Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
Since the inception of the Chase for the Sprint Cup format, the 10 races immediately preceding the start of the Chase has become known as the Race for the Chase. That 10-race stretch gets underway this weekend with the Saturday night Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Kentucky Speedway.
With the Chase looming, drivers are out looking for wins. For drivers comfortably within the top-10 in points, racking up wins translates into racking up bonus points with which to start the Chase. For those outside the top-10, wins are what it's going to take to even get into the Chase.
Ever since I ran my first Nationwide race there back in 2008, I’ve just had a pretty good knack for Kentucky.
As was the case last year, two wild car spots are up for grabs, going to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most race wins.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, No. 18 Toyota driver Kyle Busch and No. 20 Toyota wheel man Joey Logano, along with Ryan Newman in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet are tied with a single win apiece among drivers 11th through 20th in the points standings.
Busch and Newman head into Kentucky listed as being in the provisional wild card spots, with the tie breaker being points. But a win for any one of the aforementioned drivers would vault him to the head of the wild card class. Not to mention, a win by any other driver between 11th and 20th would create a five-way tie, so to speak, for wild card honors.
Needless to say, there's a lot on the line for a lot of drivers come Saturday night.
Kentucky Speedway has only played host to the Sprint Cup Series once before, with Busch driving the No. 18 to victory lane after last year's Quaker State 400 after leading nearly half the race.
"Last year, we were really fast at Kentucky," Busch said. "We unloaded really well and we were quick. It was a great race for us."
Busch may be the only previous Kentucky Speedway winner heading into the weekend's race, but it could be argued that he's not even the most successful JGR driver in the Bluegrass State.
Sprint Cup racing aside, Logano is a regular in Kentucky's victory lane. In only four Nationwide Series starts at the track, Logano has three wins -- three straight between 2008 and 2010. He also has three poles in those four races. Needless to say, Logano knows how to get around Kentucky Speedway.
"I enjoy the track and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of success there over the last couple of years in the Nationwide Series," Logano said. "It’s one of those places that you just take to. Ever since I ran my first Nationwide race there back in 2008, I’ve just had a pretty good knack for Kentucky. Then when the Sprint Cup Series finally came to the track last year, I thought we’d have a pretty good showing considering our track record there and we ran decent and finished in the top-15. But I’m really looking for bigger and better things this time around."
But then again, this is the Sprint Cup Series, not the Nationwide Series. Still, Logano has proven that he can win at Kentucky, and he reminded fans that he could be victorious at the Sprint Cup level just a few weeks ago.
Busch and Logano may be among the favorites come Saturday night, but there are several drivers with a lot on the line heading into this race weekend, especially if they're looking ahead to the "postseason."
Besides, they're not the only wild card hopefuls -- or drivers still with hopes of cracking the top-10 -- to make at least a visit or two to Kentucky's victory lane.
“I look forward to going to Kentucky," Newman said. "I was one of the first people to win at Kentucky Speedway back in the ARCA series when they opened the place up in 2000. I think it was actually the track’s third race at that point or something like that. I started on the pole, led a lot of laps and ended up winning the race, which was a pretty big feather in our cap at that point in time. It was my third start for Penske Racing in the ARCA series and I ended up getting my first pole and my second win. So it was a pretty big deal for me and that team at that point in time. Then, going back to Kentucky last year for the first time was pretty cool for me. And for us to have such a good run there made it even better.”
Then there's Edwards. He has both a Nationwide win and a Camping World Truck Series win in the Bluegrass State.
"I had my first win in NASCAR there in the truck series in 2003," Edwards said. "It is huge for me to be able to go back there and have the opportunity to run in the Cup Series and get a win there. We had one Nationwide win there as well and I really like that place. It has character and the fans are wound up so it’s a lot of fun.”
When you consider that the Sprint Cup Series is still new to Kentucky Speedway, it's hard to really pin point or guess as to who all the favorites may be. But it is still worth noting that, despite only one Sprint Cup race in the history book for the track, several drivers who'll be racing there on Saturday have won there.