By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore 48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the 11th straight week after Sonoma, but continued to see his once dominating points lead shrink even more. He leads second-ranked Carl Edwards by just 25 points and third-ranked Clint Bowyer by 45 points (Bowyer has gained 44 points on Johnson in the last two weeks). KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: Third in 2011. Finished sixth in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson almost immediately fell in love with Kentucky Speedway: he's started fifth and on the pole in the first two races, and finished third and sixth, respectively, as well. Here's his thoughts on Saturday night's race: "I love how much character that race track has. It's so rough. The groove moves around and you really are just trying to dodge the big swells and bumps to find grip for your race car. It's a track I've haven't had a lot of success at through Nationwide and even going there to test before my Cup career really started. We tested there a lot and I crashed all the time. When the race track was back on the schedule I got pretty nervous about things, but I've had a couple of good runs and look forward to going back." LOOKING BACK: Johnson struggled at times at Sonoma, but tried to keep up with the leaders ahead of him, ultimately finishing with a decent ninth-place showing. ETC.: Johnson has completed 100 percent (534) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is an outstanding 3.0, and his average finish is an equally outstanding 4.5. He has zero DNFs there. 99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained in second place for the eighth consecutive week after Sonoma. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 25 points and is 20 points ahead of third-ranked Clint Bowyer. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fifth in 2011. Was 20th in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards has been doing great thus far this season. The key is to continue what he's been doing, especially with 10 races remaining before the field for the Chase for the Sprint Cup is set. Another win would certainly help secure his place in the Chase, and a win at Kentucky would certainly be a big step towards that: "Kentucky is fun for three reasons: I have great memories of my first NASCAR win there in the Truck series, the track has bumps and character and the fans are passionate as any. We are proud to represent UPS this weekend and hopefully we can deliver them a victory." LOOKING BACK: Edwards continued his string of strong performances in recent races, finishing a surprisingly third in Sunday's race at Sonoma. Not bad for a guy who doesn't consider himself a road course racer. ETC.: Edwards has completed 99.8 percent (533) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is 16.0 and average finish is 12.5. He has zero DNFs there. 15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in third place for the fourth consecutive week after Sonoma. Bowyer is 45 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson (Bowyer has gained 44 points on Johnson in the last two weeks), trails second-ranked Carl Edwards by 20 points and leads fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick by 18 points. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 16th in last year's race. Was 35th (crashed) in the inaugural race at Kentucky in 2011. LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he appears comfortably locked into third place, Bowyer knows anything can happen in the next 10 races prior to the Chase for the Sprint Cup field being set. Here's his thoughts on the Chase: "It sucks not getting in (the Chase). It's so difficult, you and your team work so hard -- that makes your season. The Chase makes your season. Competing for a championship for your team, for your sponsors more than anything -- they want their car to be in that Chase because that's where all the limelight is. The pressure is unbelievable when you're on that hinge of making it or not making it. It's not a good feeling that I'd wish upon anybody. That's what makes the Chase so prestigious." LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had a good car and at times looked like he might win his second straight race at Sonoma, but ultimately wound up with a fifth-place finish. ETC.: Bowyer has completed 98.5 percent (526) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is 13.0 and average finish is a mediocre 25.5. He has one DNF there. 29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kevin Harvick remained in fourth place for the second straight week after Sonoma. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 63 points, is 18 points behind third-ranked Clint Bowyer and leads fifth-ranked Matt Kenseth by 29 points. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 11th in last year's race. Was 16th in the inaugural race in 2011. LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick just keeps plugging along this season, his final year with Richard Childress Racing before moving to Stewart Haas Racing for next season. Here's his thoughts on racing at Kentucky: "It's the newest, oldest track we go to. Kentucky Speedway is a place where our team felt like we needed to try some things, so we decided to test there a few weeks ago. We feel as though we made our car better from the information that we collected during the two days we spent there. We'll have to see what the weather is like when we go back, but hopefully we'll have a good baseline of where we need to be for the race." LOOKING BACK: Harvick has become a good road course driver over the years, so his 10th-place finish at Sonoma was not a big surprise at all. ETC.: Harvick has completed 100 percent (534) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is 11.5 and average finish is 13.5. He has zero DNFs there. 