Most figured that NASCAR’s decision to reduce the horsepower and add downforce to the Cup cars would create a little more competition at the top level of the sport. After a bit of a slow start, we’re finally seeing some new faces emerge at the front of the pack.
So who has the speed and the momentum heading into the Bluegrass State? Here’s what the numbers say.
Coming off of a strong Chicago race, you’ve got to start with Hendrick Motorsports. Each of Rick Hendrick’s four entries spent time inside of the top three positions in the Windy City, perhaps signaling real signs of life for the remainder of 2019.
Chase Elliott has carried the flag for the organization over the last two seasons, but a new organizational leader has emerged over the last two months.
It’s Alex Bowman. Over the last six 550 horsepower races (excluding Daytona and Talladega), Bowman has led the 4th most laps while turning the 3rd most fast laps at the Cup Series level. That’s more than Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.
Bowman’s speed has been backed up time and time again with strong showings at Dover, Kansas and Chicago.
It feels strange to say, but you’ve got to put Bowman near the top of the list of favorites as we head into Kentucky.
Is it possible to be red-hot without winning a race? If it is, then Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers are red-hot.
Harvick dominated the first two stages in Chicago before getting into the wall and losing track position late in the going. They’ve led the most laps on the intermediates, dating all the way back to Texas earlier this season.
Harvick could have (should have) found victory lane at Kansas, but a windshield tear-off landed on the nose of the No. 4 Mustang, forcing Harvick down pit road. It’s been that kind of season for him to this point.
You can even point to the all-star race where multiple mistakes on pit road cost Harvick the lead and the win late in the going.
His win is coming — He’s leading too many laps not to find victory lane. It may just come on Saturday at Kentucky.
Looking for a sleeper entering the weekend? Look no further than Erik Jones, who has been quietly performing as a top seven car.
In similar conditions (new pavement, traction compound) at Texas this spring, Jones showed up with the lead in the closing stages of the race. He lost the lead on pit road, giving way to Denny Hamlin for the win. Backing up that run was a solid third place run at Kansas. Jones ran into trouble early at Charlotte, then saw his top five finish at Michigan fall apart after a cut tire.
It’s been feast or famine for Jones, but he’s been a contender with the lower horsepower package. Now he just needs a little bit of luck to break his way.
Logano had a really quiet day at Chicago, but still managed to come away with a top three finish after starting deep in the field. He didn’t have race winning speed there, but you’ll rarely see this group run worse than the fringe of the top five.
Logano won in Michigan a few weeks back in dominating fashion. On a shorter, but similar one groove track in Kentucky, can Joey do that again? It’s likely going to be a different style of race, but the No. 22 team has had the pace to win all year long.