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Stephens: Five drivers who could use a win in Kentucky

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By Brad Stephens

NASCAR did Kentucky Speedway a favor when it announced its new points system during the last offseason.

The sport’s governing body altered the Chase for the Sprint Cup format for 2014, putting in place a system that pretty much guarantees the winner of any of the first 26 races one of 16 spots in the playoff-like final 10 races. The remaining slots not filled by race winners are filled in order of the point standings.

Saturday’s Quaker State 400 in Sparta starts a countdown of the final 10 races before the Chase field is set following the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond, Va.

With race wins emphasized more heavily under the new points rules, these next 10 races will showcase certain teams and drivers taking more chances to grab wins at the expense of points than in recent years.

That means fans going to the Speedway this weekend should get an exciting show.

It’s not yet desperation time for the non-race winners, but a win Saturday at Kentucky would make life a lot easier for several teams coming down the regular season stretch.

Here are five drivers in no particular order who could especially use a win in Sparta:

1. Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth is surprisingly winless this season after winning a career-high seven races in 2013 but should be safely in the Chase field.

The 2003 series champion is fifth in points and, as the highest-ranked driver without a win, would start the Chase 11th if it began today.

A win this weekend would catapult him into seventh in the Chase field and set the stage for him to climb even more with more wins over the next few weeks.

Kenseth won last year’s Kentucky race, the second win for his team, Joe Gibbs Racing, since the Sprint Cup began racing there in 2011.

The Cambridge, Wis., native has never finished worse than seventh in three races at Kentucky. This track is one of his best chances to get a regular season win.

2. Greg Biffle

On the other end of the spectrum from Kenseth is his former Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle.

Biffle is squarely on the Chase bubble, starting 16th if the Chase were to begin today. A win Saturday would do a lot to ensure him a spot in the Chase.

Roush cars typically run well at 1 1/2-mile tracks like Kentucky, so he’s got a nice chance of helping his championship hopes with a win Saturday.

3. Kyle Larson

One of the more intriguing drivers on the Chase bubble is rookie Kyle Larson.

The 21-year-old has ran better than anyone could’ve expected thus far, currently sitting 10th in the point standings.

Larson is 13th on the Chase grid and has a good chance of making the postseason cut even if he doesn’t win a race between now and Richmond.

A win Saturday would all but seal his spot in the Chase and give the fans at Kentucky the chance to see a driver win his first-ever Sprint Cup race.

4. Jeff Gordon

One of the biggest stories of this NASCAR season has been the re-emergence of former champion Jeff Gordon.

Gordon has ran at the front of the field throughout the year and takes a point standings lead into Kentucky.

But because he has just one win and because the new format favors wins over points for Chase seeding, Gordon could use one or two more wins before the Chase to solidify a top seed.

Gordon will have some added motivation – a win at Kentucky would give him at least one win at every track currently on the Sprint Cup circuit.

5. Danica Patrick

Not only could Danica Patrick use a win at Kentucky, Kentucky could use a Danica Patrick win.

The sport’s most polarizing driver is polarizing primarily because she receives more than her share of press and attention as compared to her winless NASCAR record.

Patrick is just 28th in the point standings this year and won’t be one of the favorites this weekend. But with the new format, a win puts her in prime position for a Chase spot.

The Quaker State 400 would also grab sports headlines across the country if Patrick gets that first win Saturday night.

Email us about this article at sports@oldhamera.com.