October 16, 2012
This week we’re at Kansas Speedway for the second time this season, but fantasy racers have an unknown variable to work with. The track was recently re-paved and progressive banking was added. Will there be much of a difference from the old Kansas to the new? Right now I don’t think anyone’s sure. There are testing sessions planned for Wednesday and Thursday so that will give us a little more of an idea. For the rankings below, however, I will be using past Kansas data along with some recent performances on intermediate tracks.
During The Last Race At Kansas…It was Martin Truex, Jr. who had the dominating car all afternoon (leading 173 of the 267 laps) but Denny Hamlin was the one who ended up in victory lane. Truex finished 2nd with Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Greg Biffle rounding out the top 5. Pole-sitter A.J. Allmendinger led the first 44 laps of the STP 400 but ended up 32nd when it was all said and done due to engine issues throughout the race.
Practice Schedule…After the testing sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, an official practice session will be held on Friday afternoon. It starts at 12:30 pm and will be followed by qualifying at 5:00. On Saturday, there are two more practices scheduled, the first beginning at 11:00 am and Happy Hour set to start at 1:30 pm. The Hollywood Casino 400 green flag should wave around 1:45 pm on Sunday. All times are in EST.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Hollywood Casino 400:
*Chase participants marked in red*
1. Jimmie Johnson – This isn’t “Jimmie’s House,” but it certainly is close. Five Time is a two-time winner at Kansas Speedway (the most recent victory coming in this race one year ago) and has an incredible average finish of 7.9 at the track, which is good enough for best in the series. Johnson has led 503 laps in his career at this venue and has had a driver rating of at least 99.5 in every single race here since NASCAR started keeping track of that in 2005. He almost always finishes up front at Kansas and has been the best on the intermediate tracks all season long. There’s absolutely no reason to go against the #48 this weekend, plain and simple. I’d actually consider Johnson almost a lock for a top 5 on Sunday.
2. Brad Keselowski – As I stated earlier, the Penske #22 car was really good here last time around, and Keselowski wasn’t too shabby either in the Blue Deuce (he finished 11th that day after leading two laps). Ever since Bad Brad jumped into Sprint Cup action, he’s been good at Kansas Speedway, actually. In his first start at this track (with Hendrick in 2009), he wound up 13th. He grabbed a win in the spring race here a year ago and followed that up with a solid 3rd-place effort in this event in the fall. There’s no reason to think that Keselowski will have a bad race this weekend. He’s had just one in the last fifteen Sprint Cup events, and that was the fluke race in Bristol in August. It also doesn’t hurt that the Blue Deuce gets the best fuel mileage in the garage, and with the way this Chase is going, the Hollywood Casino 400 could very well come down to that factor.
3. Denny Hamlin - Wouldn’t it be something if these three guys pulled off a “Tony Stewart vs. Carl Edwards, 2011″ type of run in these last five Chase races? It wouldn’t surprise me one bit, I’ll tell you that. As I said before, Hamlin won the race here last time around and should be challenging for a top 5 once again in the Hollywood Casino 400. He also ended up 3rd here last June and was 5th in the 2009 race at this track. All in all, Hamlin has just one finish worse than 12th in the last six Kansas races, and that was a 16th-place effort in this race one year ago. This race could be a deal-breaker for the #11 team, though. If Denny struggles on Sunday (Darian Grubb doesn’t have the best record here exactly), he could find himself out of the championship hunt–in my opinion, anyway. I don’t see that happening, though. This #11 Toyota has arguably been the strongest car in the Sprint Cup series over the last two months.
4. Greg Biffle – This will be the week that really shows whether or not Greg Biffle is back to mid-season form or not. Statistically, Kansas Speedway is the best track on the circuit for The Biff. He’s collected two victories here over his twelve career starts and has an incredible average finish of 8.0 at this track. When you take away his first attempt here, which was with Andy Petree Racing and where Biffle finished 36th, his average finish jumps up to a staggering 5.5. There’s no doubt that the #16 is right there alongside the #48 this season for the strongest on the intermediate tracks, and both should at least be challenging for top 5 finishes on Sunday.
5. Kasey Kahne – This team has regressed a bit over the last few weeks, but I’m not too worried. Kahne was the runner-up driver in this event last season (in the Red Bull car) and he followed that up with a solid 8th-place effort here back in April. What worries me a little bit, however, is the new track surface. Kahne tends to run the high line on the intermediate tracks, and usually when a track is re-surfaced, the low line is the place to be on race day. That being said, KK still ended up 3rd at Michigan in August, which also got a new surface before that race. This team is having a decently strong Chase and finished 3rd at Chicagoland a month ago. Keep an eye on the #5 in practice on Saturday.
6. Clint Bowyer – I’m sure you’ve heard it a few times already, but this team’s goal for the rest of the season is simple: keep on winning and the points standings will fall as they may. Sorry to say, but this team probably won’t win the championship even if they win every race from here on out (which they won’t, by the way). But still, Bowyer will probably be a popular pick this weekend in Kansas. This is his home track and he generally runs very well at it, although the stat sheet says different. Bowyer ended up 36th here back in April but that was due to an engine problem. He was 7th in this race one year ago, however, and is the most recent winner in the Sprint Cup series. On top of that, Clint has nine finishes inside the top 10 over the last eleven races, believe it or not. He should make it ten out of twelve on Sunday.
