in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

You see them so often that sometimes, you forget that they have their own little quirks and quickly slap them with the “cookie cutter” tag.

That’s not the case, however, with Kentucky Speedway, which will host the Sprint Cup circus this Saturday night in the Quaker State 400.

This 1.5-miler is bumpy and rough. Handling is important here, and with no repaves in over a decade, multiple grooves have formed up for drivers to use. All the elements for a good, big track show are in place.

Courtesy of NASCAR’s public relations and statistics teams, here’s everything you need to know heading into Round 17 of the 2014 Sprint Cup regular season…

KENTUCKY-SPECIFIC STATISTICS

Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
· Two top 10s
· Average finish of 11.3
· Average Running Position of 13.3, 10th-best
· Driver Rating of 90.6, 10th-best
· 21 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most
· 202 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.530 mph, 12th-fastest
· 92 Quality Passes (passes of cars in the top 15 under green), ninth-most

Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota)
· One win, two top fives, three top 10s
· Average finish of 5.3
· Average Running Position of 5.4, second-best
· Driver Rating of 125.2, second-best
· 104 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.765 mph, second-fastest
· 740 Laps in the Top 15 (92.4%), third-most

Carl Edwards (No. 99 UPS Ford)
· One top five, one top 10
· Average finish of 15.3
· Average Running Position of 9.8, fourth-best
· Driver Rating of 94.5, seventh-best
· 20 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.987 mph, sixth-fastest
· 643 Laps in the Top 15 (80.3%), fourth-most
· 104 Quality Passes, sixth-most

Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet)
· One top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 7.7
· Average Running Position of 13.2, ninth-best
· Driver Rating of 91.8, eighth-best
· 31 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
· 230 Green Flag Passes, third-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.854 mph, seventh-fastest
· 514 Laps in the Top 15 (64.2%), ninth-most
· 119 Quality Passes, second-most

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota)
· One top five, one top 10
· Average finish of 16.3
· Average Running Position of 12.5, sixth-best
· Driver Rating of 98.1, sixth-best
· 34 Fastest Laps Run, sixth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.223 mph, fifth-fastest
· 531 Laps in the Top 15 (66.3%), eighth-most

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet)
· One top 10
· Average finish of 12.3
· Average Running Position of 12.2, fifth-best
· Driver Rating of 90.5, 11th-best
· 225 Green Flag Passes, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.830 mph, eighth-fastest
· 628 Laps in the Top 15 (78.4%), fifth-most
· 110 Quality Passes, fourth-most

Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
· One top five, three top 10s; one pole
· Average finish of 6.0
· Series-best Average Running Position of 3.9
· Series-best Driver Rating of 125.9
· Series-high 118 Fastest Laps Run
· Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 172.196 mph
· Series-high 783 Laps in the Top 15 (97.8%)
· 108 Quality Passes, fifth-most

Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet)
· One top five, one top 10
· Average finish of 8.7
· Average Running Position of 14.0, 12th-best
· Driver Rating of 98.2, fifth-best
· 52 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
· Series-high 313 Green Flag Passes
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.289 mph, fourth-fastest
· 472 Laps in the Top 15 (58.9%), 11th-most
· 116 Quality Passes, third-most

Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota)
· One win, one top five, three top 10s
· Average finish of 4.7
· Average Running Position of 8.3, third-best
· Driver Rating of 109.3, third-best
· 67 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 171.542 mph, third-fastest
· 775 Laps in the Top 15 (96.8%), second-most
· Series-high 157 Quality Passes

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford)
· One win, one top five, two top 10s
· Average finish of 13.7
· Average Running Position of 13.2, eighth-best
· Driver Rating of 104.8, fourth-best
· 72 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
· 573 Laps in the Top 15 (71.5%), sixth-most

Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford)
· One top five, one top 10
· Average finish of 13.3
· Driver Rating of 87.2, 12th-best
· 202 Green Flag Passes, 12th-most
· 92 Quality Passes, ninth-most

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet)
· Two top 10s
· Average finish of 11.0
· Average Running Position of 12.6, seventh-best
· Driver Rating of 90.7, ninth-best
· 203 Green Flag Passes, 11th-most
· Average Green Flag Speed of 170.746 mph, ninth-fastest
· 555 Laps in the Top 15 (69.3%), seventh-most
· 101 Quality Passes, eighth-most

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Track Data
Season Race #: 16 of 36 (06-28-14)
Track Size: 1.5-miles
Banking/Turn 1 & 2: 14 degrees
Banking/Turn 3 & 4: 14 degrees
Banking/Frontstretch: 8 degrees
Banking/Backstretch: 8 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 1,662 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,600 feet
Race Length: 200 laps / 300 miles

Top 10 Driver Ratings at Kentucky
Jimmie Johnson…………………… 125.9
Kyle Busch…………………………. 125.2
Matt Kenseth……………………….. 109.3
Brad Keselowski………………….. 104.8
Kasey Kahne………………………… 98.2
Denny Hamlin……………………….. 98.1
Carl Edwards………………………… 94.5
Jeff Gordon………………………….. 91.8
Martin Truex Jr………………………. 90.7
Kurt Busch……………………………. 90.6
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2013 races (three total) among active drivers at Kentucky Speedway.

