The most exciting NASCAR Cup Series race run at Kentucky Speedway? We rank them all.July 11, 2020 9:31am

July 10-- LEXINGTON, Ky.-When the green flag drops Sunday on the 10th Quaker State 400, there will not be one fan in the Kentucky Speedway grandstands due to the coronavirus.

In 2011, before the first NASCAR Cup Series race in Sparta, there were so many fans that the track's parking plan was overwhelmed. The result was an epic traffic jam that left many ticket-holding patrons stuck on I-71, fuming, for the duration of the race.

That juxtaposition-from too many fans to none at all-forms the perfect bookends to the zany first decade of Cup racing at Kentucky Speedway.

"One thing we always talk about as a team here, I don't know what it is going to be, but something strange is going to happen," Kentucky Speedway general manager Mark Simendinger says. "It always does."

Along with persistent weirdness, the Cup Series has also brought some thrill-packed races-and a few duds-to Kentucky.

To commemorate the 10th year of Cup racing in Sparta, we ranked the nine previous races, in descending order, on the basis of the excitement level they produced:

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9. 2014

Winner: Brad Keselowski.

Number of green-flag passes in the entire race: 1,147, an average of 4.9 per lap.

How the race was won: Keselowski passed archrival Kyle Busch with 20 laps to go to become the first two-time winner in the Cup Series at Kentucky Speedway.

The weirdness factor: The most trying moment of Keselowski's night came when, attempting to open a champagne bottle in victory circle, he cut his hand. With the blood flowing, Keselowski had to go to the Infield Care Center to get four stitches.

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8. 2017

Winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Green-flag passes: 1,329, an average of 5.7 per lap.

How the race was won: In the first Cup race at Kentucky Speedway to feature stage racing, Truex Jr. won all three stages and led 152 of 267 laps. "Probably the best car I've ever had my whole career," Truex Jr. said afterward.

The weirdness factor: A deluge of rain the night before the Quaker State 400 led to flooding in the Cup Series garage and left the pace car sitting submerged in water.

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7. 2018

Winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Green-flag passes: 1,728, an average of 7.1 per lap.

How the race was won: Leading 174 of 267 laps, Truex Jr. again swept all three stages, becoming the first driver to win Cup races in consecutive years at Kentucky Speedway.

The weirdness factor: There was nothing strange. By Kentucky Speedway standards, that makes this the "weirdest" Cup race yet run in Sparta.

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6. 2012

Winner: Brad Keselowski.

Green-flag passes: 1,849, an average of 7.6 per lap.

How the race was won: Keselowski-forced to a backup car after colliding with Juan Pablo Montoya in a practice-took the lead for keeps after the race's final caution and held off Kasey Kahne.

The weirdness factor: Kentucky Speedway was beset by withering heat, as temperatures soared above 100 degrees for the trucks, Xfinity and Cup races. On Friday, a frightening wind storm blew down display tents. The gusting winds led to an evacuation of the grandstands and sent three people to the Infield Care Center with injuries.

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5. 2016

Winner: Brad Keselowski.

Green-flag passes: 1,843, an average of 8.6 per lap.

How the race was won: Tension built through the final laps as Keselowski nursed a dwindling fuel supply while battling, successfully, to hold off a hard-charging Carl Edwards.

The weirdness factor: A fire in the parking lot stole the show. A white pickup truck went up in flames behind the grandstands-with an occupant inside the cab. The resulting inferno destroyed a second vehicle and damaged a third. Fortunately, Speedway first responders pulled the man out of the burning pickup truck before he suffered serious injuries.

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4. 2013

Winner: Matt Kenseth.

Green-flag passes: 1,650, an average of 7.3 per lap.

How the race was won: After a rainy downpour on Saturday night postponed the Quaker State 400 to Sunday, Kenseth won a race Jimmie Johnson had dominated. Johnson led 182 of the race's first 248 laps, but Kenseth beat him out of the pits after a late caution by taking no tires. On the ensuing restart, Johnson spun out going into Turn 1 and finished ninth.

The weirdness factor: Early in the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. appeared to have the best car. Junior was leading on Lap 39-when he ran over the skin of a tire that had come off Denny Hamlin's car. Afterward, the No. 88 car was never the same, and Earnhardt Jr. finished 12th.

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3. 2011

Winner: Kyle Busch.

Green-flag passes: A track-record 3,216, an average of 13.7 per lap.

How the race was won: Kyle Busch prevailed in a two-lap shootout over David Reutimann and Jimmie Johnson to claim the inaugural Cup Series victory in Sparta.

The weirdness factor: The traffic jam that ensnared thousands trying to get into the sold-out Kentucky Speedway remains infamous.

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2. 2015

Winner: Kyle Busch.

Green-flag passes: 2,665, an average of 12.2 per lap.

How the race was won: After NASCAR introduced a low-downforce package, the final race over the original "bumpy" Kentucky Speedway racing surface yielded a track-record 22 green-flag passes for the lead. In a late-race duel that decided the outcome, Kyle Busch prevailed over Joey Logano.

The weirdness factor: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick, the two most famous drivers in American motorsports, got into an on-track dust up. Junior, his brakes failing, ran into the back of Patrick's car with 60 laps left. The contact sent Danica's No. 10 car into the outside wall. Entering pit road on the ensuing caution, Patrick responded by ramming Earnhardt Jr.'s car.

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1. 2019

Winner: Kurt Busch.

Green-flag passes: 3,028, an average of 12.9 per lap.

How the race was won: In a green-white-checkers finish, Kurt Busch's paint-trading battle with younger brother Kyle Busch became the most scintillating Cup Series finish in Kentucky Speedway history.

The weirdness factor: The Busch brothers had flown from North Carolina to Kentucky for the race together on Kyle's plane. After his brother stole what would have been Kyle's third Cup Series win in Sparta, the younger Busch flew home without waiting for Kurt to finish the winner's post-race responsibilities.

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(c)2020 Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.)

Visit the Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, Ky.) at www.kentucky.com

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