7. Jeff Gordon – At 11.1, Jeff Gordon has the fifth-best average finish at Kansas Speedway among active drivers. He’s collected two victories here in his thirteen starts (the most recent coming in 2002) and has finished 5th or better in five of the last seven events at this track. The bad news? The most recent two races were the ones where he broke that streak. Gordon wound up 34th here in this race one year ago (due to an engine problem) and never really got going here in April, where he qualified 20th and finished 21st. However, you have to consider how much stronger and consistent this team is now compared to six months ago. Gordon had a hiccup in Charlotte last weekend but should be able to get back on track here at Kansas on Sunday.
8. Matt Kenseth – I still don’t think he’s bounced back as much as his teammate, Greg Biffle, but Matt Kenseth and the #17 team is getting there. Kansas Speedway has been a really nice track for the ’03 champ, especially as of late. In the last six events at the track, Kenseth has ended up 7th or better in all but one of them, and the lone exception was due to an engine failure in the 2009 race. He’s never won here, but Matt has compiled four top 5 finishes alongside seven top 10s in thirteen career starts at this 1.5-mile venue. He’s not a lock for a top 10 on Sunday, so make sure the #17 Ford looks good in practice on Saturday.
9. Mark Martin – The race here at Kansas back in April was when I originally stopped trusting Mark Martin and the #55 Toyota’s engines. Boy have things changed. Martin no longer logs lap after lap after lap in practice and the cars have been super fast in the race for the last month (I’m not sure if those two things are related, but I’m going with it). Furthermore, Mark is finishing races. He ended up 6th at Charlotte last weekend and that makes it three finishes of 6th or better in his last four Sprint Cup starts. That also makes it four top 10s in his last five attempts. Back in April, Martin was running solidly inside the top 10 all day, but as I eluded to earlier, his engine let go and he finished 33rd. Unless that happens again on Sunday, expect a good run out of the #55 team.
10. Carl Edwards – When Cousin Carl makes it through a Kansas race without getting caught up in someone else’s wreck (video here), he’s pretty good. Even though he has slumped this season, Edwards still managed a 9th-place finish here back in April after qualifying 21st. That makes it eight finishes of 10th or better in the last nine Kansas races for Carl. He’s coming off a 7th-place effort at Charlotte last weekend and grabbed just his third top 5 of the season in Dover a few weeks ago. Could this team be turning things around for a late season surge, similar to Denny Hamlin last season? Only time will tell, but it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
11. Martin Truex, Jr. – There are a whole lot of things to like about Martin Truex, Jr. and the #56 team this weekend. As I stated before, they had the absolute best car here last time around, and Truex has been one of the best in the series this year on the 1.5-mile race tracks. His 10th-place finish at Charlotte last weekend backs that up to a degree. However, there is one thing I don’t like about this team this weekend, and that is something entirely out of their control: the track. Truex really excels when he can work the high line in, and with the repavement, the fastest way around the track is probably going to be hugging the bottom. We’ll have to see what the cars look like in practice but I think this is something that goes against the #56 team this weekend. You can’t argue with the fact that Truex has been one of the best/safest picks on these cookie cutter tracks in 2012, though.
12. Kyle Busch – The #18 Toyota has been super fast week in and week out since the Chase started, and this driver will probably jump up in my final predictions on Saturday (you can find those at www.ifantasyrace.com). The fact of the matter is that Kyle Busch’s record at Kansas Speedway leaves a lot to be desired. Through ten career starts here, Rowdy has an average finish of 20th and has recorded just two top 10s. He has led 84 laps here in his career though, which is good enough for 11th-best among active drivers. Busch’s best effort at Kansas (7th) came during the 2006 season.
13. Joey Logano – This #20 team seems to have hit on something as of late, and like Mark Martin, you need to roll with them while they’re hot. With his 9th-place effort at Charlotte last weekend, Logano now has four top 10 finishes in the five Chase races ran thus far with the lone exception being his 32nd at Talladega. Qualifying has been a strong suit for Joey here at Kansas Speedway over the last two years (three top 5 qualifying efforts in four races) but he hasn’t been able to breakthrough with a great finish yet. His best effort at this track came in the spring when Sliced Bread started 3rd and finished 15th. His stats aren’t great at this track but that’s why Joey Logano is considered a darkhorse driver this weekend.
14. Kevin Harvick – Make that five straight weeks without a top 10 finish for this #29 team. They’re not running terrible by any means, but in most leagues you don’t want a teens finish out of a driver like Kevin Harvick. He may be able to turn things around in Kansas this weekend, though. Over the last seven races at this track, “Happy” has wound up 6th or better in five of them and he has just one finish outside of the top 11 over that span. His career average finish here is 13th. Right now I don’t think this team will turn things around this weekend in Kansas, but be sure to check out my predictions after Happy Hour on Saturday to get my final word. Those can be found at www.ifantasyrace.com.
15. Regan Smith – Okay, I’ll bite. I was a bit rough on this guy last weekend at Charlotte but he actually looked pretty good–although I hope you listened to me and didn’t pick him. We know he’s going to have some power under the hood this weekend and with the two testing sessions along with the practices this weekend, that should give Steve Letarte and the boys enough time to make Regan comfortable in the #88 car. Unless you hear that they plan on testing for the other Hendrick teams, feel free to take a shot with Smith this weekend. He’s finished 24th in the last three Kansas races but should be better than that in the Hollywood Casino 400.
Honorable Mention: Sam Hornish, Jr. The Double Deuce Penske car was really strong here last time around and Sammy got some of his mojo back in Charlotte last weekend with a solid 15th-place finish. He also finished 19th here back in April after starting 10th and leading seven laps. He was in the #12 Penske Dodge that weekend.