20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kenseth remained in fifth place for the second straight week after Sonoma. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 92 points, is 29 points behind fourth-ranked Kevin Harvick and leads the sixth-ranked tie between Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. by two points each. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Sixth in 2011. Finished seventh in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth has had strong back-to-back finishes in his first two Cup races at Kentucky Speedway. He's looking for an equally strong race there this Saturday: "I think anytime you go to a track that's either a home track or you have maybe your sponsor's headquarters close to there and the sponsors bring a lot of people out with the employees and such, I think it's always maybe more exciting if you win because you get to hang out with so many people. There are maybe more people there pulling for you. They are all big races and you want to win them all. They're all big, but certainly if you can win close to where some of your sponsors are then it's always a little more special." LOOKING BACK: Not known for his road racing prowess, Kenseth was actually having one of his stronger performances at Sonoma, but after a late race incident, wound up with a mediocre 19th-place finish. ETC.: Kenseth has completed 100 percent (534) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is 16.5 and average finish is an outstanding 6.5. He has zero DNFs there. 16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle continued his climb up the standings, having gained three spots after Pocono, two spots after Michigan and two more spots and into a tie for sixth-place with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Sonoma. The pair trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 94 points, is two points behind fifth-ranked Matt Kenseth and lead eighth-ranked Kyle Busch by 18 points. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 21st in both 2011 and 2012. Finished 21st in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle continues to ride a train of momentum, but he's hoping he doesn't get derailed at Kentucky like he has been the last two races there, finishing 21st in both. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Kentucky is a really fun, flat 1.5-mile track which creates lots of side-by-side racing. The sweeping corners, combined with the flat puts on a great race, plus Saturday night racing under the lights is always exciting. We've had some strong runs lately so I'm definitely looking forward to Kentucky." LOOKING BACK: Biffle continued his recent run of strong races, with a runner-up finish at Pocono, a win at Michigan and now an eighth-place finish at Sonoma. ETC.: Biffle has completed 99.8 percent (533) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is 16.0 and average finish is 21.0. He has zero DNFs there. 88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed one spot in the standings, from seventh and into a tie for sixth with Greg Biffle, after Sonoma. The pair trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 94 points, is two points behind fifth-ranked Matt Kenseth and lead eighth-ranked Kyle Busch by 18 points. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 1 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: fourth in last year's race. Finished 30th in the inaugural Sprint Cup race there in 2011. LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt did very well in last year's race at Kentucky, starting seventh and finishing fourth. He's looking for an equally strong finish this Saturday. A win would be even nicer: "Kentucky is a little rough, and the groove is not real distinct. So it lends itself to good side-by-side racing. The exit to Turn 4 is really, really wide so you just kind of play around and find a groove that works for you. Every time you change tires you kind of have to be ready to move around a little bit and find out where your car is fast and where that set of tires wants to run on the race track." LOOKING BACK: For a guy who doesn't consider himself much of a road course racer, Earnhardt had one of his better career performances at Sonoma, finishing 12th. ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 99.6 percent (532) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is 18.0 and average finish is 17.0. He has zero DNFs there. 18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: After climbing five spots in the previous three races, Kyle Busch dropped two places in the standings after Sonoma to eighth place. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 112 points (26 more than last week), is 18 points behind the sixth-place tie between Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and leads ninth-ranked Brad Keselowski by seven points. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 1 wins, 1 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 1 poles (and one outside pole). Best career finish: First in the inaugural Sprint Cup race there in 2011 (won from the pole). Finished 10th in last year's race. LOOKING AHEAD: The younger Busch brother was an immediate hit at Kentucky Speedway, starting from the pole and winning the inaugural race there two years ago. The 1.5-mile track has quickly become one of Busch's favorite tracks, particularly since he's won there in four different series: Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Camping World Trucks and ARCA. