Quaker State 400

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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Flavio Briatore: Fernando Alonso won’t take vacant Mercedes F1 seat

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 24:  Flavio Briatore, his wife Elisabetta Gregoraci and their son Falco Nathan attend the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 24, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Flavio Briatore has dismissed speculation suggesting that Fernando Alonso could replace Nico Rosberg at Mercedes for the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Briatore previously managed Alonso and remains a close friend of the Spaniard, who currently races for McLaren.

Rosberg announced just five days after winning his maiden F1 title that he would be retiring from racing with immediate effect, freeing up the most coveted seat on the grid.

Alonso is known to be desperate for a third world championship, having not claimed a title since 2006, leading to speculation that he could push for a move to Mercedes for 2017.

Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff said that Alonso was a driver that officials at the German marque “have to consider”, but was quick to acknowledge the contract in place with McLaren.

Briatore has become the latest figure to dismiss the idea, also making light of the fact that Alonso is linked to every free seat of note in F1.

“How is it that whenever there is a seat, you always think of Fernando?” Briatore told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“But there is a contract and we respect it.”

Alonso broke out of his Ferrari deal early at the end of 2014 to move to McLaren, but Briatore insisted that this was due to an escape clause in his contract.

“The situation was different. We had a pact with [Ferrari president Luca] di Montezemolo,” Briatore said.

“If we didn’t win the championship in 2014, we would be free, and Luca kept that promise.

“[Ferrari team principal Marco] Mattiacci offered a three-year renewal, but we refused.”

F1 2016 Review: Stories of the season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16- Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2016 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The 2016 Formula 1 season may have ended a little under two weeks ago now, but it was perhaps right that we let the dust settle before kicking off our series of year reviews on MotorSportsTalk.

Last Friday saw Nico Rosberg perform the ultimate mic drop by announcing his immediate retirement from racing just five days after winning his first F1 World Championship.

We’ll get to that in a bit when looking back on the stories of the season – but through the rest of the year, F1 offered a number of intriguing and notable moments.

Here’s a look back at the biggest stories of the 2016 F1 season.

MERCEDES MAKES IT THREE

Mercedes winning a third straight championship double may not seem like a big story at face value, but it really, really is. Given we are now three years in to the V6 turbo era of F1 and the field has noticeable converged, for Mercedes to have racked up a record number of wins, points and poles is an astonishing achievement.

Very rarely have we seen a true threat to Mercedes’ surpremacy, either. In 2015, Sebastian Vettel’s three victories came on weekends where Mercedes was simply second best. This time around? The two blots on Mercedes’ record book – Spain and Malaysia – were due to mitigating circumstances.

Red Bull and Ferrari may have lurked at times, but in reality, the gap at the front only grew bigger in 2016.

HAMILTON/ROSBERG RIVALRY GETS ANOTHER (FINAL) CHAPTER

The rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg reached a fiery crescendo in 2016. On-track clashes in Spain and Austria stoked the fire nicely, forcing Mercedes to revise its “terms of engagement” with both drivers to prevent recurrences.

While we failed to see any titanic on-track battles between the duo, this was certainly the bitterest year yet in Hamilton/Rosberg relations. The lengths that Hamilton went to in the title decider to stop his teammate winning was evidence of how sour relations had become, yet he was gracious in defeat once Rosberg had clinched the title.

Following Rosberg’s retirement, it looks like we’ve seen the last chapter of one of F1’s most intense rivalries. While it may have been messy at times, it has at least ensured that Mercedes’ spell of dominance was not a complete procession.

ROSBERG DROPS THE MIC

The last F1 story of the year was the biggest. Nico Rosberg’s sensational decision to retire from racing just five days after winning his maiden world championship shocked the entire F1 paddock (well, except Lewis Hamilton) and the sporting world in general.

Everything about the story was a surprise: the decision itself; the nature in which it happened; the ‘OK-ness’ about it all, as well. F1 will be without its champion next year despite him being perfectly fit and well, young, and coming off the best season of his career. It’s a weird situation…

It also brings into question the legacy that Rosberg will leave behind. Will he be remembered as the driver who defeated one of F1’s all-time greats in Hamilton? Or as the man who was ‘one and done’? Time will tell.

HAAS HITS THE GRID

The star-spangled banner returned to the F1 grid full-time in 2016 as NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas saw his eponymous operation make its debut. Most were unsure what to expect from Haas F1 Team during its debut season, making Romain Grosjean’s charge to sixth on debut in Australia a surprise for most.

Grosjean went one better at the next race in Bahrain, finishing fifth, but it proved to be the high point of the season. The strategic mastery we saw early on disappeared, and the teething problems that come with any new project began to crop up time and time again. The team scored just one point in the second half of the season.

Nevertheless, it was a strong start to life in F1 from Haas. Let’s see what more it can do in 2017.

FERRARI STRUGGLES, RED BULL EXCELS

When Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen vaulted to the front of the pack on the opening lap of the season in Australia, it seemed our prayers had been answered: finally, there would be some resistance to Mercedes’ steam-roller act we’d seen for the previous two years in F1.

It was about as good as things got for the Scuderia though. Come the end of the year, both Vettel and Raikkonen ended up winless, with Ferrari slipping behind Red Bull to third in the constructors’ championship. It was a big come-down after the hope that ran through the 2015 campaign and off-season.

As for Red Bull? 2016’s success was a big surprise. Renault finally got its act together on the engine side of things, giving Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo the tools with which to win one race each, and even light the fire under the Mercedes boys later in the year.

