USA TODAY Sports Mike Hembree discusses the best stories at halfway through the NASCAR season.

With seven races left to the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, one thing is clear: Toyota has planted its flag in Kentucky. Meanwhile, Ford is the only other manufacturer to make a contest of this year's championship race.

Here's the analysis of what Quaker State 400 means:

Toyota owns Kentucky, but not for the reasons

True, Toyota's North American operations were once based in Bluegrass State, but it has nothing to do with the dominance that The manufacturer has shown the tricky 1,5 mile track.

Among his stable, Toyota has two of the top three winners (Kyle Busch with five and Martin Truex Jr. with four) and leads the manufacturers points points.

Toyota owns Kentucky Speedway because its best team has drivers who get a lot of sit-time (Busch) and best understand how to customize the car during the race week (Truex). Both of these elements are important factors on a track like Kentucky, which requires so much of both teams and drivers.

More: Martin Truex Jr. turns to another dominant NASCAR unit in Kentucky

More: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Kyle Busch Must Stop "Run His Mouth"

Chevrolet Stands in serious trouble if front downforce continues to be a problem

Chevrolet Camaro is an eye lover on the road and on the competition day. But the Chevy Racing Team still seems to have a question with aerodynamic grip.

NBC Sports Analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that Camaro was still struggling with front downforce, which contributed to their battles on most of the courses. While Camaro has improved this year, Chevy is still a way of not competing across the board with Toyota and Ford.

With 1.5-mile circuits crucial in the Cup Series Playoffs, Chevy must find out before it's too late.

We no longer look at old school walks

Previously, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could have been on the wrong side of a serious glide job on Kentucky Speedway after his aggression against Coke Zero 400 co-workers in Daytona a week ago.

Instead, the Roush-Fenway driver fought early with a tire-causing problem and was never a factor. Team owner Jack Roush had said earlier this week that he hoped that other drivers would not make hard feelings.

Stenhouse and Busch had a little word war but nothing happened on the track so the issue of retaliation was moved to next week's New Hampshire 301.

Kentucky is a great host for a race week

The track is unique (Turn 3, if you did not know is a big thing) in several ways than one.

The landscape reminiscent of Martinsville with the hills in the background and echo of the engines that spread through the valley.

The action on the course, due to difficult trip 3, usually sees the best driver and the team go to victory.

For example, the only drivers to win on the Kentucky Speedway in the Cup series have been series champions. Truex broke this step for a short period last season before claiming the title Cup Series.

Who will be the fourth driver in battle at Homestead?

Earnhardt Jr said Friday that the story he is looking at is to see which driver will jump up and challenge Trio Busch, Truex and Kevin Harvick for the title statement.

To Earnhardt there are three top crust drivers, the ones mentioned above, and a lot of other guys who squeeze in to enter that conversation.

The most interesting thing that the former Cup Series most popular driver had to say was that he did not believe the lack of parity in the winners hurt the sport.

Instead, Earnhardt claimed that the fans would like the big drivers / teams to win and then be happy to see who among the others would challenge them.


View Thumbnails

View captions

Last SlideNext Slide