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "I can remember going there for the first time back in 2003 and it was my second-ever ARCA race and first time on a 1.5-mile oval. It was a big deal and it was a fast racetrack and I ended up winning that weekend. I had to do some maneuvering around Frank Kimmel to win. It wasn't easy. But since then, going there in Nationwide and being fast there every time, and going back to race when Sprint Cup didn't have a date, yet, just getting your feet wet for when that opportunity came when Sprint Cup did go there. When we went with the Cup car, we were fast right when we unloaded. Dave Rogers was my crew chief and he had won there several times as a Nationwide crew chief prior to that and had a lot of notes to understand what it took to get around Kentucky, and we ended up winning the first Cup race there." LOOKING BACK: It was not a good day for Busch at Sonoma. He struggled all season, had contact with a number of different drivers that dropped him further back in the field, and ultimately finished a disappointing 35th, the first car off the lead lap. ETC.: Busch has completed 100 percent (534) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is an almost incredible 1.5, while his average finish is a fantastic 5.5. He has zero DNFs there. 2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Defending Sprint Cup series champion Brad Keselowski remained in ninth place for the third consecutive week after Sonoma. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 119 points, is seven points behind eighth-ranked Kyle Busch and leads 10th-ranked Martin Truex Jr. by just one point. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 1 wins, 1 top-fives, 2 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in last year's race. Finished seventh in the inaugural Cup race there in 2011. LOOKING AHEAD: After a strong start to the season with two third-place and two fourth-place finishes in the first four races, Keselowski has struggled since then - and that's caused him to drop in the standings. More than anything, he needs a win, and given that he's defending winner at last year's race at Kentucky, could Saturday night finally be Keselowski's first win of the season? Here's his thoughts on the race: "Kentucky is such a rough racetrack and that just seems to fit my driving style. There aren't many of those tracks left on the schedule. The groove is very wide which comes with being an older surface. I feel like we could be sitting here as the two-time winner of this race, but we just weren't able to get it done two years ago. All of us on the Miller Lite Ford team have circled this race as one where we can jump back in the conversation of championship contenders because we have that much confidence at Kentucky." LOOKING BACK: After steadily improving on road courses, Keselowski had a rough outing at Sonoma, finishing 21st. Fortunately for him, however, several other leaders in the Sprint Cup standings also struggled, so he didn't lose his ninth-place ranking after Sonoma. ETC.: Keselowski has completed 100 percent (534) of the 534 total laps contested in two starts at Kentucky. His average start is an outstanding 7.0 and average finish is an even better 4.0. He has one DNF there. 56 MARTIN TRUEX, Jr., Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Martin Truex climbed three spots in the standings and into 10th place after his win Sunday at Sonoma. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 120 points, is one point behind ninth-ranked Brad Keselowski and leads 11th-ranked Paul Menard by eight points. KENTUCKY RECORD: 2 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-five, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Eighth in last year's race. Finished 18th in the inaugural Sprint Cup race there in 2011. LOOKING AHEAD: After winning at Sonoma this past Sunday, Truex attempts to go for two wins in a row. It couldn't come at a better time: he turns 33 on Saturday, as well. Here's his thoughts on Saturday's race: "Kentucky should be a good race for us. We had a really good run there last year. We finished eighth. Our 1.5-mile program has been really impressive this year. Daytona is a crapshoot. I love New Hampshire. Honestly, I think we can go anywhere and run well. I think our worst run of the year was a few weeks ago at Pocono. But we still felt like we could have left the place with a top-10 finish. Heck, if we can win at Sonoma, we can win anywhere as far as I am concerned." LOOKING BACK: Truex finally broke a winless streak that had reached 218 races with a win Sunday at Sonoma. To put that streak into perspective, his previous Cup win (and the first of his career) was in 2007 while with Dale Earnhardt Inc. Sunday's win was his first for Michael Waltrip Racing. ETC.: Truex has completed 100 percent (534) of the 534 total laps contested in two career starts at Kentucky. His average start is 13.0, and his average finish is also 13.0. He has zero DNFs there. 5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only eight points out of the top 10. Stands first in the wild card standings with one win. Gained one spot last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: Finished second last year. LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne said, "I wasn't a huge fan of that track (Kentucky) at first because it's so rough, wide and just kind of different as far as driving around the track. But I actually liked racing there in 2012. It's still rough, but it's a tough track, tough to get hold of. I'd like to run great there again this year and be upfront and contend for the win." LOOKING BACK: Kahne was all smiles after rallying in the final 30 laps to finish sixth at Sonoma. "We had a good day," said Kahne. "We came a long ways from Friday. The guys, Kenny (Francis, crew chief) and Keith (Rodden, team engineer) did a really nice job. That was one of the better cars I've had here late in the race. I was really happy with it. We needed the points. We have been pretty good, but we have been struggling to get points (in recent weeks as he dropped out of the top 10)." ETC.: Kahne feels the team needs another win to boost its chances of making the Chase. "We've been in the top 10 for most of the year before our recent run of bad luck," said Kahne. "And after Sonoma, we're leading the wild card standings. But I would feel a lot better with another win. If we can get another win, I think we would be in real good shape." 