Stat breakdown: ‘The Big 3’ vs. field at 1.5-mile tracks

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Let us know if you’ve heard this one before: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are really good at 1.5-mile tracks.

It’s just part of the narrative that surrounds the Cup drivers who have been dubbed the “Big 3” through the first 18 races of the season.

In the six races held at 1.5-mile tracks so far, Harvick and Busch have split the wins evenly at three.

That’s the fewest different winners through six 1.5-mile races ever. The previous low was three in 1998 and 2013.

Truex, who won a series-record seven races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2017, has finished in the top five in all but one (Texas, DNF).

Despite a victory on a 1.5-miler not being among his three wins this season, Truex still has won five of the last 12, including his win in last year’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

With help from Racing Insights, here’s a deeper look at how the “Big 3” are performing at intermediate tracks this year compared to the rest of the competition.

1.5-mile track lap leaders 2018 (over 50 laps)
Kevin Harvick 600*
Kyle Busch 571*
Kurt Busch 112
Kyle Larson 108
Ryan Blaney 74
Aric Almirola 70
Erik Jones 64
Brad Keselowski 56

*Harvick and Kyle Busch have led 63 percent of the laps on 1.5-mile tracks in 2018. Truex has only led 20 laps. He had led 536 laps entering Kentucky last year.

Busch has won three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks and finished in the top 10 in the last seven races, matching his career longest streak.

Busch is the only driver this season to finish in the top 10 in all six 1.5-mile races.

Here’s how Busch and Harvick match up head-to-head at 1.5-mile tracks so far.

 

The series heads to Kentucky Speedway, a 1.5-mile track, this weekend.

Truex claimed the win there last year over Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott.

Busch’s lone win there came in 2015.

As for Harvick, Kentucky stands as one of the two active tracks he’s raced at in Cup without scoring a win. It’s the only active track he hasn’t even finished in the top five at. His best finish in seven starts there is seventh in 2014.

Now here’s a look at who could impede the “Big 3” from visiting Victory Lane Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Brad Keselowski

If anyone owns the track in Sparta, Kentucky, it’s Keselowski.

The Team Penske driver leads the series with three Kentucky wins.

In fact, since his first start there in 2011, Keselowski has never gone more than a year without winning at Kentucky. On the flip side, his three wins represent his only top fives there.

Through six 1.5-mile races this season, Keselowski has two top fives, a runner-up at Atlanta to Harvick and a fourth in the Coke 600.

Kyle Larson

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver doesn’t necessarily need to win Saturday, but he probably doesn’t want to finish second.

Larson has finished second four times this season without a win, leading all drivers. Only one of those, in the dramatic finish two weeks ago at Chicagoland, was at a 1.5-mile track. He’s placed in the top five in two other 1.5-mile races (Kansas, Las Vegas).

In 53 starts on 1.5-mile tracks, Larson has seven runner-up finishes without a win, an all-time high.

All seven of those second-place finishes have been at different tracks.

His runner-up finish at Kentucky last year is his only finish better than 19th there.

Larson is one of nine drivers who won in 2017 who have not this season.

Should Larson finally breakthrough Saturday, he would deliver Chevrolet its first Cup win at Kentucky. It’s the only active Cup track Chevy has not won at.

What’s working against anyone wanting to get their first win this season and chip away at the “Big 3”?

History.

In seven races held in Kentucky, no driver has ever earned their first win of the season there.

Kevin Harvick: ‘We’re better than Truex’ on 1.5-mile tracks

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FORT WORTH, Texas – In case you missed the memo, Kevin Harvick has won three of the past four races at 1.5-mile tracks in NASCAR’s premier series. He outdueled last year’s 1.5-mile maestro, defending series champion Martin Truex Jr., on the last trip to Texas Motor Speedway. He’s undefeated on that layout this season.

So does Harvick feel his No. 4 Ford is right with Truex’s No. 78 Toyota (which notched a record seven wins on 1.5-mile tracks last year) entering Sunday’s race O’Reilly 500?

“That seems like a self-answering question,” Harvick said with a chuckle during a Friday morning news conference. “Did you have to ask that question to figure it out?”

OK, so you feel you’re right there with Truex?

“We’re better than Truex,” Harvick smiled again.

Harvick, who has wins at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway this year since outdueling Truex with a pass for the lead with 10 laps remaining here last November, said it’s simply been a matter of Stewart-Haas Racing finding its footing with Ford (it switched to the manufacturer last year).

Since being paired with crew chief Rodney Childers, Harvick had some of the best Cup results on 1.5-mile ovals (four wins from 2014-16) aside from a brief dip last year as the team got acclimated to the Fusion.

“We have, in my opinion, the most stable team in the garage,” Harvick said. “When you have the most stable team in the garage from a financial standpoint (and) a manufacturer standpoint, that attracts good people.

“In the end, it’s all about good people. We have a very committed manufacturer and ownership group, and we’re just the drivers lucky enough to be in the position where SHR is right now. We have a very solid foundation which I believe in this day and age is something to hang your hat on.

“The commitment (co-owner) Gene (Haas) makes from a financial standpoint, the stability of the company is never in question because of a few races that aren’t sold here and there. As you look at that long-term commitment that Ford made, Gene’s commitment just building the team and keeping it where it’s at and then you start putting in people in different places, and they wind up having been there for a number of years, that makes a big difference. Because people on the outside see that. When people see they can work somewhere for a long time and don’t have to worry about their job, that makes a difference when you’re trying to hire people.”