Those To Avoid Entering The Hollywood Casino 400:
Tony Stewart - This team is an enigma right now–heck, this whole organization, really–and has been really for the whole season except for the early months when the #14 Chevrolet was dominant at all the intermediates. And one thing I really don’t like on my fantasy team, especially in the final races, is a question mark. Smoke’s 13th-place effort at Charlotte last weekend makes it three straight Sprint Cup races without the #14 inside the top 10. He’s generally pretty good at Kansas Speedway (eight top 10s in thirteen starts, including two wins) but has finished 15th and 13th in his last two efforts. I prefer safer options at this time of the year in fantasy racing.
Danica Patrick - Yes, NASCAR’s favorite female is entered in the race this weekend, but unless you are in a league where you need to reach middle-of-the-Earth deep, there’s no reason to take the #10. What I will say about Danica, however, is that she is improving, and doing a whole lot better that I thought she would. In the last two intermediate races she’s been in (Charlotte and Atlanta), Patrick has ended up 25th and 29th. If for some reason this race in Kansas turns into a wreckfest, Danica might be able to gather her first top 20 finish in NASCAR’s top series. I wouldn’t count on that, though.
April 18, 2012
Only 400 miles are set to be ran at Kansas Speedway on Sunday afternoon, meaning there will be 267 laps ran before the checkered flag falls on this season’s STP 400. This 1.5-mile track is most similar to Chicagoland Speedway as well as the newly added (to the Sprint Cup schedule) Kentucky Speedway. Kansas is a fairly new track as well, opening in 2001.
Fact of the track: in the 12 total Sprint Cup races ran here, the pole winner averages a finish of 12.1 and 42.5% of the top 10 qualifiers in those races also finished there.
During The Last Race At Kansas…The race here last October was the fourth race in the Chase and Jimmie Johnson pretty much dominated the whole thing. Of the 272 laps, Five Time led 197 en route to his second victory at the track. He had a near-perfect driver rating of 149.2. Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively, despite each never leading a lap, while Roush-Fenway Racing team mates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.
Practice Schedule…There are two practice sessions scheduled for Friday (at 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm ET) followed by qualifying on Saturday, which is set to start around noon. There will be no practice once the starting lineup is set. For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing: rosters don’t lock until Saturday morning, so we get to see the cars on the track before deciding our drivers.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The STP 400:
1. Jimmie Johnson – With Five Time and Jeff Gordon dominating but not winning the last two Sprint Cup races, it’s time to ask: what’s wrong with Hendrick Motorsports? This makes just two wins in the last 29 points-paying races for the organization. Let me know what you think by voting on my poll about this issue (click here). With that being said, I personally think it will only be a matter of time before we see a Hendrick driver back in victory lane, and–right now–I think Johnson will be the guy to do it, and it will happen on Sunday in Kansas. The #48 Chevrolet has been great at the intermediate tracks thus far in 2012 (chart here), and Johnson’s record at Kansas is bested only by Greg Biffle. Along with three pole wins, Jimmie has recorded two wins and nine top 10s in eleven career starts with an average finish of 8.4.
2. Greg Biffle – No surprise here. Over the last two years, the Roush-Fenway Fords own the best average finish at Kansas of any organization, and all three should be a force this Sunday (yes, I’m including Carl Edwards for the first time this year). As I said before, The Biff has the best average finish at Kansas, although it’s not by much of a margin over Five Time. In eleven starts here, Biffle has collected two victories and recorded eight top 10s. His average finish is 8.3. When you take out Greg’s first start here, though–which came back in 2002 where he finished 36th due to an accident–his average finish jumps up to 5.5. It’s hard to go against a team this hot, and I consider The Biff a near lock for a top 5 this weekend.
3. Jeff Gordon – Gordon got his first top 5 of the season last Saturday in Texas and I fully expect this team to go on a little run here and put together a string of great finishes. At Kansas, Gordon generally finishes in the top 5 unless he has a problem or something. Last fall, the #24 looked like a top 5 car for most of the race (check out the Yahoo! chart here) but the engine blew and Gordon finished 34th. Before that, Jeff had a string of five-straight top 5 finishes at this track, and he won the first two races ever ran at this track (in 2001 and 2002). I’m assuming–as it has been like this all year on the intermediates–that Gordon won’t qualify very well on Saturday, but I think we’ll find him up front by the end of the STP 400.
4. Matt Kenseth – As I said before, it’s a intermediate track so of course you should load up on the Roushkateers. What you may not know, though, is that Kansas hasn’t been too kind to Kenseth, and this is actually his fourth-worst track on the circuit. Through twelve career starts here, Matt has recorded six top 10s but has also ended up 30th or worse in five events. His average finish here is 18th. With that being said, however, Kenseth has finished 7th or better in four of the last five Kansas races and has the sixth-best average driver rating on the intermediate tracks this season (chart here).
5. Carl Edwards – Although Cousin Carl hasn’t been running well at all on the intermediate tracks this year, he’s still getting the finishes. He finished 5th at Las Vegas and Fontana and ended up 8th last weekend after starting 20th. It’ll only be a matter of time before we, once again, see the #99 up front week in and week out once again, though, and I’m guessing that will be sooner rather than later. In nine career starts at Kansas, Edwards has an average finish of 10.7 while compiling six finishes of 6th or better. Three of them have came in the last three events.
