After a road-course stop in Sonoma, NASCAR's Sprint Cup drivers will get back to the familiar left-only turns on the 1.5-mile oval at the Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400.
Apparently, this was a welcomed sight to Dale Earnhardt Jr. The Hendrick racer claimed his first pole of the year and did so in record fashion.
ESPN tweeted the news:
It will be interesting to see if the typically conservative Earnhardt can turn that fast car into a victory. However, no matter what happens with him, it should be an interesting day of racing.
The Quaker State 400 is the 10th race before the chase. So, this is the time that drivers must start solidifying their standing in their quest to make the Chase.
Also, not to take anything away from Earnhardt's qualifying run, but his record is not as impressive as it would be at other tracks. After all, this will be just the third Sprint Cup race at the Kentucky Speedway.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch took the checkered in 2011, and Penske's Brad Keselowski won this event last year.
Check out the vitals for this race, and then I'll highlight three drivers who warrant extra attention.
Where: Kentucky Speedway, Sparta, Ky.
When: Saturday, June 30, 6:30 p.m. ET
Listen: Performance Racing Network (PRN) radio and Sirius XM 90
*Grid via ESPN
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Chevrolet||88||183.636 mph|
|2||Carl Edwards||Ford||99||183.306 mph|
|3||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet||48||183.144 mph|
|4||Kyle Busch||Toyota||18||182.593 mph|
|5||Marcos Ambrose||Ford||9||182.587 mph|
|6||Denny Hamlin||Toyota||11||182.340 mph|
|7||Ryan Newman||Chevrolet||39||182.254 mph|
|8||Brad Keselowski||Ford||2||182.192 mph|
|9||Brian Vickers||Toyota||55||181.922 mph|
|10||Juan Pablo Montoya||Chevrolet||42||181.720 mph|
|11||Joey Logano||Ford||22||181.708 mph|
|12||Jeff Gordon||Chevrolet||24||181.653 mph|
|13||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||17||181.391 mph|
|14||Jeff Burton||Chevrolet||31||181.360 mph|
|15||Clint Bowyer||Toyota||15||181.159 mph|
|16||Matt Kenseth||Toyota||20||181.111 mph|
|17||AJ Allmendinger||Toyota||47||180.892 mph|
|18||Aric Almirola||Ford||43||180.868 mph|
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||56||180.832 mph|
|20||Greg Biffle||Ford||16||180.765 mph|
|21||Kasey Kahne||Chevrolet||5||180.638 mph|
|22||Kevin Harvick||Chevrolet||29||180.578 mph|
|23||Jamie McMurray||Chevrolet||1||180.445 mph|
|24||Paul Menard||Chevrolet||27||179.970 mph|
|25||Tony Stewart||Chevrolet||14||179.964 mph|
|26||Austin Dillon||Chevrolet||51||179.802 mph|
|27||Kurt Busch||Chevrolet||78||179.390 mph|
|28||David Stremme||Toyota||30||179.075 mph|
|29||Danica Patrick||Chevrolet||10||178.944 mph|
|30||Landon Cassill||Chevrolet||33||178.265 mph|
|31||Casey Mears||Ford||13||178.235 mph|
|32||Dave Blaney||Chevrolet||7||177.983 mph|
|33||Michael McDowell||Ford||98||177.713 mph|
|34||David Gilliland||Ford||38||177.486 mph|
|35||J.J. Yeley||Chevrolet||36||176.638 mph|
|36||David Reutimann||Toyota||83||176.488 mph|
|37||Josh Wise||Ford||35||176.384 mph|
|38||David Ragan||Ford||34||176.344 mph|
|39||Mike Bliss||Toyota||19||175.816 mph|
|40||Travis Kvapil||Toyota||93||175.707 mph|
|41||Joe Nemechek||Toyota||87||175.234 mph|
|42||Scott Riggs||Ford||44||175.143 mph|
|43||Ken Schrader||Ford||32||172.988 mph|
Drivers to Watch
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The pole-sitter always merits a little extra attention, and when that driver is Earnhardt, that is especially true.
This, according to Jeff Gluck of USA Today, is actually just the 12th pole in Earnhardt's 14-year career.
Sitting seventh in the points chase, Earnhardt doesn't have to take undo risks to capture the checkered here, but there is no doubt he is anxious for a strong performance. After starting his year with five straight top-10 finishes, he's had just four since.
It is time for Earnhardt to reestablish some momentum for the Chase.
I've largely grown tired of discussing Danica Patrick. I have nothing against her. It's just, at this point, she is just another middling driver trying to improve in the standings.
However, thanks to Kyle Petty, it is hard not to talk about her this week.
Appearing on Speed TV's NASCAR Race Hub, with the quote provided by ESPN's Terry Blount, Petty said:
Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs. She can go fast, but she can't race. I think she's come a long way, but she's still not a race car driver. And I don't think she's ever going to be a race car driver.
As with anything concerning Patrick, this has picked up a lot of attention.
On Saturday, it will be Danica's chance to silence critics with her racing. Starting in 29th, if she is going to run with the leaders, she will definitely have to do some racing.
Sitting in 13th place in the points standings, Jeff Gordon needs to start stringing together some solid finishes.
Gordon is coming off of his highest finish of the season, a second-place finish at Sonoma. However, it's hard to ascertain what that means for him going forward. Gordon is almost always a factor on road courses.
This has been an inconsistent season for Gordon, and if he is going to make any noise in the Chase, it is time for him and his Hendrick team to start finding some consistency.
Starting in 12th, this is a great opportunity for him to do just that.