27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Tied for 11th with Kasey Kahne, only eight points out of the top 10. KENTUCKY RECORD: Finished 12th last year for his best finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said "Kentucky is a flat 1.5-mile track. It has high-frequency bumps and is really wide. It's a track with a lot of character and I enjoy going there. We tested at Kentucky a couple of days earlier this month and learned a lot. Hopefully the weather will be similar to our test session and we can apply that information to this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Menard rallied in the final 35 laps to finish 14th at Sonoma. "We struggled with handling early in the race with our Moen/Menards Chevrolet," said Menard. "The team worked hard and we were able to make some gains throughout the race with adjustments. The cautions didn't fall in our favor and we got caught off pit sequence from the leader. All in all, we'll take a top-15 finish at Sonoma and call it a decent day." ETC.: Ray Wright, the strength and conditioning coach and rear-tire carrier for the 27 team, has created Pit Stops for Poverty, a charity dedicated to helping end hunger in North Carolina. "It was shocking to learn how many people right here at home go to bed hungry at night," said Wright. "I started Pit Stops for Poverty to try and make a difference, and I'm thrilled that so many of the RCR teams have agreed to participate. Every dollar and can of food donated will help to end this crisis in our state." All donations go directly to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC. 24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 12 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: Has finished 10th and fifth in the two races. LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon said, "Prior to last year's race, I might have considered Kentucky to be one of my worst tracks. But we had a good car and a good run there last year - one that we want to improve upon. Hopefully, we can put it all together so we can check this one off the list." Kentucky is the lone track on the Sprint Cup schedule where Gordon is still looking for his first win. LOOKING BACK: The day didn't begin too well when Gordon was penalized for pitting under the caution flag on lap 25. The penalty dropped him to 35th in the running order. "Luckily we had a fast race car and stayed with our pit strategy and thing went our way," said Gordon after rallying to finish second. "We just had a really good race car and were able to drive up through there. That part was a lot of fun." ETC.: Gordon feels he and the team needs to "stop thinking about the points and start focusing on putting good finishes out there. We need to stop leaving the race track and going, 'Where are we, what do we have to do next week?' We're just going to go and push hard and perform and try to put more finishes like this (his second-place run at Sonoma) together. If we live up to our potential, and we don't get caught up in some of these silly things that we have been caught up in this year, there's no doubt in my mind that we can work out way into the top 10 (and qualify for the Chase)." 22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 14 points out of the top 10. KENTUCKY RECORD: 14th is his best finish in two starts. Has three wins in the Nationwide Series. LOOKING AHEAD: Logano said "I always loved Kentucky in the Nationwide Series. We always ran well there and the place is pretty special to me because I was able to get my first NNS win there. But once we started going there in the Cup Series, it seemed like the success didn't translate over. We just struggled with our cars there last two years. I hope we will have a better handle on it this year." LOOKING BACK: Logano was looking for his fifth straight top-10 finish, but came up just a bit short as he ended up 11th at Sonoma. But after the way the race started, Logano was quite pleased to get that close to a top-10 finish. "I was kind of disappointed at the beginning of the race because we were going backwards in a hurry," said Logano. "I couldn't get into the corner and couldn't get off the corner. We just had some braking issues and some chassis setup stuff, but the guys did a good job. They got the car better. From where we started today it was a good finish for us." ETC.: Logano doesn't agree with the opinion that he must win a race to have any chance of making the Chase. "Yes, we need to win, but I don't feel like that's our best chance," said Logano. "I do feel like we can have some solid finishes and work our way up into the top 10 in points. I really truly honestly feel like we can do that. Obviously, a win would help that a ton, but I don't feel like making it by points is out of reach by no means." 