6. Tony Stewart – I still don’t understand how in the world the #14 Chevy was so bad last week in Texas, but that is in the past and it’s time to focus on Kansas. Smoke has two victories here in twelve career starts–in 2006 and 2009–and has recorded the best average driver rating in the series over the last three events here (117.4). Stewart ended up in 15th here last fall, but that doesn’t really show how good he really was. When you look at his Yahoo! chart from that race (click here) you will find that Tony was running in the top 5 for about half of the race. They may have struggled last weekend, but I fully expect Stewart-Haas Racing to rebound in Kansas.
7. Kevin Harvick – Kevin Harvick has been a solid pick on the intermediates this season–with an average finish of 8th–and he’s one of only three drivers to have a driver rating of at least 100 in all three races (chart here). Here at Kansas, “Happy” owns an average finish of 13.6 in twelve career starts and has finished 11th or better in seven of those races. Kevin finished 6th here last fall and he has ended up in that position on four separate occasions at Kansas Speedway. Harvick owns the seventh-best average driver rating in the last three races at this track (104.7).
8. Mark Martin – I’m not expecting a repeat performance of last weekend in Texas out of the #55 Toyota, but I think Martin will still be good for a top 10, or at least a top 15. He has the seventh-best average finish here (13.1) of anyone in the series with at least seven starts at this track. Martin finished 10th here last fall while driving for Hendrick Motorsports and has finished on the lead lap in 75% of his starts at this track. Consistency is key with Martin and his worst finish here is 25th.
9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – He hasn’t been extremely flashy on the intermediate tracks this year like his team mates, but Junior still owns the fourth-best average finish (7.7) on them this year (chart here) and the fifth-best average driver rating (103.7) over those three races (chart here). His record here at Kansas causes a bit of a worry, but it’s hard to go against the #88 right now. In twelve starts here, Earnhardt owns an average finish of 17.3 and has recorded five top 10s. He finished 2nd in this event last year but his Yahoo! driver chart (click here) shows that the #88 wasn’t that great. Remember, that was a fuel mileage race. Junior should be top 15 with a good chance at a top 10 on Sunday.
10. Martin Truex, Jr. – I’m starting to consider Truex like Brad Keselowski last year when he went on his hot streak: throw away the past history. In seven career Kansas races, Martin’s best finish has been 11th, and that came back in his first start. Since then, he hasn’t finished better than 16th and has three finishes of 36th or worse in those six starts. However, Truex started 8th in both Kansas races last season and he didn’t look too terrible in the fall event (Yahoo! chart here). The #56 has been the 7th-best car on the intermediates this season in terms of both average finish (chart here) and average driver rating (chart here). I wouldn’t advise going against him, as I haven’t for most of this season thus far.
11. Clint Bowyer – This is the sixth-best track on the circuit for Bowyer and also his home track. It’s a bit concerning for me, though, that’s he’s getting worse on the intermediate tracks as the season goes on (driver rating chart here). He should be a good pick this weekend, though, although don’t hold me to that unless I say that after practice is over. In seven starts at Kansas, Clint owns an average finish of 12th and has recorded five finishes in the top 15. Bowyer has completed all but two laps in his career at Kansas Speedway.
12. Kasey Kahne – I’m starting to get some confidence back in Kahne, finally. He has qualified in the top 5 in all of the intermediate races this season and has gotten progressively better in the finish category as they go, with a 19th at Las Vegas followed by a 14th in Fontana. As you probably remember, Kahne ended up in 7th last Saturday in Texas. At Kansas–as you probably would have expected–he has had his ups and downs. In nine starts, Kahne owns an average finish of 17th with just three top 10s. He was good here last season, though, finishing 14th in this event and ending up runner-up to Jimmie Johnson in the fall after starting 5th.
13. Kyle Busch – One top 10 in nine starts is a good reason to stay away from Rowdy Busch this weekend, but I don’t think he’ll be that terrible on Sunday. I still don’t think he will be great by any means, but the #18 Toyota should still end up in the top 15. In the last four Kansas races, Kyle has three finishes of 12th or better, and he owns the ninth-best average driver rating (95.6) over the last two years here. Busch also started 3rd in both events here last season. Busch has an average finish of 12th on the intermediate tracks thus far in 2012 (chart here).
14. Ryan Newman – As I said before, I expect Stewart-Haas to have a nice rebound from this off-weekend in Texas. Newman started in the top 10 last Saturday, but as you know, he ended up a disappointing 21st (sorry fantasy owners who started him). At Kansas, The Rocketman started off great, finishing 2nd in 2001 and 2002, and he finally won here in 2003. Since then, though, Newman hasn’t been too great. In the last nine Kansas races, Ryan has just one top 10 finish and an average finish of 22.6. I’m thinking top 15 for Newman right now but I could bump him up to the top 10 if he impresses me in practice.
15. Kurt Busch – Here’s my dark horse pick of the week. We all know that Phoenix Racing equipment is in no way great, but if you want to be different than everyone else, go ahead and take a shot with Busch. In the last two intermediate races this year, Kurt has finished 9th (Fontana) and 13th (last week in Texas). He sat on the pole in this event last season and led a race-high 152 laps en route to a solid 9th-place finish. Busch followed that up with a 13th-place finish here last fall, and he has finished in 13th or better in five of the last six events here. He’s not as reliable, but Kurt could surprise people this weekend in the #51 Chevy.
Marcos Ambrose – He ran out of gas last weekend with a lap or two to go and while running 8th, but he had a strong car for the majority of that race (Yahoo! chart here). Ambrose finished 9th here last fall so you may want to keep an eye on him.
