Who’s hot, who’s not heading to Kentucky?

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NASCAR heads back to a 1.5-mile track this week for the last time before the playoffs begin in September.

With five of the 10 playoff races on 1.5-mile tracks, including the championship race in Miami, these venues are critical.

Jimmie Johnson has 28 wins on 1.5-mile tracks, the most in series history. He won at Texas earlier this year. Winners at the other 1.5-mile tracks this season have been: Brad Keselowski (Atlanta), Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas, Kansas) and Austin Dillon (Charlotte).

Here is a look at some of the drivers who are hot and those who are not heading into Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on NBCSN.

WHO IS HOT

Brad Keselowski

Finished 31st at Daytona (accident); led a race-high 35 laps and won stage one

Series-high nine top fives in 2017

Three Kentucky wins (2012, 2014 and 2016)

Started on the front row in the last three Kentucky races

Only one finish worse than sixth in the five 1.5 mile races this season

Kevin Harvick 

Finished 33rd at Daytona, accident

Won at Sonoma

Finished top 10 in eight of the last 11 races 

Finished top 10 in the last four races at Kentucky, best of 7th in 2014

Three poles on 1.5 mile tracks this season, four top-10 finishes

Jimmie Johnson

Finished 12th at Daytona

Top 10 finishes in all but one race at Kentucky, 32nd last year (accident from 10th on lap 32)

28 career 1.5 mile wins, most all-time

Kyle Larson

 Two wins this season, Auto Club Speedway and Michigan, leads the points

Finished top two in seven races this season

Finished top 10 in all but six of the 36 stages in 2017 (including Duel)

Best finish at Kentucky is 19th last year

Jamie McMurray

Finished 14th at Daytona

10 top 10 finishes of 2017, had only three at this point last year and 12 all of 2016

Finished runner-up at Kentucky in 2013, one of two top 10 finishes there, the other was seventh in 2016

WHO IS NOT

Ryan Blaney

Finished 26th at Daytona, scored points in both stages

Has not had back-to-back top 10 finishes this season

Scored his first career win at Pocono

Only one series start at Kentucky, finished 35th last year

Austin Dillon

Finished 36th at Daytona

Only two top 10 finishes this season, had eight at this point last year

Best Kentucky finish is 16th, twice

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Finished 32nd at Daytona after winning the pole, only led one lap

Nine finishes of 20th or worse in 2017

Two top 10 finishes at Kentucky in six starts, both top fives, best of fourth

Three 1.5 mile wins, last was Chicago in 2005

Joey Logano

Finished 35th at Daytona

Six top five finishes in the first nine races this season, only one in the last eight

Finished better than 12th only once in the last eight races of 2017

Won at Richmond but was encumbered

Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races at Kentucky, best of 2nd in 2015

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson won his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and will lead the field to the green flag for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. will line up alongside Larson on the front row.

Chase Elliott qualified third, the best of three Hendrick Motorsports drivers who advanced to the top 12. Jamie McMurray qualified fourth to place both Chip Ganassi Racing on the first two rows.

AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for full qualification results.

 

Kyle Larson wins pole for Sonoma Cup race

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Kyle Larson posted a lap of 94.597 mph to win the pole for Sunday’s Toyota/SaveMart 350. It was his second consecutive pole at Sonoma and the sixth of his career.

Larson beat Martin Truex Jr. (94.484 mph) by .090 seconds.

Chase Elliott (94.461), Jamie McMurray (94.227) and AJ Allmendinger (93.925) rounded out the top five. He was fastest in round one of qualification with a speed of 94.477 mph.

Hendrick Motorsports placed three of their drivers in the final round. Jimmie Johnson (93.824) qualified seventh. William Byron (93.756) qualified eighth. Alex Bowman (93.267) qualified 17th.

In his first race back since Matt Kenseth took over the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Trevor Bayne barely missed advancing to the final round. With a speed of 93.455 mph, he qualified 13th.

Clint Bowyer (93.252) was unable to back up his time from Friday’s practice and will roll off the grid 19th.

Click here for full qualification results.

For Clint Bowyer, Sonoma Raceway is a lot like Martinsville

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Clint Bowyer didn’t grow up road racing; he cut his teeth on dirt tracks in the Midwest. And yet, he had an immediate affinity for Sonoma Raceway. In his second start there, while driving for Richard Childress in 2007, he finished fourth.

In fact, Bowyer enters the Toyota/SaveMart 350 with seven top-five finishes in 12 starts that includes a runner-up finish in last year’s Sonoma race. If not for a couple of misfortunes (crash damage in 2010 and an electrical problem in 2016), he might well have swept the top 10 since scoring that first top five as a sophomore.

Perhaps the reason for that immediate success is that he considers Sonoma to be a twisted version of Martinsville Speedway – a track on which he won this March to snap a 190-race winless streak.

“I think you embrace this track and road racing in general just like you do Martinsville,” Bowyer said on Friday before heading out to put his No. 14 Ford at the top of the first practice speed chart. “Nobody shows up at Martinsville and goes to the top of the board and is fast and has success and navigates traffic to win that race right off the bat. It just doesn’t happen and it doesn’t happen here either.”

His Sonoma success has not translated to road courses in general, however.

Yes, Bowyer swept the top five on NASCAR’s two road courses last year, but the fifth-place finish he scored at Watkins Glen International was only the second of his career on a track that many drivers consider to be less technical than Sonoma. In 12 starts there, he has earned only five top 10s.

“Watkins Glen is so fast. It is just dive-bombs and you are really carrying a lot of speed at a place like Watkins Glen.

“Here, it is like that short track. It is like being at Martinsville. Did you see my car at the end of the race last year? It was destroyed. I drove up through and passed the field twice because of mistakes that we made and got spun out once. It was a wild race to be able to finish second. You can’t do that at Watkins Glen. That car wouldn’t have ran in the top 10 at Watkins Glen.”

Nine different drivers have won at Sonoma in the last nine races. Given the dominance of Harvick (who won last year) and Kyle Busch (the 2015 winner), many think they are the most likely to end that streak. But Bowyer also has an opportunity to end the streak of unique winners. He won the 2012 edition of this race by holding off Tony Stewart – the driver with the second-most road course wins in NASCAR history.

“You have to be able to have fun on this race track,” Bowyer said. “It is a challenge. Each and every corner is different. There is no perfect setup or perfect line. It is literally one of the only tracks you go to where you are out there racing and have a smile on your face. You might even get a chuckle.”