14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 20 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week to fall out of the top 10. Stands second in the wild card standing with one win. KENTUCKY RECORD: 12th is his best finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart said, "I guess the biggest thing about it (Kentucky Speedway) is for those of us who haven't run Nationwide or truck races there, we still only have two races at that track. So, we're still figuring it out. It's got a lot of bumps, so that makes it challenging. Trying to figure out exactly where to be, where to try to get around some of the bumps, how to get through them better, how to get the car to go through them better - those are challenges that kind of makes it fun, because it's not just flat and easy to get around." LOOKING BACK: Stewart seemed headed for a fifth straight top-10 finish when he ran into Jeff Burton with 18 laps to go. Later in the race, Stewart slammed into the back of Denny Hamlin. As a result, Stewart ended the day in 28th place. "Just too many mistakes today," said a subdued Stewart. ETC.: Even though things didn't go that well for the Stewart-Haas cars at Sonoma, Stewart still is convinced that the organization has turned the corner in its bid to be competitive week in and week out. "One off week - especially at a road course, doesn't mean we aren't heading in the right direction," said Stewart. "We feel good about the progress we have made in the last month or so." 43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 25 points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: Finished 26th last year. LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "Kentucky is an extremely rough race track so it makes it a really big challenge to get your car to get over all the bumps well. We really struggled with that last year, just trying to get our car to drive well and handle well over the bumps. I think that will continue to be the challenge when you go back there." LOOKING BACK: Despite being involved in a late-race accident, Almirola finished 20th at Sonoma. "You always want to have a finish better than 20th, but I was very proud to finish in the top-20 today," said Almirola. "I really think the test helped me feel more comfortable here this weekend. We raced up in the top-10 for a while there. It was just unfortunate the tires fell off so quickly at the end. We got some damage late in the race, but thankfully it didn't really hurt the car. I think we salvaged a decent finish at a track that is not one of my best." ETC.: Almirola and Farmland Foods donated $20,000 to the Redwood Empire Food Bank last week as part of an expanding effort by the company to raise awareness of the hunger issues around the country. "Our team is proud to partner with Farmland in fighting hunger," said Almirola. "Communities across the country are facing a growing hunger challenge." 78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet Team: Furniture Row Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 28 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: One top-nine finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "With the way the race lays out with so much practice time during the day, it's tough to figure out how to get the car dialed in for the night race. With all those variables plus being a bumpy race track, it leaves it wide open for who can find the right package to dial a car in. You have to build a lot of forgiveness into the car. The big thing for our Furniture Row/Sealy team is to continue our momentum from Sonoma and build on our point standing." LOOKING BACK: After leading 15 laps during the early portions of the race, Busch was caught speeding twice on pit road - the second time as he was serving his drive-through penalty for the first offense. As a result, he dropped to 38th and a lap down. But with a really fast car and a very aggressive driving style, Busch rallied to finish fourth. "Yeah, we were fast, even on pit road, twice," said a smiling Busch after the race. "I messed up, flat-out. I just put myself in that position trying to get too much on pit road. But man, this Furniture Row Chevy was fast. We had to battle hard. You've got to rub guys and move guys. I told the guys I'm sorry because I blew a pretty strong car and came home fourth with it." ETC.: Busch believes his team's association with Richard Childress Racing has benefited both groups. "It's vital to be teamed-up with a big program that's working behind the scenes on all the speed that they're trying to find," said Busch. "And then it blends over with the things that we have found and have distributed to Richard Childress Racing. They consider us a fourth car. It's great to see it all work." 39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 35 points out of the top 10. KENTUCKY RECORD: One top-four finish in two races. LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "I look forward to Kentucky. I was one of the first drivers to win at Kentucky back in the ARCA series when they opened the place up in 2000. I think it was actually the track's third race at that point or something like that. I started on the pole, led a lot of laps and ended up winning the race, which was a pretty big feather in our cap at that point in time. Then, going back to Kentucky for the first time with the Sprint Cup Series in 2011 was pretty cool for me. And for us to have such a good run (fourth) made it even better." LOOKING BACK: Newman battled throttle issues for the first half of the race before rallying to finish 15th at Sonoma. "I'm not really sure what was going on with the throttle sticking, but that definitely hurt us out there early in the race," said Newman. "I just couldn't drive the way I needed to. We didn't have the best Haas Automation Chevy this week but the guys worked hard and definitely made it better for the race today. We just would have liked to have made it even better." ETC.: Newman admits he needs a good run this weekend at Kentucky to get some momentum back in his bid to make the Chase. "Last year, we qualified fifth and had a good night going," said Newman. "But something blew up and when it did, it sent me into the wall and tore the race car up. We came into that race in a very similar position in that we needed to have a good run to regain some momentum. We didn't get the finish, but it was a good confidence booster for us. Hopefully we can apply some of what we've learned in the past and apply it to this weekend." 