Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, has been around for a while. In fact, he's been a fixture in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage since the final race of the 1992 race season at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In the time since, Gordon has found his way to victory lane, at least once, at every track on the circuit, except for one -- Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
The Sprint Cup Series, along with the Camping World Truck and Nationwide series, makes its way to Kentucky this weekend for Saturday night's Quaker State 400. It's Gordon's chance to get that win at the track and do away with this list of tracks still left to win at.
"I think it would be cool to win at Kentucky and knock it off the list," Gordon said. "I'd love to win at every track; that would be a special accomplishment. And I need to win here before more tracks are added to the schedule."
In all fairness, the Sprint Cup circuit has only made two trips to Kentucky Speedway, so it's not like Gordon's had a lot of opportunities to win there. Heading into this weekend's event, Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and reigning series champion Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge, are the only two Kentucky winners when it comes to NASCAR's top series.
While Gordon is looking to claim his first win at Kentucky, Busch and Keselowski definitely aren't taking their opportunity at win number two lightly. Both of those drivers are entered in all three of the weekend's NASCAR events at the track. Both drivers, obviously, already know how to get a Sprint Cup win at the track, and the extra 525 miles (combined distance of the Truck Series and Nationwide races) definitely won't hurt their chances.
"It will be a full schedule running all three series this weekend," Busch said. "The benefit of that is the amount of track time I'll have, figuring out the bumps, what they are doing, how they've changed, if any, and how our car handling is set up for them. I'm usually better when I have these opportunities to run back-to-back, so this type of schedule works well. It's a full weekend and it will be hot, but it will benefit us."
But while drivers at Kentucky on Saturday will either be trying to break into the track's victory lane or make a return visit, one familiar face will be absent -- Bobby Labonte. For the remainder of the season, Labonte is sharing his seat in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota with A.J. Allmendinger. Allmendinger is slated to be in the car at Kentucky.
The Kentucky race will be Allmendinger's second start in the No. 47, as he also raced it at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago. But that weekend, Labonte got a ride in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. This weekend, though, Labonte turned down what opportunities he had to drive for someone else.
"I will not be racing this week," Labonte said. "It is disappointing the way it is happening. I have had a couple offers this morning, but I have declined them, because I don't want anybody else that has an opportunity to do what I do, what they love, to have to sit on the sidelines for my sake."
Therefore, the Quaker State 400 will be the first Sprint Cup race without Bobby Labonte since the end of the 1992 season. It'll snap a streak of 704-straight race starts for the veteran driver. It'll also be the first race since late 1978 without a single Labonte in the race field, going back to when older brother Terry Labonte was a series regular.