- Brant James @brantjames USA TODAY Sports

Four story lines to watch heading into the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Quaker State 400 on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway. 1. This is Sparta now: Teams arrive at a Kentucky Speedway that is different and more mysterious than the 1.5miler that hosted five previous Cup races. Banking in Turns 1 and 2 has been increased from 14 to 17 degrees, and the track has been narrowed from 74 to 56 feet because of a pit road widening. A higher-speed entry into a flatter Turn 3 will be an immediate handling concern, driver Kevin Harvick said after a recent test. The surface has been repaved and slightly reconfigur­ed. NASCAR will use the same still-even-less downforce package that was assessed as another positive move if not the ultimate solution to incite passing last month at Michigan Internatio­nal Speedway. All these variables make it difficult to predict who will be strongest at Kentucky, especially considerin­g Goodyear has to adjust its tire compound after some teams experience­d blistering problems in the test. The Watkins Glen road course supposedly presents the only remaining wild card of the regular season, but Kentucky also might qualify.

2. Be nice: NASCAR executives continue to pursue a new title sponsor and the billion dollars it seeks to replace Sprint, which entered the sport as Nextel in 2004. Over the last two weeks, suitors were present at Sonoma Raceway and Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway, and sentiment has trickled from the halls of power to the garages that saying and doing really nice things about the industry as a whole would really, really benefit everyone. It will be interestin­g to see if the solidarity endures, especially if all those changes at Kentucky frustrate drivers. 3. Company man: Roger Penske says he’s “not a guy who throws a bunch of champagne around,” but he threw it around with vigor Saturday night when Brad Keselowski delivered the owner his 100th Cup win. Penske’s Verizon IndyCar Series drivers couldn’t produce what would have been a record 17th Indianapol­is 500 victory in the 50th year of Team Penske, but the NASCAR milestone was clearly special to Penske and allowed the goal-oriented team owner to immediatel­y focus on No. 200. It figures. Penske enjoys living vicariousl­y through the exploits of his drivers, and Keselowski’s company history-making has produced some signature out-of-character moments for him. Such was the case in 2012, when Penske celebrated Keselowski winning the team’s first Sprint Cup championsh­ip by keeping his driver’s huge pilsner glass brimming with sponsor beer. It will be interestin­g to see if the driver from Michigan and owner with business roots entrenched in Detroit form the type of long-term relationsh­ip that has kept fourtime Indianapol­is 500 winner Rick Mears with the team after his retirement, the type of relationsh­ip three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneve­s hopes for in retirement.

4. Another enemy: That Team Penske’s Joey Logano is one of the more lustily booed drivers in prerace introducti­ons is no surprise. He wins, at age 26, at the expense of other drivers — which is his job — and uses aggressive tactics that rankle his competitor­s. Kurt Busch, but more vocally, crew chief Tony Gibson, joined the roles of competitor­s with grievances Saturday after the No. 22 Ford sent Busch off the track and out of the top five in the final stretch.

4½. Halfway: The Kentucky race marks the halfway point of the 36-race Sprint Cup season, though the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup changes the way that marker is viewed.

 ??  ?? After a win last weekend at Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway, Brad Keselowski takes momentum to Kentucky Speedway.
After a win last weekend at Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway, Brad Keselowski takes momentum to Kentucky Speedway.

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