(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

NASCAR Stat Sheet: Surprises in Kentucky

Kentucky Speedway hosted four NASCAR national touring series races this weekend, and, it was, uh, something.

Overall, not a good weekend on the racetrack. The current Cup Series aerodynamic package — high downforce, low horsepower — is frustrating, the Xfinity Series, which has produced great racing this season couldn’t live up to its own standards and the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race was over before it started (thanks, Mother Nature).

But though the four races were lackluster at best, there were surprises… everywhere! And who doesn’t love a good story?

25

“WHERE ARE THE BEERS,” Cole Custer tweeted at 7:04 p.m. ET on Sunday (July 12). I was thinking the same thing watching the Quaker State 400.

But while I personally didn’t enjoy the action the entire weekend, Sunday’s two-lap dash to the finish was thrilling. Custer, who restarted sixth, made a four-wide move coming to the white flag, clearing Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney by turn 1. Ballsy move from a rookie driver.

Custer led the final mile of the race, leading to his first Cup win in just his 20th start. Self-admittedly, the California native was surprised following the race.

Entering the weekend, Custer sat 25th in the championship standings, surely needing a victory to secure a postseason berth. The No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team had just two top-10 finishes through the opening 16 races of the season, but in the current points format, all a team needs is to put one full race together to clinch a spot. That’s exactly what Custer did, now sitting tied for 20th in points, all-but-guaranteed into the postseason. Cheers!

218

Over the past month of the season, there’s no doubt Harvick and Denny Hamlin have collectively been the best drivers. But Aric Almirola is making his case to be third on the list.

Since he rounded out the top five at Homestead-Miami Speedway six races ago, Almirola has been on a tear, which included a career-best five consecutive top-five finishes and an eighth-place result at Kentucky. Given the No. 10 team had a best finish of eighth through the first 11 races of the season, the last six have been a surprise, coming at some of his worst tracks on the schedule.

On Sunday, the No. 10 was fast, yet again, leading a career-high 128 laps. In clean air, that Ford would soar, stretching the lead to over five seconds multiple times. That’s a fast hot rod.

Entering the race, Almirola had paced the field for just 90 laps in the opening 16 races of the season. Sunday’s breakthrough race wasn’t all that surprising given the recent numbers, but Almirola has now led 218 laps in 2020, his new personal best for a single season. Next step: victory lane.

171

From this year to last, Austin Cindric has improved a great deal in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series. That continued in a couple of doozers on Thursday and Friday (July 9-10).

Like the Cup race, clean air was king in the Xfinity doubleheader, a series that has proven you can pass the leader consistently throughout a race. Ultimately, that wasn’t the case this weekend.

In the first Kentucky race, Noah Gragson dominated, though it seemed like Cindric had the best car. Enter clean air, which wouldn’t allow the No. 22 past the No. 9 until Cindric took the lead on a lap 95 restart from the outside of the second row. He would lead 41 of the final 42 laps en route to his first victory on an oval.

In Kentucky II, Cindric backed up his performance from the night before, even with a 15th-place starting position. While other cars struggled in traffic, the No. 22 rocketed through the field, taking the lead for the first time on lap 62. He went on to pace the field for the next 87 laps. Cindric ended the night in victory lane for the second straight night, leading a career-best 130 laps.

Over the two nights, Cindric led 171 laps, proving that he can indeed win on ovals. The old adage of one win can lead to multiple was proven by the No. 22 team. Expect many more checkered flags over the second half of the season for the third-year driver.

8

If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that Mike Harmon Racing scored a top-10 finish, with an additional four top-15s through the first 15 races of the season I would have given you my money on the spot. No chance in hell.

Surely, I was wrong. Kyle Weatherman had a career day in the opening night of Kentucky Speedweek, finishing eighth. EIGHTH!

Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago MHR was missing races consistently at the Xfinity level. At times, there were rumblings of a possible team shut down because of the cost in which it takes to run a business in NASCAR, even in the back half of the garage. Good thing that didn’t happen for both the team and the series, which had struggled with numbers.

Weatherman’s performance on an intermediate track was indeed a good surprise. The No. 47 Chevrolet ran inside the top 15 for much of the 200-mile race. Unfortunately, he backed that up by wrecking out on the opening lap Friday, but he was riding a wave of three straight top 15s which is the first time an MHR driver has done that in team history. Solid.

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Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

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One comment

  1. Avatar

    This low horsepower package is a disaster. Boring as hell.

    NASCAR, much like the federal government, has micromanaged machines tracks and men until nothing works the way it ought to.

    It is very sad. What was once a great sport is now a sorry fiasco.

    I’m through with it.