VERSTAPPEN STEPS UP, STEALS THE SHOW

Max Verstappen’s promotion into a Red Bull seat just four races in to the new season was a major story, with the crest-fallen Daniil Kvyat moving back down to Toro Rosso. We knew this teen protege was going to be special, but few could have predicted just how special he would be through 2016.

From victory on debut (albeit a fortunate one) to his defence of Hamilton in Japan, and, most impressive of all, his magic in the rain at Interlagos, this was a memorable year for Verstappen.

Don’t go thinking this is the finished product yet. Verstappen’s qualifying form remains a bit patchy, lacking the ouright pace over one lap of teammate Daniel Ricciardo, and there were costly errors through the year (the start at Spa being one).

But boy, if this is Verstappen as a sophomore, we can’t wait to see what’s to come in his twenties.

TALKING ‘BOUT MY GENERATION

2016 was a year for the next generation of F1 to come to the fore. Besides Verstappen’s growing stardom, we saw his ex-teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., lead Toro Rosso and mark himself as one of the best up-and-comers on the grid.

Mercedes youngsters Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon both enjoyed impressive campaigns, the latter making his debut at Spa, with both now being linked to the vacant Mercedes seat.

We also saw Stoffel Vandoorne make his race debut, replacing the injured Fernando Alonso in Bahrain ahead of his full-time bow with McLaren next year, and had GP3 champion Charles Leclerc run in practice for Haas.

With Lance Stroll also poised to join the grid next year, we’re talking more and more about a younger generation in F1.

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Tying in with that theme, 2016 saw the last hurrahs in F1 for Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, two of the sport’s veterans. Although Button could yet return in 2018, it’s highly unlikely.

Both ended their careers gracefully, bowing out with class in Abu Dhabi, although it’s hard to play their seasons up as being overly impressive given their form compared to teammates Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso.

With Rosberg now also out of the picture, the F1 grid is becoming more and more unrecognizable to the one we had 10 years ago.

Some of the other big stories were:

  • Force India’s best-ever finish in the constructors’ championship, beating Williams to fourth.
  • Liberty Media’s plan to buy F1, announced back in September.
  • F1’s first race in Baku, Azerbaijan, which proved to be a pleasant surprise.
  • McLaren’s continued revival as Honda makes progress.
  • The reliability of Lewis Hamilton’s car (or lack of) through the season.
  • The power struggle at McLaren that led to Ron Dennis’ exit.
  • Continued efforts to improve safety in F1 with the Halo device.
  • After a damp 2015, the roaring, record-breaking USGP in Austin in October (with a hat-tip to Taylor Swift).

And it is with a T-Swift lyric we shall close things out in our stories of the season. 2016 may have been a bit of a rough year for the world, but the F1 season acted as a kind of escape; a way to shake it off.

John Force Racing will ‘Advance’ with new sponsorship for Courtney Force

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BROWNSBURG, Indiana — John Force likes to use the word “advance” in discussing the long-term future of his four-car race team.

Friday morning, Force literally put “advance” into action, as he announced daughter Courtney Force’s Funny Car will be sponsored during the 2017 24-race NHRA schedule by Advance Auto Parts stores, beginning with the season-opening Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, California. The deal is for multiple seasons.

“This is all about building John Force Racing for the future,” Force told MotorSportsTalk. “We had a great run with Traxxas, they’ll be staying in the sport, which is great. And now we’re partnering with Advance Auto Parts, which we’re very excited about.”

Advance Auto Parts replaces Traxxas, which produces radio-controlled race cars, and which had sponsored Courtney Force for the past five seasons. Traxxas will remain involved in the sport as sponsor of the Traxxas Shootout, a special race-within-a-race for both Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters contested during the annual U.S. Nationals in Brownsburg.

Advance Auto Parts, which has nearly 5,400 retail stores across the country, is no stranger to John Force Racing. The auto parts supplier sponsored John Force’s PEAK Chevrolet Camaro at several events during the 2016 season, including a victory in the NHRA Carolina Nationals, which kicked off the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“The opportunity came to grow the deal and they were interested in Courtney so it was a perfect match,” John Force said. “I have done shows with Advance Auto Parts in the past and am looking forward to working with them again.”

Both John and Courtney Force will be featured in several upcoming advertising and marketing campaigns for the company.

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Gustav Malja joins Racing Engineering for 2017 GP2 season

2016 GP2 Series Test 3
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Wednesday 30 November 2016.
Gustav Malja (SWE, Racing Engineering) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SLB2993_1
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Racing Engineering has announced the signing of Gustav Malja for the 2017 GP2 Series season following the Swede’s rookie campaign.

Malja, 21, made his GP2 debut in 2015 before embarking on his first full campaign in the Formula 1 support series with Rapax.

Malja scored points in the opening round of the year in Spain, finishing ninth, before highlighting his season with a run of top-10 finishes from Hockenheim to Sepang.

The run saw Malja finish second in the Spa sprint race and third at Monza in the feature event, enough to give him 13th in the final standings.

Malja will now move up to Racing Engineering for 2017, the team having worked with Norman Nato and Jordan King for the past season.

“I’m excited to join Racing Engineering for the 2017 GP2 season. We began getting to know each other in Abu Dhabi last week, and I immediately felt very much at home,” Malja said.

“It’s a team with a long and successful history in GP2, and I’m convinced it’s the ideal place for my continued development as a driver.

“I’m also very pleased to have everything in place at such an early stage. It will ease preparations this winter and give us all some peace of mind.”

Malja is the fourth driver to confirm his entry to GP2 for 2017, joining Sergio Sette Camara (MP Motorsport), Charles Leclerc and Antonio Fuoco (both Prema Racing) on the grid.