Qualifying/Race Data
2013 Coors Light Pole winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 183.636 mph, 29.406 secs., 06-29-13
2013 race winner: Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 131.948 mph, (03:02:07), 06-30-13
Track qualifying record: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 183.636 mph, 29.406 secs., 06-29-13
Track race record: Brad Keselowski., Dodge, 145.607 mph, (02:45:02), 06-30-12

History
· In 1998, the track broke ground in Sparta, Kentucky, and opened as a 1.5-mile speedway in 2000.
· The original owners, Jerry Carroll and four other investors owned the track until 2008, when current owners, Speedway Motorsports Inc. purchased the facility.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was held in 2011 – won by Kyle Busch.

Notebook
· There have been three NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Kentucky Speedway since the first race in 2011 – one race per season.
· 53 drivers have competed in at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway; 42 in more than one.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Qualifying at Kentucky was cancelled due to weather. The starting line-up was set per the Rule Book.
· Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. are the only two drivers that have won Coors Light poles at Kentucky.
· Youngest Kentucky pole winner: Jimmie Johnson (06/30/2012 – 36 years, nine months, 13 days).
· Oldest Kentucky pole winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (06/30/2013 – 38 years, eight months, 20 days).
· Three different NSCS drivers have won at Kentucky Speedway: Kyle Busch (07/09/2011), Brad Keselowski (06/30/2012) and Matt Kenseth (6/30/2013).
· Youngest Kentucky winner: Kyle Busch (07/09/2011 – 26 years, two months, seven days).
· Oldest Kentucky winner: Matt Kenseth (06/30/2013 – 41 years, three months, 20 days).
· Joe Gibbs Racing leads the series in wins at Kentucky with two (2011, 2013); followed by Penske Racing (2012) with one.
· Two different manufacturers have won in the NSCS at Kentucky: Toyota (2011, 2013) and Dodge (2012).
· Kyle Busch won the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky from the first starting position. Due to the qualifying session being cancelled for the 2011 race it was not from the Coors Light pole.
· One of the three (33.3%) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Kentucky have been won from the front row.
· Two of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Kentucky have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Kentucky was 16th, by Matt Kenseth last season.
· Three different drivers have posted NSCS runner-up finishes at Kentucky: David Reutimann (2011), Kasey Kahne (2012) and Jamie McMurray (2013).
· Kyle Busch leads the series in top-five finishes at Kentucky with two.
· Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth lead the series in top-10 finishes at Kentucky with three each.
· Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average starting position at Kentucky with a 2.333.
· Matt Kenseth leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in average finishing position at Kentucky with a 4.667. Kyle Busch (5.333), Jimmie Johnson (6.000), Jeff Gordon (7.667), and Kasey Kahne (8.667)are the other active drivers with an average finish in the top 10.
· Since the advent of electronic scoring the closest margin of victory (MOV) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway was the July 9, 2011 race won by Kyle Busch over David Reutimann with a MOV of 0.179 second.
· None of the three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Kentucky Speedway have resulted with a green-white-checkered finish.
· None of the three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Kentucky Speedway have been shortened due to weather conditions.
· Qualifying has been cancelled due to weather conditions in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway once; the 2011 race.
· Kyle Busch leads all active drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in laps led at Kentucky with 243 laps led in three starts. Jimmie Johnson has led the second-most with 203.
· Danica Patrick is the only female driver to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway.
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· There have been four NASCAR Sprint Cup races among two tracks in Kentucky: 3 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, and 1 at Corbin Speedway in Corbin.
· 42 drivers in NASCAR national series history have their home state recorded as Kentucky; three have posted wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
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Castroneves obliterates track record for Phoenix pole (VIDEO)

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Helio Castroneves has shattered the previous track record at Phoenix International Raceway en route to his second pole of the Verizon IndyCar Series season and Team Penske’s fourth in four races to kick off 2017. In the process, he also won his 49th pole of his INDYCAR career (7 CART/42 IRL/IC), which puts him in a tie for third all-time in series history with Bobby Unser.

The Brazilian, driving the No. 3 REV Group Chevrolet, also set the pole at Phoenix last year but at a two-lap average of 192.324 mph.

Tonight, under the lights with temperatures of 72 degrees Fahrenheit ambient and 83 for track, Castroneves’ average was a staggering 194.905 mph.

“People don’t realize that qualifying is extremely difficult,” he said. “I took it to the limit – I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good. The conditions were really difficult today in practice – the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice). My engineer did a phenomenal job and obviously everybody at Team Penske – the REV Group car was really fast. Qualifying is one thing – the race is another – but I’m really confident going into tomorrow.”

Teammate Will Power starts second for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Power was only the second car to run, but put down what looked to be an incredible two-lap average of his own – the first driver over 194 mph – before Castroneves beat him under slightly cooler and less windy conditions later in the session.

