Driv­ers aim to ex­pand win­ner’s club in Ken­tucky

Truex Jr., one of four to win de­mand­ing race, will start on the pole to­day


SPARTA, Ky. — Ken­tucky Speed­way’s win­ners club is seek­ing new mem­bers.

The big­gest challenge is a de­mand­ing screen­ing process.

Just four NASCAR Cup Series driv­ers have won the seven 400-mile events at the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Brad Ke­selowski and Kyle Busch have com­bined for five wins and were fa­vored here last July, but Martin Truex Jr. got the vic­tory on the way to the series cham­pi­onship. Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Cup cham­pion, won here in 2013.

Con­sid­er­ing how points leader Busch, sec­ond­place Kevin Har­vick — who has five con­sec­u­tive top10 Ken­tucky fin­ishes — and Truex have com­bined for 13 wins this sea­son, the Ken­tucky Speed­way club might stay the same tonight.

At the same time, Erik Jones’ vic­tory at Day­tona of­fers hope that a new face might emerge if ev­ery­thing falls right. Truex won the pole on Fri­day, but Jones joined him on the front row.

“We ran well here last year fin­ish­ing sixth and you can look back on your notes and say, ‘OK, this is what we did to get to this point,’ or that point and that makes things quite a bit eas­ier from a driver’s stand­point,” Jones said. “Just hav­ing that notebook men­tally and phys­i­cally has been a pretty big ad­van­tage.”

Busch, Jones’ team­mate with Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, has seven vic­to­ries across all three NASCAR na­tional series at Ken­tucky. He won most re­cently in 2015 on the way to the Cup ti­tle. He has the top driver rat­ing (125.9) at Ken­tucky, with two wins, five top-fives and six top-10s in the Cup races. And he en­ters tied with Har­vick with a sea­son-best five wins this sea­son.

Ke­selowski, mean­while, is look­ing to con­tinue his pat­tern at Ken­tucky in even-num­bered years, win­ning in 2012, ’14 and ’16.

“I didn’t know how many peo­ple be­lieved in nu­merol­ogy in this sport or in this world un­til I came to Ken­tucky this year,” Ke­selowski joked. “I’m not a nu­merol­ogy per­son, but I ap­pre­ci­ate those that are.”

Truex is look­ing for more of the same from last year, when he led 152 of 274 laps and won un­der cau­tion. He has won three times al­ready this sea­son and is just 120 points be­hind Busch in third place.

Truex se­cured his first Ken­tucky pole by clock­ing 188.890 mph in his No. 78 Toy­ota. Jones (188.739) will start se­cond, fol­lowed by Har­vick (188.547) and Ke­selowski (188.390) in Fords. Busch (188.206) qual­i­fied fifth.

“To be able to come here last year and get our first win at this track was huge,” Truex said. “We’ve been strong here the last cou­ple of years and hope­fully we can fig­ure out how to race up front again all night to­mor­row night and have a shot at win­ning at the end.”

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