Kyle Busch back on track headed to Ken­tucky

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - Staff RE­PORT

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

For the first time in a long time, Kyle Busch looked mor­tal.

Rid­ing a streak of 14 top­five fin­ishes in 17 races dat­ing back to last year – a stretch that in­cluded four wins – the de­fend­ing NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries cham­pion delved into a four­race tail­spin in which he placed no bet­ter than 30th be­gin­ning at Dover (30th) and capped off with a 40th at Michi­gan.

De­spite the set­back, Busch seems back to his old ways fol­low­ing per­for­mances of sev­enth and sec­ond at Sonoma and Day­tona, re­spec­tively.

On Saturday, Busch will vie for his fourth vic­tory of the sea­son in Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Ken­tucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) where he is the de­fend­ing win­ner and ranks tied with Brad Ke­selowski for first on the all-time list with two tri­umphs.

“We left Michi­gan with a DNF and headed to the test there in Ken­tucky, but Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys weren’t dis­cour­aged,” Busch said of his cold streak. “We had run well, we just didn’t have any luck.”

Sta­tis­ti­cally, Busch is the top com­peti­tor at Ken­tucky. He leads all ac­tive driv­ers at the 1.5-mile track in driver rat­ing (129.1), av­er­age fin­ish (3.8), av­er­age run­ning po­si­tion (4.6) and laps led (437).

Past suc­cess might not be the best in­di­ca­tor of per­for­mance in Saturday’s race since Ken­tucky un­der­went a repave in the off­sea­son.

“As for this weekend, there’s just a lot of un­knowns go­ing there with the repave and it’s es­sen­tially like go­ing to a com­pletely dif­fer­ent venue,” Busch said. “At the same time, our cars are fast with this 18 M&M’S team, we can run up front, and we can fin­ish in the top-five in ev­ery race. We’ve just had some bad luck that has kept us from some other good fin­ishes. Those fin­ishes are frus­trat­ing, but I feel a bit bet­ter know­ing that we have fast cars and are ca­pa­ble of fin­ish­ing in the top-five ev­ery week.”

Gaughan goes for an­other win in The Blue­grass State

Bren­dan Gaughan ex­pressed mixed emo­tions about this off­sea­son’s repave of Ken­tucky Speedway – his top track on the NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries cir­cuit.

“We loved the old sur­face and the bumps, but it did need the resur­fac­ing,” Gaughan said. “They did re­con­fig­ure Turns 1 and 2 which bums me out a lit­tle bit. Turns 3 and 4 are some of my fa­vorite cor­ners. It’s the old school mile-and-ahalf; flat, dif­fi­cult and re­ally tough to get around with the speed we carry. They kept the bank­ing along there, so I am re­ally happy about that.”

Gaughan will get to see if he still en­joys Ken­tucky – sta­tis­ti­cally his top track – in Fri­day’s Alsco 300 at the 1.5mile oval (8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

In seven Ken­tucky starts, Gaughan has never fin­ished out­side the top nine. He logged one of his two ca­reer NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries wins in the Blue­grass State in 2014.

A vir­tual shoe-in for the NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries Chase at fifth in the point stand­ings (115 points above Ross Chas­tain on the cutoff line), Gaughan be­lieves he can start pil­ing up some wins.

“I think Richard Chil­dress Rac­ing con­tin­ues to pro­vide us with the equip­ment we need to re­turn to Vic­tory Lane each and ev­ery week,” he said.

Rhodes read­ies to make Chase in home track de­but

NASCAR Next alum­nus Ben Rhodes is be­gin­ning to show the po­ten­tial he dis­played when he won five races on his path to the NASCAR K&N Pro Se­ries East cham­pi­onship in 2014.

Fol­low­ing a bumpy 2015 sea­son as a part-timer in the NASCAR XFIN­ITY Se­ries, and an un­even start to his first full-time NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries cam­paign this sea­son, the 19-year-old ThorS­port Rac­ing driver has produced ca­reer-best fin­ishes in his last two starts – a fourth­place show­ing at Iowa and run­ner-up re­sult at Gate­way.

Rhodes will try to fur­ther im­prove by go­ing for a win in his de­but race at his home­town track of Ken­tucky Speedway – Thurs­day’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

“I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to the truck race at Ken­tucky Speedway,” Rhodes said. “This is my home track and hav­ing the con­fi­dence of th­ese two great fin­ishes in my back pocket makes the ex­pe­ri­ence even more en­joy­able.”

Rhodes is cur­rently 10th on the NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries Chase Grid, a mere 11 points be­hind Ben Kennedy on the cutoff line. A win would vir­tu­ally as­sure him a spot in the eight-driver, seven-race play­offs.

“If I were able to get my first win at Ken­tucky Speedway Thurs­day, it would mean so much to me, I’m not re­ally even able to put it in words,” Rhodes said. “If it does hap­pen, they bet­ter be ready be­cause we’ll will have a huge crowd there sup­port­ing us through it all.”


NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch an­swers ques­tions dur­ing the test­ing at Ken­tucky Speedway on June 13, 2016.

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