Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Under the Spotlight: Kentucky brings unexpected solid finishes

In what was just the second visit to Kentucky for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, there were several drivers who seemed to be able to navigate the 1.5-mile tri-oval with ease, pulling out unexpected performances.

With temperatures soaring above 100 degrees for the 2nd Annual Quaker State 400, the heat didn’t seem to deter a few drivers who pulled out solid performances during Saturday’s race – some earned their best finishes thus far in the season.

Casey Mears, driver of the No. 13 Ford for Germain Racing
finished the race at Kentucky in 18th.
Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR
Perhaps the biggest surprise performances were by Travis Kvapil and Casey Mears. Kvapil, driver of the No. 93 Burger King Toyota for BK Racing started Saturday’s race in 34th and improved 17 positions, crossing the finish line in 17th, ahead of several of the sport’s top drivers. Kvapil’s best finish at a 1.5-mile track prior to Kentucky was 25th at Kansas. Last year, the driver finished the Sprint Cup Series’ inaugural race at Kentucky in 29th after starting 27th. His overall best finish this season is a 16th-place in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega.

Mears, driver of the No. 13 Valvoline NextGen Ford, has officially locked his Germain Racing team in to the top-35 in owners points, which means a lot for the team who can now focus on their race trim rather than having to spend much of their time worrying about qualifying trim. Mears finished Saturday’s race at Kentucky in 18th after starting 21st. In the 2012 season, the driver has 12 top-25 finishes, with a season-high finish of 15th at the previous week’s race at Sonoma (where he started in 20th). Mears is currently ranked 28th in the standings.

Juan Pablo Montoya during practice at Sonoma.
Juan Pablo Montoya started the race in 31st and dealt with handling issues with his No. 42 Target Chevrolet from the very beginning. After a series of six pit stops to make adjustments, Montoya was able to advance 17 positions before crossing the finish line in 14th. The finish helped the driver move up one spot in the standings to 21st, 120 points out of the Chase – Montoya lost three spots after his 34th-place finish at Sonoma, so this week was a definite improvement. The driver has two top-10 finishes this season and an average finish of 19.7.

AJ Allmendinger also had an impressive performance at Kentucky, finished ninth at a track where he placed 28th last year. This is the driver’s second consecutive top-10 finish of the season. Prior to his ninth-place finish at Sonoma, Allmendinger had just one top-10 finish in the first 15 events. Currently ranked 23rd in the standings, the driver of the No. 22 Dodge has had several successful starts. Allmendinger took home the pole at Kansas and had two second-place starts at Martinsville and Bristol and a fourth-place start at Richmond.

The Sprint Cup Series will visit Daytona this weekend for the second race at the track this season. Of the drivers mentioned, Montoya has the best record at the track with two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 19.5.

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