Following another turbulent week in the news, the NASCAR series made their way to Sparta, Kentucky for the Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway.
Kicking off the week, Donald Trump stated that Bubba Wallace should apologize for the noose discovered at Talladega Superspeedway. Bubba Wallace followed that up by taking the high road, tweeting, “Love over hate every day.” In this writer’s opinion, no matter what Bubba Wallace does on the racetrack, I feel he will provide more importance to NASCAR off the track.
Moving on from that, Jimmie Johnson was medically cleared by doctors to race this weekend after recovering from Covid-19. Johnson stated that he never suffered any symptoms and was confused by testing positive.
Stage 1 at Kentucky Speedway:
Under blue skies, pole-sitter Kyle Busch took the green flag shortly before noon PST. With Joey Logano to the inside, Busch powered to the lead and led the first lap with Logano falling to fourth. The race continued through Lap 25 when the competition caution was displayed. All drivers on the lead lap entered the pits for service. Aric Almirola exited first with Joey Logano coming out second.
Almirola led the field back to the green flag with Logano on his inside. Almirola held off Logano going down the backstretch and maintained a lead of over a second. Kyle Busch struggled once the race went back to green and struggled to maintain a position within the top 10.
Around Lap 50, Ryan Blaney’s car jumped out of fourth gear. With this issue, Blaney needed to keep his hand on the shifter and would require a bungee cord to keep his transmission in fourth gear. Even with the gear issue, Blaney ran the fastest lap of the race on Lap 71 while maintaining a position in the top five.
Lap 80 brought about the end of Stage 1 as Almirola took the green and white checkered flag. Martin Truex Jr. impressed as he came from the back of the field to complete Stage One in the top ten.
All of the lead lap cars made their way onto pit road for service. During the stop, Ryan Blaney obtained a bungee cord for the transmission issue he was experiencing. Almirola exited the pits first with Logano following behind. While under caution, Blaney tried to attach the bungee cord to his shifter but was unsuccessful.
Almirola led the field back to green on Lap 88 with Logano to his inside. Almirola held onto the lead and began to set sail. With a clean air advantage, Almirola set the fastest laps of the race during this time. The race settled-in and continued the first stage’s look of a long, green-flag run.
With less than 30 laps left in the second stage, Ryan Blaney was able to catch and overtake Almirola for the leader position. As the stage wound down, Almirola lost the second position to Joey Logano. As Stage Two came to a close, the leaders began green flag pitstops. During this time, Chase Elliott had an issue with the right rear tire, necessitating an elongated pitstop. Just as green-flag pitstops were finishing up, Matt Kenseth suffered a flat, left-rear tire and spun, drawing a caution.
Benefitting from the timing of the caution, Brad Keselowski emerged as the leader. With one lap to go before the end of the stage, Keselowski took the field into Turn One. Keselowski and Blaney raced hard during the one-lap shootout, with Brad edging out a hard-charging Blaney for the Stage Two victory. Upon completion of the pitstops, Keselowski and Blaney swapped positions, with Blaney as the leader and Keselowski in second.
The green flag waved for the final stage on Lap 168. Keselowski took the lead going into Turn Three with Blaney falling to fourth. With 97 laps left in the race, Kyle Busch slid through Turn Four, slightly making contact with the wall. After the near-spin, Kyle Bush steadily dropped down in the running order. With the race continuing under green, Truex Jr. mounted a charge for the lead, eventually passing Keselowski with less than 90 laps in the race.
With less than 60 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson played the pit strategy game by pitting early. By the time there were 50 laps left in the race, more cars began pitstops, including Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola. Truex Jr. then relinquished the lead with 48 laps left to make his pitstop. Keselowski continued to lead the field as other cars made their way to pit road. With 44 laps left in the race, Keselowski made his way to the pits for four tires and fuel.
Before all cars could cycle through green-flag pitstops, the caution flag flew due to Brennan Poole blowing a tire and leaving debris strewn over the track. During this, Austin Dillon was entering the pits. Once the caution flew, Dillon tried to stay on track and spun into the wall.
Truex Jr. and Blaney then assumed the lead as the race resumed with 30 laps left. Just as Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson ran the fastest laps of the race, John Hunter Nemechek brought out the sixth caution of the day as his car slammed into the Turn Two wall with 24 laps to go.
Truex Jr. and Blaney brought the cars down for the restart with 19 laps to go. Immediately upon the restart, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson tangled. Johnson spun to the infield grass, drawing another caution. With the incident behind them, Blaney was able to pull ahead of Truex Jr. and obtain the lead.
Once the field restarted, Keselowski gave Kevin Harvick a push going into Turn One. Three-wide, Harvick powered by Truex Jr. and Blaney through the first set of turns. As Blaney fell back, the Quaker State 400 became a two-horse race between Harvick and Truex Jr. As the leaders came to the line with seven laps to go, Ryan Newman spun Matt Kenseth, bringing out the eighth caution.
With two laps to go, Harvick and Truex Jr. brought the field to the green flag. Harvick and Truex Jr. battled side-by-side as rookie Cole Custer marched forth from the sixth position. On the final lap, Custer, Truex Jr., Harvick, and Blaney went four-wide for the lead. Going into Turn One, Blaney and Harvick banged fenders. Emerging with the lead, Custer led Truex Jr. through the final circuit. With the checkered flag in sight at the Kentucky Speedway, Custer took the victory, his first win in the Cup Series.
For most of the race, the Kentucky Speedway played out as would be expected, long green flag runs, with passing at a premium. As the race neared conclusion, and the intensity picked up, the dramatics picked up immensely. Seeing rookie Cole Custer get his first win, plus Matt DiBenedetto finishing third, the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway ended on a high note.
This Wednesday brings the 2020 NASCAR All-Star Race from Bristol Motor Speedway.
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