SPARTA, Ky. (WTVQ) – In a state known for horsepower, it will be taken to the extreme this weekend by a talented group of steel jockeys in an unprecedented Thursday and Friday NASCAR XFINITY Series doubleheader at Kentucky Speedway.
Instead of thoroughbreds, drivers of these 700-horsepower NASCAR stock cars will take center stage at Thursday night’s Shady Rays 200 and Friday night’s Alsco 300. Both races will be covered by FS1, PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR radio starting at 8 p.m. ET.
The list of favorites starts with the JR Motorsports camp which had all four of its entries finish in the top 10 at last year’s Alsco 300.
Justin Allgaier heads the list of JR Motorsports drivers with four top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 13 previous Kentucky starts. It includes a current stretch of five straight top-10 finishes on the challenging 1.5-mile speedway.
Allgaier, who has posted six top 10s this season, including a seventh place finish at the most recent event in Indianapolis, is still searching for that first victory of the year. His two best finishes of the year have come at Darlington and Charlotte. He’s anxious to better his Alsco 300 finish from last year, which was a seventh-place effort.
“I thought we had a third or fourth-place car,” Allgaier said. “Unfortunately we had some mistakes on pit road and I sped getting onto pit road, which really hurt us. That’s the best mile-and-a-half that I feel like we’ve had speed-wise all year. It wasn’t the night we wanted, but still a solid finish and a good points night.”
His toughest competition could come from teammate Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet. The teammates clashed earlier this year when Gragson made contact with Allgaier at Bristol. Gragson sped on to the victory, while Allgaier ended up with a wrecked race car.
Gragson, who is currently second in points, has posted three victories this season, with eight top fives and 10 top-10s. Following his Bristol win, Gragson wasn’t asking for forgiveness afterwards, commenting that Allgaier “probably owes me one.”
“I don’t make excuses. I apologized to the 7 car, but I’m here to win races for the No. 9 team and they put in way too much effort for me to ride around and finish second,” Gragson said after the Bristol race.
The Chevy drivers will have to contend with a pair of really fast Ford Mustangs.
Austin Cindric, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, started from the pole for the 2019 race with a lap over 180 mph. He was running in the top five when his car got loose, made contact with another car and hit the wall. He ended with a 14th-place finish.
“Pretty disappointed in myself to not be able to capitalize on such a fast car, that we proved capable of running with the best in the series,” Cindric said. “Patience on my end was what cost us that chance to capitalize.”
The North Carolina driver looks to capitalize this time around. He has been strong on the mile-and-a-half tracks this season with runner-up finishes at Las Vegas and Homestead and a third-place finish at Charlotte. He finished fifth on the Indy road course this past weekend.
He will have to outrun red-hot Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 98 Stewart-Haas Ford and a teammate to 2019 Kentucky winner Cole Custer. Briscoe ran in the top 10 throughout last year’s race before finishing fifth.
Briscoe has provided many of the highlights of the 2020 season including an emotional victory at Darlington, where he outdueled defending Cup Series champion Kyle Busch for the win. Briscoe has scored five victories in the first 13 races, including the second race of a Homestead doubleheader. He has won two of the last three races, including victories at Pocono and Indianapolis this past weekend. Even so, he feels the season could be even better.
“The sad thing is that I feel like we could have more wins right now,” he said. “I felt we had the best car at the first Homestead race. Atlanta is another one that we threw away. Bristol and Daytona could have gone either way. I feel like we could have six wins out of 10. To have three is good.”
Harrison Burton, son of former Cup Series winner and current NBC analyst Jeff Burton, is another strong contender. Driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, he edged teammate Riley Herbst for the win at California.
More recently, Burton took advantage of a late caution to outrun Cindric for the win at Homestead. A true rookie in the XFINITY Series at Kentucky, he has raced at the track once before, coming back from a spin to finish third in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.
Ross Chastain has 15 starts in the three NASCAR national series at Kentucky. It includes a top-10 finish in his XFINITY Series debut at the track in 2014. Driving for Kaulig Racing, the team has been on a roll recently with wins by A.J. Allmendinger at Atlanta and Justin Haley at Talladega.
Kentucky Speedway holds significant memories for Chastain, whose fourth-place finish in 2019 qualified him for the Truck Series playoffs.
“It seemed crazy to accomplish,” he said. “Pretty cool to be disappointed with fourth, we definitely want more.”
The Kentucky Speedway race weekend includes an action-packed five events. In addition to the Xfinity Series doubleheader under the lights on Thursday and Friday, the drivers in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will headline the action Saturday with the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at 6 p.m. and will be preceded by the ARCA Menards Series General Tire 150 at 2:30 p.m. On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series stars will take to the track in the Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart, starting at 2:30 p.m. Each of those races will be televised live on FS1. PRN will broadcast the Cup and Xfinity Series races, while MRN will carry the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race.