SPARTA, Ky. — Kentucky Speedway’s winners club is seeking new members.
The biggest challenge is a demanding screening process.
Just four NASCAR Cup Series drivers have won one of the seven 400-mile events at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch have combined for five wins and were favored here last July, but Martin Truex Jr. got the victory on the way to the series championship. Matt Kenseth won at Kentucky in 2013.
Considering how points leader Busch, second-place Kevin Harvick – who has five consecutive top-10 Kentucky finishes – and Truex have combined for 13 wins this season, the track’s winners club might stay the same Saturday night.
At the same time, Erik Jones’ victory at Daytona offers hope that a new face might emerge if everything falls right. Jones will start on the front row next to Truex, who won the pole with a qualifying lap of 188.890 mph.
“We ran well here last year, finishing sixth, and you can look back on your notes and say, ‘OK, this is what we did to get to this point,’ or that point, and that makes things quite a bit easier from a driver’s standpoint,” Jones said Friday. “Just having that notebook, mentally and physically, has been a pretty big advantage.”
Whether it’s enough to overcome the Kentucky dominance of Busch and Keselowski remains to be seen. Keselowski and Busch were fourth and fifth in qualifying, just behind Harvick.
Busch, Jones’ teammate with Joe Gibbs Racing, has seven victories at Kentucky in NASCAR’s three national series. He won most recently in 2015 on the way to the Cup title, and has two wins, five top-fives and six top-10s in the seven Cup races. And he’s tied with Harvick with a season-best five wins this year.
Keselowski meanwhile is looking to continue his pattern at Kentucky in even-numbered years, after winning in 2012, ’14 and ’16.
“I didn’t know how many people believed in numerology in this sport or in this world until I came to Kentucky this year,” Keselowski joked. “I’m not a numerology person, but I appreciate those that are.”
Truex is looking for more of the same from last year, when he led 152 of 274 laps and won under caution.
“To be able to come here last year and get our first win at this track was huge,” Truex said. “We’ve been strong here the last couple of years, and hopefully we can figure out how to race up front again all night tomorrow night and have a shot at winning at the end.”