Brad Keselowski – In the two events last season, BK finished 1st and 3rd. Sounds good, huh? But let’s look deeper into that. His win came from a fuel gamble, but the Blue Deuce seemed to be in the top 15 for many laps that race (Yahoo! chart here). With his 3rd-place finish last fall, Keselowski looked even better, as you can see from his Yahoo! chart (click here). Brad was doing great until his problems last week in Texas and probably would have had a top 10.
A.J. Allmendinger – Penske Racing as a whole has been good here lately and A.J. has two top 10s in his five career starts at Kansas (in 2008 and 2010). He finished 15th at both Fontana and Texas this season.
Those To Avoid Entering The STP 400:
Jeff Burton – His history at Kansas is a bit concerning and Burton hasn’t been too great on the intermediates this year, both average finish-wise (chart here) and when looking at average driver rating (chart here). In twelve career starts, Jeff has averaged a finish right around 19th and he hasn’t finished better than 18th in his last four starts at this track.
Joey Logano – Sliced Bread may be good for a top 20 finish, but that’s not really what I’m looking for. He ranks 22nd in terms of average finish at the intermediate tracks this year (chart here) and his best finish at Kansas is just 17th, which came back in 2010. He started 4th in that race. That is also Logano’s only top 20 at this race track.
Aric Almirola – For those that play Yahoo! Auto Racing, there’s simply no reason to waste a start on Almirola when you can get close to the same finish out of Casey Mears or David Reutimann. Wait until another short track comes around–or Aric shows something at an intermediate track–before starting the #43 Ford.
October 5, 2011
After two straight weeks of exciting Sprint Cup action, be prepared for what should be a snooze-fest in Kansas this weekend. Kansas Speedway is a relatively young track, having only been on the circuit since 2001, but like most intermediate tracks–especially those that hold races during the Chase–it often lacks in-race excitement. I don’t see the points standings being shaken up very much this weekend, although anything could happen–especially if fuel mileage comes into effect on Sunday, as it did during the last race at this track back in June. A total of 267 laps are scheduled to be ran around this 1.5-mile race track, or, in other words, 400 miles.
During The Last Race At Kansas…Brad Keselowski picked up his first win of the season here back in June by gambling on fuel. He only led 9 of the 267 laps. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. followed him to the start/finish line, and Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5 on that Sunday afternoon. Pole-sitter Kurt Busch, who led a race-high 152 laps, finished 9th.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The Hollywood Casino 400:
*Chase participants are marked in red*
1. Carl Edwards – It’s been a while since we’ve seen a backflip, hasn’t it? Well, Cousin Carl hasn’t visited victory lane at Kansas yet, but with the way his Ford has been running lately, he’s bound to get his second win of the 2011 season soon. With his 3rd-place finish in Dover last week, Carl now has six straight top 10s and four of the last five Sprint Cup races have ended with a top 5 for the #99 team. At Kansas, Edwards is on a streak of four-straight top 10s and has an average finish of 11.4 over eight career starts. That’s not incredibly impressive, but when you take out Carl’s rookie start here as well as his 37th-place finish in 2007 (accident), his average finish is 5.3.
2. Jimmie Johnson – This team got the finish they needed last week in Dover, and if Johnson wants to contend for his sixth-straight title, he’s going to need a “normal” run–for him–this weekend at Kansas Speedway. “Five Time” has made ten career starts at this 1.5-mile race track and has collected eight top 10s (including one victory in 2008) and just one finish worse than 14th. Since 2005, Jimmie hasn’t had a driver rating worse than 99.5 at Kansas despite starting three of the seven races outside of the top 20. The most recent “cookie cutter” races (Chicago, Atlanta, Michigan, and Kentucky) have ended with JJ in 10th, 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd. As you know by now, this is the time that Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus shine, and until that stops happening, it’s hard to bet against them.
3. Kurt Busch – I’m not sure how many other people will have Kurt Busch and the Double Deuce ranked this high going into this weekend, but I liked what I saw the last time the series visited Kansas, and if you don’t know me by now, I don’t really like going against the most recent winner. Busch’s victory in Dover makes it four finishes of 6th or better in the last five Sprint Cup races, and I think they’ll make it five of six once it’s all said and done on Sunday. Kurt’s record at Kansas isn’t great (three top 10s in eleven starts) but he has the fifth-best average driver rating here over the past three races and this team–as well as his Penske teammate–is on a roll.
4. Jeff Gordon - I haven’t been too high on Jeff Gordon this year when it comes to intermediate tracks (I actually had him on my “Avoid” list when the series came here in June) but it’s way too hard to against his history at this race track. Gordon has the best average finish (8.1) of anyone in the series at Kansas and he won the first two races held here. Oh, one more thing: Jeff has finished in the top 5 in every single one of the races at Kansas since 2007. This team stumbled a bit last weekend in Dover, but I expect them to rebound in a big way this weekend in Kansas.
5. Greg Biffle – This team’s luck on the “cookie cutter” tracks has to turn around sometime this season…right? The #16 Ford has been capable of winning many of those races but stupid mistakes or simple bad luck has disappointed the team, as well as fantasy owners, all season. If something is finally going to go their way, though, this is the track for it to happen. Statistically, this is The Biff’s best track on the circuit, and in ten races he has visited victory lane two times and racked up seven top 10s. His first ever start at this track ended in a 36th-place finish, but since then Biffle hasn’t finished worse than 12th here. If nothing goes wrong for this team on Sunday, I think Greg has a great shot at getting the win. However, as you should know by now this season, don’t be shocked if something does happen.
