After a historic weekend in Daytona, NASCAR travels to the bluegrass state and Kentucky Speedway for round 19 of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Here's what we're watching for on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400 (7:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN).
Kentucky Speedway: 1.5-mile tri-oval in Sparta, Ky.
Race information: 267 laps, 400.5 miles
Stage lengths: 80 laps, 80 laps, 107 laps
Defending winner: Martin Truex Jr.
Most wins: Brad Keselowski (3)
Thursday, July 11
9:35 – 10:25 a.m. – Truck practice (No TV)
11:05 – 11:55 a.m. – Final Truck practice (No TV)
3:05 – 3:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
4:05 p.m. – Truck Series qualifying; single truck/one lap (FS1)
6 – 6:50 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
7:30 p.m. – Buckle Up in Your Truck 225; 150 laps/225 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Friday, July 12
11:35 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN)
1:35 – 2:25 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN)
4:15 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single car/one lap (NBCSN)
6:05 p.m. – Cup qualifying/impound; single car/one lap (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
7:30 p.m. – Alsco 300; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Saturday, July 13
7:30 p.m. – Quaker State 400; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
What Haley's Upset Means
A few days removed from the biggest upset in NASCAR history, the stock car world is still buzzing following Justin Haley's shocking victory.
Call it a fluke, call it luck, call it whatever you want. That doesn't change the fact that Haley and the No. 77 Spire Motorsports team are the ones who left Daytona International Speedway with the check and the trophy.
The win had some bigger implications for the 20-year-old, who felt as if he was owed one following a questionable penalty in last season's summer Daytona race in the Xfinity Series, and came home runner-up in this year's NXS event.
Love me or hate me, I’ve got the 2 most controversial finishes at Daytona, maybe ever. As long as y’all are talking, I don’t mind. Just trying to make a name for myself. 👊🏼— Justin Haley (@Justin_Haley_) July 9, 2019
Much of the talk has been surrounding Spire Motorsports, a new team who purchased the charter of now defunt Furniture Row Racing for a reported amount of $6 million. Spire Sports & Entertainment, an organization that represents a number of drivers across all three national series. Haley is represented by Spire, and drives the No. 77 car on a limited basis because he pays the agency to represent him.
The win from Spire is being looked at as a conflict of interest by some. Examples have been crafted of MLB superagent Scott Boras to buy a team or Jay-Z being forced to sell his ownership stake in the Nets when Roc Nation Sports came into existence.
Can Hendrick Take The Next Step?
The once mighty and powerful organization of Hendrick Motorsports has fallen back to earth in recent years.
But after a rough patch, the team may be on it's final step back to the top of the NASCAR mountain. Key word: may.
Sure, two of their four drivers have won this season in Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, with reigning Rookie of the Year William Byron coming off a career-best finish of second and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has scored back-to-back top five finishes for the first time in 2019.
But all four drivers and team owner Rick Hendrick will tell you that there is still much more to gain in order to catch up to the likes of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Long run speed over multiple weeks with all four cars, Johnson snapping the longest winless drought of his career and Byron earning his first career win would go a long way in helping return HMS to the top.
More Of The Same?
15 of the 18 races this season have been won by either Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske. They're that far ahead of the pack in 2019.
The other three have been won by Hendrick Motorsports (Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman) as well as the upset victory by Justin Haley. Three of the four JGR drivers and two of the three Penske drivers have won (Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney being the odd drivers out) and all those cars have been running well consistently throughout long green flag runs this season.
The likes of Stewart-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Richard Childress Racing, etc. have yet to earn checkerd flags, with Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer still winless. Although most of those notbale winless drivers are in good shape playoff position wise, a win would go a long way in dethroning Penske and Gibbs atop the NASCAR throne this year.
Next week, NASCAR heads to the granite state and New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 on Sunday, July 21 at 3 p.m. EST on NBCSN.