17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 47 points out of the top 10. KENTUCKY RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Finished ninth or better in three of his four Nationwide starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse said, "I love racing at night so I am excited to race at Kentucky under the lights. Kentucky is my style of track. It is a 1.5-mile rough track and it is close to home (Mississippi) so it will be good to see some family and friends. After a road course race, I am definitely ready to get back to an oval track. I feel strongly we can get our first top-10 finish at Kentucky." LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse, making his first start at Sonoma, finished 27th. "Road courses aren't my specialty," said Stenhouse. "Our main goal was to stay on the track and bring our car home in one piece and we did that. The guys gave me a strong Ford but I struggled on some of the turns. We have a lot of notes that we can come back with so it was a successful day." ETC.: Crew chief Scott Graves said the team feels it is "the strongest at 1.5-mile tracks" like Kentucky. But Graves is worried about the fact "we practice during the day and race at night so we will need to make sure we don't over adjust during those practice sessions. I feel if we can make our Ford better throughout the race and stay up front that we can leave Kentucky with our first top-10 finish of the season." 31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 50 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: 19th is his best finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Burton feels Kentucky is "pretty rough, much rougher than anywhere else we go. Atlanta is rough, but it is more of a wavy rough. Kentucky is just plain and simple rough with those big bumps. The grip level is not great either so you are sliding around a little bit, especially when the weather is hot. It's a challenge with the splitters on these cars." LOOKING BACK: Before the race, Burton had complained about the road-course races becoming too much of a wreck fest. While this was not the case Sunday, Burton was caught up in one of the few wrecks when he was hit from behind by Tony Stewart with only 18 laps to go. As a result, Burton went from battling for a top-10 finish to 31st. "I'm just really bummed out about what happened this afternoon," said an upset Burton. "We had a top-10 going and it was taken away from us. What made it worse was that we fought back from mechanical issues in practice on Friday and a poor qualifying effort on Saturday." ETC.: Burton believes the team has made "a lot of progress" in recent weeks. "We should have five straight top-15 finishes with three of them 11th or better," said Burton. "We were headed for another top-10 finish at Sonoma until we got run into. I think this will be another week to show much we have progressed. We had a good test at Kentucky a couple of weeks ago." 1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 58 points out of the top 10, only eight points out of the top 20. KENTUCKY RECORD: Finished 15th last year for his best finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "I am hoping that Kentucky Speedway is the place that we can try to turn the tide on some of the tough luck we have had the last several weeks. Our team has been really strong and we have had cars capable of top-five and top-10 finishes, but we just keep having issues that are eliminating us from those strong finishes." LOOKING BACK: After winning the pole, McMurray had high hopes for the weekend. But a flat right-front tire on lap 74 of the 110-lap event ended any thoughts McMurray had of challenging for a top-five finish. "A disappointing day for our team," said McMurray after his 25th-place finish. "We had a strong Cessna Chevy SS all day, but on that restart it felt like something may have broken on the car when we lost the right-front tire. It just wasn't meant to be today." ETC.: McMurray has stated repeatedly that he is not a big believer in bad luck. But he admits he is beginning to change his mind after some of the things that have happened to him this season. "For example, at Dover we were running in the top 10 and had something fall off another car go through the radiator," recalls McMurray. "I told my wife after Dover 'Christy, I don't believe in luck. I believe you make your own luck, but when something falls off someone else's car and it goes through your radiator, that's bad luck. I feel like we have been really unlucky lately, but our cars have been really good." 9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 73 points out of the top 10, 23 points out of the top 20. Gained one spot last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: Finished 13th last year for his best finish in two starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Kentucky is a track where I've had some special things happen in my career. Earning my first NASCAR pole in the Truck Series was really special. I will always associate Kentucky with that accomplishment. I have always had some good speed at the track and we race well there too. We look at what we did at Charlotte during the 600 where we finished tenth, and were in contention. Now, we just need to step it up a little and get a