NASCAR is in the "Bluegrass State" this week, with all three of its national touring series running at Kentucky Speedway.
Sprint Cup Series
Quaker State 400 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, KY
The race to the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is on.
Saturday night's 400-miler at Kentucky Speedway begins a 10-race stretch that precedes the Sprint Cup Series playoffs. The Chase begins September 16 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Following Kentucky, the series will run at Daytona, New Hampshire, Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta before the regular season concludes on Sept. 8 at Richmond.
The top-10 in points after Richmond will qualify for the 12-driver Chase field. Positions 11 and 12 are wild cards, which go to the non-top-10 ranked drivers with the most wins, as long as they're ranked in the top-20 in points.
Right now, Brad Keselowski holds the 10th position in the rankings. Keselowski, with two wins so far this season, has an 11-point advantage over 11th-place Carl Edwards.
Last year, Edwards finished the season in a points tie with Tony Stewart, but Stewart won the series championship by virtue of his five wins -- all of them in the Chase -- compared to Edwards' one victory.
Edwards is hoping Kentucky is where he can return to his winning ways in the series. He has 19 career wins, but his last victory came in March 2011 at Las Vegas (49 races ago).
"(Kentucky) is a big race for us," Edwards said. "I had my first win in NASCAR there in the Truck Series in 2003. 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."
Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman are presently the top-two drivers in the wild card standings. Busch, who is 12th in points, and Newman, 13th, have one win each so far this season. Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne also have one victory apiece. Logano sits 15th in points and Kahne 17th.
"We're eligible for that wild card spot, but we know how vulnerable that spot can be, knowing anybody can rattle off two wins," said Busch, who won the April 28 race at Richmond. "We're ahead of the wild card race with only one win, but if Joey Logano or even a Ryan Newman or Kasey Kahne get another win, that bumps them up to the lead, and we'd be just barely hanging on by that last spot.
"We've got to get ourselves back into the top-10 where we're comfortable and we can try to win some more races to solidify our chances for the Chase."
Busch started on the pole and won last year's inaugural Sprint Cup race at Kentucky. He held off David Reutimann and Jimmie Johnson during a two-lap shootout to the finish. Busch dominated most of the event by leading 125 laps. He took the lead for the final time after a round of green-flag pit stops concluded with 11 laps to go.
"We had a lot of excitement," Busch said of last year's race at Kentucky. "Coming down to the end, there were four or five restarts in a row where the lead swapped between me, Keselowski and Johnson. I know Reutimann even got up there at the end."
After winning last Sunday's race on the road course at Sonoma, CA, Clint Bowyer moved up to two positions in points to seventh. Bowyer is in his first season with Michael Waltrip Racing, and he's on track to becoming the first driver from MWR to qualify for the Chase.
"I didn't run good (at Kentucky) last year and have to turn it around and run good there," Bowyer said. "It's a long road to hoe before the Chase. Everybody is in this sport because of the Chase, and you can't win a championship without being a part of that elite group."
Bowyer's teammate, Martin Truex Jr., is ninth in the standings (30 points ahead of Edwards). Truex has been among the top-10 in points since the second race of the season at Phoenix.
Truex and Kevin Harvick are those drivers currently in the top-10 that have yet to win a race this year. Harvick is sixth in points.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Quaker State 400.
Feed the Children 300 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, KY
Joey Logano is very much looking forward to Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway.
The 22-year-old Logano has been the hottest driver in the series so far this season, winning five times. He did not compete in last Saturday's road-course race at Road America, since the Sprint Cup Series was in Sonoma, CA.
Logano has won four of the last five Nationwide races he's entered. His winning momentum might very well continue at Kentucky, where he scored three victories in a row from 2008-10. Logano's streak there came to an end last year when he finished 10th.
"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," said Logano, who's first career Nationwide win came at Kentucky. "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."
Logano is expected to make his 100th career start in Nationwide at Kentucky. He is one of five Sprint Cup regulars competing in this race. Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, who is Logano's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are the others. Keselowski is the defending race winner.
Despite a 15th-place finish at Road America, Elliott Sadler remained atop the Nationwide point standings. He holds an 11-point advantage over second-place and Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon, who is a rookie in the series this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the defending Nationwide champion, is now 23 behind.
After finishing fifth at Road America, Sam Hornish Jr. moved to within 34 points of leader Sadler. Hornish, the three-time IndyCar Series champion, will compete in a Nationwide race at Kentucky for the first time.
"Kentucky has been a great track for me in the past, as I have a couple of IndyCar victories there," he said. "Just like last weekend, this will be my first time racing a Nationwide Series car at this track, so I am looking forward to another strong finish."
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Feed the Children 300.
Camping World Truck Series
UNOH 225 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, KY
Following a two-week break, the Camping World Truck Series resumes its 2012 schedule on Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway. The last race in the series was held on June 8 at Texas, where Johnny Sauter picked up the win.
Nelson Piquet Jr. has yet to win a Truck Series race, but last Saturday, Piquet claimed his first NASCAR victory by taking the checkered flag at the Road America road course. He became the first Brazilian to win a NASCAR national touring series event.
Piquet, a former Formula One competitor, has made 37 career starts in truck so far. He drove for Kevin Harvick Inc. during his 2011 rookie season but is now behind the wheel of the No. 30 truck for Turner Motorsports.
Now than Piquet has won a Nationwide race, is a victory in trucks right around the corner for him?
"I'm not going to say that (the win at Road America) didn't help me at all, but I didn't learn anything last weekend that would have helped me at Kentucky for example," Piquet said. "I think going back to my truck, going back to the program I was following before last week, just keep doing the job I was doing, learning and try to develop the truck."
Piquet is currently sixth in the Truck Series standings, as he trails leader Justin Lofton by 38 points. In April, Piquet captured his first pole in trucks at Rockingham, NC. He led a race-high 107 laps before a pit-road speeding penalty resulted in a seventh-place finish.
"Obviously this year, fighting for the (truck) championship, I think winning a race is going to make a big difference already," Piquet said. "But the goal this year will be fighting for the championship. I think if we win this championship, that obviously is going to mean a lot to me and to a lot of people."
James Buescher, who is Piquet's teammate, won the Nationwide season-opener in February at Daytona before claiming his first truck victory two months later at Kansas.
Piquet has an opportunity to become the eighth different winner in as many truck races this season.
Timothy Peters, Ty Dillon, Parker Kligerman, Matt Crafton, Joey Coulter and Ron Hornaday Jr. are the other drivers presently in the top-10 in points that have yet to win this year. Peters is just five points behind Lofton, while Dillon is 12 markers out of the lead.
Forty-two drivers are on the preliminary entry list for the UNOH 225. Brad Keselowski is the only Sprint Cup regular competing in this race. Keselowski is also scheduled to compete in Friday's Nationwide race at Kentucky.