6. Tony Stewart – Even though “Smoke” struggled mightily last week in Dover, he should be able to rebound in a big way in Kansas this weekend. In eleven career starts at this race track, Stewart has collected two wins and posted a total of eight top 10s. He had finishes of 39th and 40th here in 2007 and 2008, but when you take those away from Tony’s numbers here, he has an average finish of 5.8 and a low finish of 14th. Over the last three races at Kansas, Stewart has the best average driver rating of anyone in the series (124.1) and has led 133 laps.
7. Matt Kenseth – Just like his teammate, Greg Biffle, Roushkateer Matt Kenseth hasn’t been his normal self on the intermediate tracks this season. He’s had some good races, but can’t seem to get the finish. Since Matt’s win at Texas in April, the Sprint Cup Series has visited five tri-oval intermediate tracks (Charlotte, Kansas, Kentucky, Atlanta, and Chicago) and the #17 Ford has ended up 14th, 6th, 6th, 9th, and 21st, respectively. At this particular race track, Kenseth’s best finish in eleven career starts has been 5th (back in 2008) and his average finish of 19.3 is nothing to get to excited about. He does have three top 10s in the last four Kansas races, though, and it’s not the smartest move to go against Roush when the series comes to a 1.5-mile track.
8. Kevin Harvick – Harvick has only led 83 laps in his eleven starts at Kansas Speedway, but he has five top 15s in the last six races here, and that includes a career-best finish of 3rd that he posted in this race last season. After last week’s run at Dover, Harvick and the 29 crew have finished 12th or better in every race since Bristol in late August, and I don’t see that changing this weekend. “Happy” won at Charlotte earlier this year and has posted top 10s in both of the recent intermediate races (Atlanta and Chicago). His average started here is right around 23rd, so don’t expect to get any qualifying points.
9. Denny Hamlin – This driver is what I’m going to call a “boom or bust” pick this week. Hamlin’s first three 2011 Chase races have ended with him in 31st, 29th, and 18th, and that’s not something you like to see because I feel that momentum plays a factor in NASCAR–to an extent. Over the last three Kansas races, though, Denny has been tough to beat: he has 3rd and 5th-place finishes to his credit and in the other race he finished 12th after also starting there. In fact, Hamlin is one of only four drivers to have at least two top 5s in the last three races at Kansas Speedway. He has finished 11th or better in all but one of the tri-oval intermediate races this season.
10. Brad Keselowski – As I said before, BK won the last race at this track due to fuel mileage, but his record here before that wasn’t too shabby: in his first ever start at Kansas, Keselowski started 3rd and ended up leading a lap before finishing the day in 13th. He followed that up with a 23rd-place effort in 2010, and, as I said before, his win here in the spring. The Blue Deuce has been pretty good on the intermediate tracks this year, and if the Dodge looks fast in practice, expect BK to jump up the rankings when I make my final predictions.
11. Clint Bowyer – Clint has been very hit-or-miss on the intermediates this year (in case you haven’t noticed, or haven’t been burned by him in fantasy yet) so make sure the #33 Chevrolet looks good in practice before picking him, but he should be a good pick at his home track on Sunday. In six starts at this 1.5-mile race track, Bowyer has recorded just two top 10s, but his worst finish has been 21st and his average finish of 12.8 over those six races is good enough for seventh-best in the series at this track. Clint has pretty much been a teens driver at the “cookie cutters” in 2011, but he does have top 10 finishes at Chicago and both Texas races this season. When the series was here in June, Clint finished 18th after starting 27th.
12. Kasey Kahne – I don’t know if you have noticed, but for the majority of races this season, at least one of the drivers on my “Avoid” list going into the race has ended up doing very well. Weird, huh? Kahne was the latest driver to prove me wrong after he got a top 5 last week in Dover, and even though I still think he (as well as teammate Brian Vickers) is a very risky pick, these are the type of tracks that Red Bull Racing has found success at, and both drivers like them as well. Kahne’s record isn’t stellar here (18.9 average finish), but in the last five Kansas races, he has a pole to his name and three top 15 finishes. He hasn’t got a top 10 at the tri-oval intermediates this year, though, so don’t expect a finish much better than 12th out of Kasey Kahne on Sunday.
13. Mark Martin – It’s hard to predict what you will get out of this old-timer, but I think once Sunday rolls around, that #5 Chevrolet will be right around the teens, and at worst around 20th. In eleven career starts at Kansas Speedway, Mark Martin has an average finish of 13.4 and one victory (which came back in 2005). In June, he piloted his car to a 21st-place finish after starting 18th.
14. Brian Vickers – After finishing 14th at Dover last week (I didn’t even realize that until I looked it up), Vickers now has three straight top 15 finishes (as well as four in the last five Sprint Cup races). At Kansas, Brian is nothing spectacular, but he has been somewhat consistent over his six starts at the track. He ended up 16th here in June after starting 4th and has only finished outside of the top 20 once. Recent tri-oval track races have ended with Vickers in 13th (Chicago) and 11th (Atlanta).