win." LOOKING BACK: Ambrose was regarded as the driver to beat before the green flag, and he led the first 18 laps. But for the second straight year, he was not as good as he needed to be on long runs. As a result, he finished seventh. "The weather cooled down a lot and we just didn't anticipate that when we set up car up and we just fought it all day," said Ambrose. "Again, we were pretty good for 10-odd laps, but we couldn't hold it on the long run. Of course, I wanted to win, and we needed to win, but that's the way it goes." ETC.: Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said, "As an organization, we're working hard on the mile-and-a-half tracks. We want to keep improving and hopefully we can compete for the win this weekend. We are in a position now that wins are important for us to be eligible for the Chase. I know Marcos can do it, and he knows we can do it. It's a matter of putting the pieces all together." 42 JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 82 points out of the top 10, 32 points out of the top 20. Lost one spot last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: Has finished 15th and 14th in the two races. LOOKING AHEAD: Montoya said, "Kentucky is one of the newest tracks on the schedule and one the Target team has been pretty decent at the last couple of times. That was the first place I ever tested a Cup car for Chip (Ganassi) so I have a lot of memories heading back to that track every year. It's always hot there and during the race, the track conditions will change a lot. You have to keep up with the handling and find the right balance otherwise you'll go straight to the back." LOOKING BACK: Montoya was running second as he got the white flag. But moments later he ran out of gas and was forced to coast around the 1.99-mile road course as he ended up 34th, losing 33 points in the process. Naturally, Montoya was upset with the turn of events. "We've got tools to prevent things like that from happening," said Montoya. "They (his crew) actually told me to go hard. They told me to go after the 56 (Martin Truex, Jr.) as hard as I could, and I was trying to do that. We took a second and made it into a 34th-place finish - again." ETC.: Montoya knows time is running out in his bid to make the Chase and that was the main reason he was so down after the Sonoma race. "We ran good again and threw away a bunch of points again," said Montoya. "This is what we've been doing all year. Half the reason we're 20-something in the points - we're not 20-something in points because we're not running fast. We're 20-something in points because we've had a lot of mechanical problems and days like this where we throw (a good day) away. I'm disappointed more than pissed." 11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 133 points out of the top 10, 83 points out of the top 20. Gained one spot last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: Finished third last year. LOOKING AHEAD: A year ago at Kentucky, Hamlin started third and led 58 laps before finishing third. This year, he hopes to lead the final lap. "We had a real good car last year, and if we can repeat that run, we'll have a good shot at it (the win)," said Hamlin. "We ran real well at Charlotte (finishing fourth), so we feel good about how we're going to run this weekend in the new (Gen-6) car." LOOKING BACK: It was another long day for Hamlin as he spun out twice, both times as a result of getting hit from behind. As a result, he was forced to settle for a 23rd-place finish as his hopes for making the Chase get dimmer and dimmer. "We're not running as strong as we need to," said Hamlin. "Missed the setup a couple weeks and had bad stuff happen. It's just frustrating. We can't seem to get a decent finish." ETC.: Hamlin admits to make the Chase in 2013 "I'd have to have a lot of stuff go my way, that's for sure." He has never missed the Chase. "We're not gaining anything on 20th. We need a lot of help and a lot of stuff to go our way, honestly. You have to earn it. You can't just expect other guys to make mistakes. But we are not giving up. We will continue to try to win every week, and if we can't to do all I can to get a good finish." 55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 26th, 139 points out of the top 10, 89 points out of the top 20. Lost two spots last week. KENTUCKY RECORD: Martin will skip the race this week with Brian Vickers driving the 55 car. Vickers finished 27th in his lone start. LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers said "from an aerial shot some people would say 'Gosh, Kentucky is just like Charlotte,' but no, it's not even close. You can't even run a single piece of the setup the same. Every track is unique and has its own character, and that's why we have so many different winners (at the 1.5-mile tracks)." LOOKING BACK: Vickers had to start last after spending the first part of the weekend at Road America where he finished sixth in the Nationwide race. But he was able to drive his way through the field to finish 13th at Sonoma. Vickers has finished in the top 15 in 11 of his 13 races in the 55 car. "We had an awesome car today," said Vickers. "We passed a ton of people. We are pleased with our 13th-place finish, but obviously not satisfied." ETC.: Vickers will become a University of Louisville basketball fan this weekend since his car will have a special paint scheme honoring the 2012-2013 national champions. "I'm a basketball fan," said Vickers. "By no means would I consider myself a basketball player, but I played a little bit when I was young, and I realized very quickly that I was not very good at it, and I moved on to racing. But I do enjoy getting out and shooting some."
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