Kentucky Weekend Preview: Truex tries to dig into points gap

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 23: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota, stands in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

A 1.5-mile track is coming at the perfect time for Martin Truex Jr.

After reeling off five consecutive top-six finishes, Truex has produced showings of 37th and 34th in his last two races. Still, he ranks second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, only 18 points behind Kyle Larson.

Leading the series with a 4.2 average finish at 1.5-mile tracks this season – including wins at Las Vegas and Kansas – Truex will try to triumph at 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“We’ve hit an unlucky streak the past two weeks and that’s going to happen in a 36-race schedule,” Truex said. “But we’re feeling good about Kentucky. We sure like the mile-and-a-half tracks and I felt we had a good chance of winning there last year. But a controversial call for a pit road violation knocked us out of contention.”

NASCAR’s stage racing enhancements have treated Truex well. He leads the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with 11 stage wins and 21 playoff points. Statistically, Truex has outperformed Larson this season. He paces the series in average running position (8.7), driver rating (109.1), laps led (963) and fastest laps (542).

In six career starts at Kentucky, Truex claims three top-10 finishes. He led 46 laps and finished 10th in last year’s race.

“I have some good runs at Kentucky Speedway,” said Truex, who has two wins, five top-five and 11 top-10 finishes this season. “Like any racetrack, you have to find the right balance for all four turns and Kentucky has some unique corners. But with our past history at the mile-and-a-half tracks I am confident that (Crew Chief) Cole (Pearn) and his engineering team will once again figure it out.”

Byron goes for third straight win

Going into the NASCAR Xfinity Series season, people knew William Byron could wheel a race car.

He dominated the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with a Sunoco Rookie record seven wins last year.

DOVER, DE – JUNE 03: William Byron, driver of the #9 Liberty University Chevrolet, stands on the grid prior to the NASCAR XFINITY Series OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway on June 3, 2017 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

Still, very few foresaw how quickly he’d adapt in his first season in the series where names are made. Byron has elevated his performance as the 2017 campaign hit its midway point with two consecutive victories and three straight top-two finishes.

The 19-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina, native will go for a third consecutive victory in Friday’s Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Only seven drivers in NASCAR Xfinity Series history have won three straight races. Byron would become the first rookie to achieve the feat.

“I’ve been extremely blessed, you have to have good fortune to win these races,” Byron said. “The other thing is just the confidence that it brings when you do win. You go to the track and you know how to win, what it feels like in those end situations when you’re on the front row or whatever on a restart. Once you get that feeling in your mind and your team gets it, it kind of builds that momentum and you try to keep that as much as you can, you try to keep everything positive.”

Byron sits second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings, 59 points behind his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler, but ranks first with 11 playoff points.

“I’m really excited about Kentucky,” Byron said. “Knowing that it is a repave, we will have to approach it with a similar mindset that we had at Texas. We had a solid car there and I think we can do the same thing at Kentucky. Hopefully we can get another win and keep the momentum rolling.”

Nemechek tries for trifecta at Kentucky

Facing the prospect of missing races due to lack of sponsorship, John Hunter Nemechek went out and won the last two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series contests at Gateway and Iowa.

NEWTON, IA – JUNE 23: John H. Nemechek, driver of the #8  Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series M&Ms 200 at Iowa Speedway on June 23, 2017 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

He’ll attempt to become the eighth driver in series history to win three consecutive races when he takes the track in Thursday’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1). The 20-year-old Chevrolet driver finished runner-up in the race last season.

Nemecheck, whose two wins tie Christopher Bell’s total for the series lead, sits eighth in the points standings, but his 11th playoff points are the second most on the circuit.

“I definitely think you’ll see guys run as hard as they can to try and pass each other,” Nemechek said. “I feel like you’ll see some bumper-to-bumper action and hopefully a lot of drafting and passing down the straightaway and guys giving room. I definitely think it’s going to be a good race.

 Race Weekend Guide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts

Place: Kentucky Speedway

Date & Time: Saturday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Tune-In: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)

What To Watch For: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. goes for second straight win. … Brad Keselowski tries to add to his Kentucky track wins record with a fourth victory. … Kyle Busch vies for his third Kentucky checkered flag and first of the season. … Kyle Larson attempts to extend his 18-point standings lead over second-place Martin Truex Jr.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Race: Alsco 300

Place: Kentucky Speedway

Date & Time: Friday, July 7 at 8 p.m. ET

Tune-In: NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

What To Watch For: The Alsco 300 provides a tune-up for NASCAR’s playoffs since Kentucky Speedway is the site of the postseason’s first race. … Kyle Busch is two victories away from 175 NASCAR national series wins. … Elliott Sadler goes for two straight Kentucky victories after winning there last fall. He’ll try to extend his 59-point standings lead over William Byron.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225

Place: Kentucky Speedway

Date & Time: Thursday, July 6 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Tune-In: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 225 miles (150 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 35), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 70), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

What To Watch For: Johnny Sauter tries to extend his points lead over second-place Christopher Bell (-42) and third-place Chase Briscoe (-76). … Kyle Busch is entered in all three national series races at Kentucky this weekend. He is the only driver in NASCAR history to win three national series races in the same weekend (Bristol 2010). … Grant Enfinger enters the race as the Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner. He leads Chase Briscoe by five points and Noah Gragson by 24 markers.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.