15. Kyle Busch – See what I said about “Rowdy” Busch below.
Those To Avoid Entering The Hollywood Casino 400:
Joey Logano – Despite having a pretty good average starting spot here, “Sliced Bread” really hasn’t found much success at this track (and it’s actually one of his worst). In four career starts, Joey hasn’t finished better than 17th and has never led a single lap. He has qualified in the top 5 in the last two races at Kansas, but it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
Kyle Busch – If “Rowdy” wants people to get over his history in the Chase, he’s going to have to start performing well during it, and you would think it would have to start at Kansas. In eight career starts at this 1.5-mile race track, Busch has just one top 10 finish and has completed only 91.4% of the laps ran. When you look at the two most recent “cookie cutter” races (Chicago and Atlanta), Kyle has finished 22nd and 23rd. I’m not saying to avoid him like the plague this weekend, but there are much better options than the #18.
Martin Truex, Jr. – Truex has the potential for a top 15 run on Sunday, but as you know by now, he’s nowhere near trustworthy and I just don’t see any good taking a chance with him right now. Martin finished 11th in his first start at Kansas Speedway, but since then he has just one finish better than 20th and an average finish of 27.4 over that five-race span.
June 1, 2011
This week the Sprint Cup Series makes its first of two stops at Kansas Speedway. Since this 1.5-mile tri-oval racetrack opened in 2001, the series has ran just one event at the speedway, but this season NASCAR decided to add a second race earlier in the season while keeping the fall race during the Chase. Two practice sessions are set to be held for the drivers on Friday afternoon with qualifying starting around noon on Saturday. There will be no practice time for the cars between the end of qualifying and the start of the race, so it may be a little difficult to go off of practice speeds this week. Either way, be sure to check out my Practice Breakdown over on www.ifantasyrace.com as well as my post-qualifying Predictions, which will be posted on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, respectively.
During The Last Race At Kansas…Greg Biffle started 5th and went on to lead 60 laps before taking the checkered flag ahead of Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, and Jeff Gordon. “Smoke” had the most laps led that day with 76. This was also the race that Kyle Busch and David Reutimann got into it, which some was the event that some believe that ruined “Rowdy” Busch’s chance at the championship. If you would like to watch the race recap for last season’s Price Chopper 400 at Kansas, click here. The full results can be found by clicking here, and that link also shows how each driver was in terms of average speed during practice that weekends.
My Recommendation To Fantasy Racers…Check out how the other intermediate races shook out earlier this season to have an idea of how the Kansas race will end up on Sunday. With only one race per season at this track, it is hard for any driver to separate themselves from the pack. Only three drivers have career average finishes inside the top ten at this track: Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, and Jeff Gordon.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The STP 400:
1. Carl Edwards – The #99 Ford is very fast every week this season, and I don’t expect anything different for the upcoming race at Kansas. Edwards has notched top six finishes at California, Las Vegas, Texas, Richmond, and Darlington–all intermediate tracks–and I expect him to post a solid top five this weekend as well, if not a win. Carl has four top 10 finishes in the last five Kansas races, but his bad finishes of 22nd and 37th here in 2004 and 2007 have dragged down his average finish to 12.3. He should improve that this weekend, though.
2. Jimmie Johnson – It’s very rare to see Johnson record two bad finishes in a row, so after last week’s engine failure, expect a good run out of the #48 Chevrolet this weekend. His career average finish at Kansas is right around 9th and he has three top 3 finishes in his past four starts here. He has just two finishes outside of the top 10 in nine starts at Kansas, and one of those was a 14th. Johnson ended up 2nd at California earlier this season and wound up 8th at both Texas and Richmond.
3. Greg Biffle – In six of the last seven Kansas races, Biffle has finished in the top three. The other race was a 12th-place effort, and in Biffle’s nine career starts at this track, he has just one finish outside of the top 12. Can you say “lock”? As long as his air hose is working on Sunday and they can get enough fuel into the race car, Biffle should challenge for a top five on Sunday, and may even grab his first win of the season.
4. Matt Kenseth – Just like any other intermediate track, it’s not a good move to go against the Roush-Fenway stable. Over the past two races at Kansas, Matt has the fifth-best average driver rating but just the twenty fifth-best average finish (he had an engine problem during the 2009 race). Kenseth has just four top 10s in his ten starts at Kansas, but with the way this team has been running this season, I expect a strong run out of them on Sunday.
5. Tony Stewart – “Smoke” has an average driver rating of 127.4 over the past two years at Kansas, which is second behind Greg Biffle. He posted finishes of 1st and 4th in those two races, and like I said last week, summer is coming soon and that’s when Stewart really starts running well. Stewart has seven top 10s in ten starts at Kansas, and that includes two wins. If he starts in the top ten, pick him: every race he has started there at Kansas, Tony ended up finishing in the top ten as well.
6. Kevin Harvick – The series’ most recent winner has three top 6 finishes in the past four Kansas races, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he made it four of five once the checkered flag waves on Sunday afternoon. He probably won’t qualify well (as usual) but don’t let that discourage you from picking Harvick this week. His career average starting position at Kansas is right around 24th, but he generally ends up about ten places above where he starts.
7. Clint Bowyer – This is Clint’s fifth-best track statistically, believe it or not. He posted finishes of 9th, 2nd, and 12th in his first three starts here, but has slipped recently, with 21st and 15th-place efforts in his other two races here. He finished 5th at Texas this season, so if they can get the car dialed in this weekend, expect a good run out of the #33 Chevrolet on Sunday.
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – In case you haven’t been paying attention this season, Junior has been running very well at the intermediate tracks. He almost won last week in Charlotte and he recorded top 10 finishes at Las Vegas, Texas, and Charlotte. Jimmie Johnson posted on Twitter that the 88 will be in victory lane soon, and I believe him. Earnhardt has made ten starts at Kansas and has four top 10 finishes, and if he has another strong car this weekend, I expect Junior to get his fifth. If not, a top 15 is still very likely.