Young Americans JR Hildebrand, in his first race back after missing Barber, and Barber winner Josef Newgarden will share Row 2 with Simon Pagenaud fifth in Chevrolet’s first top-five qualifying sweep of the season, a result which was somewhat expected given Chevrolet’s edge in the aero department on a downforce-heavy short oval aero kit package at Phoenix.

It was Tony Kanaan, who was feted along with Castroneves on Thursday night in a separate event at the Heard Museum honoring both drivers’ 20 years in IndyCar, who led Honda’s charge in sixth. Mikhail Aleshin, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti and points leader Sebastien Bourdais completed the top 10.

Of note, Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe was 11th, his worst start thus far this year, and Ed Carpenter’s team was able to get his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet back out after a fuel leak in practice, and a rapid fuel cell change. But his luckless run in his oval races continues and he’ll start 21st and last tomorrow night.

Qualifying results are below.

AVONDALE, Arizona – Qualifying Friday for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine and speed:

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 194.905
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 194.017
3. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 193.912
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 193.676
5. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 193.414
6. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 192.539
7. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 192.327
8. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 192.050
9. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 191.387
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 191.349
11. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 191.194
12. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 190.799
13. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 190.768
14. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 190.565
15. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 190.405
16. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 190.029
17. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 189.786
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 189.779
19. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 189.301
20. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 188.536
21. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 186.360

Phoenix weekend, Friday notes

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Days are weird when the track activity for the Verizon IndyCar Series doesn’t start until 4 p.m. PT and local time. Qualifying is tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. PT and local time, online via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App at http://indystream.nbcsports.com.

That then makes the notes we gather a little different.

  • Thursday night kicked off the weekend with an honoring and fun night of storytelling from Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan, moderated by veteran open-wheel and NBA reporter Gary Gerould. The event, held at the Heard Museum in downtown Phoenix, offered a lot of camaraderie, laughs and memories shared for the pair of Brazilians. We’ll have a full recap of the event on Saturday.
  • Oberto premieres on Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda this weekend as a primary sponsor. In a “convenient coincidence,” Oberto is also on Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross’ No. 41 Beetle GRC for two-time defending champion Scott Speed in this weekend’s Red Bull Global Rallycross opener in Memphis (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NBC). The red-and-white No. 27 car had a primary sponsorship vacancy for most races this year in the wake of hhgregg’s financial issues, with United Fiber & Data only on for selected races.
  • Fernando Alonso’s entry is getting most of the attention among one-off Indianapolis 500 cars, but he’s not the only one. Per Spanish site IndyCarAlDiaJuncos Racing is set to run at least one car on the same May 3 date as Alonso will make his debut, as Ricardo Juncos’ team gets close to making its announcement for its driver or drivers it will have in this year’s race.
  • Alonso’s livery for his No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti is set to be revealed either the Tuesday before his test on May 2 or the morning of his test on May 3, itself. The @McLarenIndy account tweeted a sneak pic of the livery earlier this week.
  • The Jay Howard Team ONE Cure Honda-powered entry for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports doesn’t yet have its engineer set, but the team is getting close to finalizing the crew for that car.
  • Zach Veach’s No. 40 IWiT Championship Chevrolet will be revealed Wednesday night, May 10, at AJ Foyt Racing’s Indianapolis shop.
  • On a Red Bull Global Rallycross note: Andretti, Bryan Herta Rallysport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing have both IndyCar and GRC efforts running this weekend, so four of the 10 Supercars. The rest of the GRC field features Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE (three cars), Subaru Rally Team USA (two cars) and Loenbro Motorsports, the former Ganassi team (one car).
  • Be on the lookout for a pair of digital pieces on NBCSports.com later this weekend. NBCSN IndyCar pit reporter Katie Hargitt caught up with Helio Castroneves for Rapid Fire, while she’ll also fill in for Anders Krohn – who’s on Red Bull GRC duty in Memphis – hosting IndyCar Paddock Pass. Hargitt caught up with Barber winner Josef Newgarden, series returnee JR Hildebrand and Hildebrand’s Barber fill-in Zach Veach in this week’s episode.

Newgarden, Chevy top Phoenix practice

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Friday’s two-hour practice for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix started out slowly, with only a handful of drivers turning laps in the opening 30 minutes. However, the second hour, and the final 30 minutes in particular, turned into a frenzy, with drivers making several runs and completing qualifying sims.

Josef Newgarden topped the speed charts with an average speed of 192.108 mph, the only lap above the 192 mark of the session.

JR Hildebrand enjoyed a strong run on his return after suffering a broken hand at Long Beach to run second in practice. Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power completed the top five, making it a Chevrolet sweep of the top five spots.

Heavy winds wreaked havoc on the session, with sand blowing onto the track surface throughout practice. Conditions became severe enough that practice was halted a couple minutes prior to its scheduled conclusion.

Of note: driver Ed Carpenter, in his first race outing of 2017, suffered a shortened practice due to mechanical issues and the crew reportedly was working on swapping out the fuel cell on his No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

Times and qualifying order are below. Qualifying begins at 11:00 p.m. ET (8:00 local time).

 

 

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.