9. Denny Hamlin – Hamlin hasn’t finished worse than 12th at Kansas since 2007, but he has only led two laps in his career here, so don’t expect the #11 to be out front all day. Denny has had some good runs at the intermediates this year, posting top ten finishes at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Richmond, and Darlington. As long as his engine can hold on, expect Hamlin to improve his career average finish at Kansas this weekend, which is currently at 17.8.
10. A.J. Allmendinger – In all reality, A.J. should have two top 5s in a row. His run last weekend came out of nowhere last week in Charlotte, but I was lucky enough to have him on a couple of my fantasy rosters. At Kansas, Allmendinger has made three starts and has come away with two top 10 finishes and a worst finish of 17th. With as strong as his teammate has been on the intermediates this year, it won’t be surprising to see The Dinger run up front on Sunday afternoon.
11. Kasey Kahne – The Red Bull Racing team is terribly inconsistent and their cars will either be super fast or terrible this weekend, so the rankings for them could easily change once I update my rankings after qualifying. Kahne has two top 10 finishes here in seven starts, and he also has two finishes outside of the top 30. Is he a risky pick this week? Of course, but high risk, high reward. The #4 Toyota finished 3rd in Richmond and 4th at Darlington this season.
12. Ryan Newman – “The Rocketman” will either be strong on Sunday–like he was at the intermediates to start off the season–or he will have just decent speed and end up right around his average career finish at Kansas (17.5). He finished 9th last season, but that was Newman’s first top ten here since his win in 2003 at this track.
13. Brian Vickers – As I said before, Red Bull can be very inconsistent, so don’t be surprised if Vickers finishes well above (or well below) this ranking. He finished 37th at Kansas in 2009 (he didn’t race here last season or in 2007) but before that, Brian’s worst finish was 19th in his first four starts here–including an 8th-place effort in 2006. Vickers has posted top ten finishes in two intermediate races this season: Richmond and Las Vegas.
14. Mark Martin - Martin has been good at getting solid top 20 finishes this season, and he’s done the same thing at Kansas, too: in ten starts at this track, Mark has just one finish outside of the top 20, and that was a 25th in 2002. Martin won here in 2005 and has an average career finish of 12.6 at Kansas Speedway. Will he finish that high on Sunday? I don’t think so, but I guess it’s possible. A finish between 14th and 20th is much more likely.
15. David Ragan – I have been saying week in and week out that I really like how David Ragan is running this season, especially on the intermediate tracks. He’s 18th in points and has the best average finish of his career except for 2008 (the year that he made the Chase). In four starts at Kansas, David has came away with three finishes in the top 16–including an 8th-place effort in 2008.
Just Outside The Top Fifteen Entering The STP 400:
Marcos Ambrose – The Tasmanian Devil is running great this season, and just may make the Chase–as I predicted. He has made three career starts at Kansas, and while two of them ended in finishes outside of the top 30, Ambrose did finish 14th here in 2009 and has been running great at the 1.5-mile tracks this season, including his 6th-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway last week.
Paul Menard – I may be completely wrong because Menard’s season is quickly going downhill, but you have to believe that they will turn things around eventually. He finished 8th here last season but his other three starts at Kansas have given Menard finishes of 27th, 27th, and 30th. He was running strong last week in Charlotte until he hit the wall, and I think he could have another strong run this weekend–as long as the bad luck bug doesn’t hit the 27 team.
Brad Keselowski – Keselowski has three straight top 20 finishes and I think he could easily extend that streak to four on Sunday. He has made two starts at this track and has finishes of 23rd and 13th. It seems, to me anyway, that the pairing of Keselowski and his crew chief in the Nationwide Series last year (Paul Wolfe) is really starting to benefit the 2 team and they are starting to be consistent week in and week out.
David Reutimann – As you should know, it’s not very smart to go against Reutty when the series comes to the intermediate tracks. He’s not great at Kansas by any means, but he did record an 8th-place finish in the 2009 race here. Remember that Reutimann won at Chicago last season, which is the sister track to Kansas. Let’s not forget that David has four finishes in the top 16 in the last five Sprint Cup races of the season.
Those To Avoid Entering The STP 400:
Joey Logano – “Sliced Bread” has made three career starts at Kansas Speedway and has a best finish of 17th. He got a top five last week in Charlotte, but I just don’t see Logano completely turning his season around this weekend. The entire Joe Gibbs Racing stable isn’t very good at this track, anyway.
Kyle Busch – This may be the only week that I will tell you to avoid “Rowdy” Busch. Statistically, this is his third-worst track on the circuit and he has only one top 10 in seven starts at Kansas. Could he pull off a surprise top ten this week? Of course–it’s Kyle Busch, you know–but he’s way too risky of a pick for me this weekend.
Jeff Gordon - I never would have imagined that Jeff Gordon would be on my “Avoid” lists as much as he has been on them this season. He has four straight top 5s at Kansas, but trust me: that streak will end this week. He has just one top 15 finish at the intermediate tracks this season, which is well below average for the #24 Chevrolet. Wait until Gordon puts together a good run on the intermediates before expecting a solid finish in the upcoming races at those tracks.
Jeff Burton – Last week in Charlotte was the race that Burton should have gotten his first top 10 of the season, and he didn’t. Don’t expect another good run–like he had in the Coca Cola 600–this weekend at Kansas, though. He has ten starts here and has just two top 10s and a career average finish of 18.5.