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Mash The Gas: Kansas Preview

Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth lead the field at the start of the 2016 Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway. [Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images]

Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth lead the field at the start of the 2016 Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway. [Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is back on a 1.5 mile “cookie cutter” circuit this week as the Kansas Speedway hosts the Go Bowling 400 Saturday night under the lights.

Go Bowling 400
Kansas Speedway
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)
Saturday, May 13, 7:30pm ET
FS1, 7 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)
The Kansas layout is similar to a majority of the tracks on the schedule and speeds have increased greatly since a repave a few years ago. Drivers have also searched all areas of the track in search of the fastest way around and that combined with the excitement of racing at night should make for quite a show.

Some drivers have excelled at the 1.5 mile tracks this season and here are a few to watch…

Kevin Harvick (Dan Margetta)
This weekend at Kansas is tailor made for Kevin Harvick’s first win of the season and his first victory for the Ford Motor Company. Harvick has finished first or second in five of the last seven races at Kansas and he owns two victories to go along with six top five finishes and eleven top ten results. He’s listed as a 6-1 favorite this weekend and it’s rightly deserved as his average finish of 8.8 is second best among the drivers. Need more convincing? How about the history of the chassis Harvick will use this weekend? This car has already won the pole position (Charlotte, Homestead, Atlanta) every time it has been driven and it thoroughly dominated the Atlanta race earlier this season, leading most of the event until a late pit road penalty relegated Harvick to a ninth place finish. With Rodney Childers calling the shots and the Ford camp running very well of late, I look for Kevin Harvick to be the driver to beat on Saturday night.

Joey Logano (John Wiedemann)
As we said last weekend, Joey Logano still needs a win to get in the playoffs. I’m looking for him and the #22 team to find victory lane this weekend, probably battling teammate Brad Keselowski for the win. Team Penske has been running very well this season and Logano’s encumbered win at Richmond as well as his getting caught up in the wreck near the end of the Talladeaga race have slowed the team down a bit. Look for a bounce-back race this weekend and Logano to solidly insert himself into the playoffs. Logano is sixth in the standings and leads the series (actually tied with his teammate) with six top fives and eight top tens in ten races so far this season. Including two wins, Logano has finished in the top five in six of his last seven races at Kansas. Look for him to continue that streak.

Jimmie Johnson (DM)
I know I picked Kevin Harvick to win this weekend but the fans of seven time and defending Series Champion Jimmie Johnson have to be screaming ‘don’t forget about our guy!’ Statistically no one is better at Kansas than Jimmie Johnson who has three victories and nine top five finishes as well as seventeen top ten results. Johnson is also listed as a 6-1 odds-on favorite this weekend as well and his average finish of 7.6 is the best in the garage. He also owns the best Driver Rating at Kansas and already has a victory this season at Texas, a similar track. Jimmie Johnson has already qualified for the playoffs so he and his team can take some chances and he should definitely be one to watch on Saturday night.

Matt Kenseth (JW)
Joe Gibbs Racing and driver Matt Kenseth is looking for their first win of the season and if you look at Kenseth’s past history, they may not be waiting much longer. Kenseth has the second best driver rating at the Kansas Speedway and the #20 team should be pretty happy to be racing there this weekend. Some really bad luck has Kenseth mired in 19th in the standings with two top fives, four top tens and even a pole, but three DNFs have held him back. The entire team has not run bad this season, but circumstances have kept all four teams out of victory lane. Look for all four teams to run well this season with veteran Kenseth leading the pack.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
Martin Truex Jr. also is listed by the Vegas odds makers as a 6-1 favorite this week and that his most likely due to his historical performances on the 1.5 miles tracks. Last season, no one was better on the “cookie cutter” tracks and while Truex dominated just about every time the series raced on them, he only had two victories to show for it. So far this season, Truex already has a 1.5 mile circuit victory from March at Las Vegas. Truex howver, has yet to win at Kansas where he has four top five finishes and five top tens. Truex and the #78 team have been Toyota’s best performing combination in 2017 and they have been up front all year. Saturday night should see more of the same from them.

Kasey Kahne (JW)
Quietly, Kasey Kahne is having a real good start to the season. This weekend at Kansas should allow Kahne to continue on his path up the standings. Still looking for that first victory at the Kansas Speedway, Kahne has run well and has the fifth best driver rating at the track. Kahne has scored three poles along with five top five and nine top ten finishes. So far this season, Kahne has two top five and one more top ten finish. Looking for more consistency, Kahne is 18th in the point standings. With the mile and a half tracks of Kansas this weekend and Charlotte the next two weeks, Kahne just might go on a good run and have himself ready for the second half of the regular season.

Clint Bowyer (DM)
Clint Bowyer had to have circled this weekend on the schedule when he moved into the #14 Stewart-Hass Ford as Kansas is his home track and the place he wants to win at the most. Bowyer has yet to find victory lane at his home and while he has two top five finishes and five top ten results, he hasn’t finished in the top ten since 2013. Things are different this year however and Bowyer has dramatic improvements performance wise as he has finished no worse than eleventh on the 1.5 mile tracks. He’s listed at 25-1 odds this week and he’s worth a serious look as the home track motivation shouldn’t be counted out. Bowyer has been very close to breaking through to the win column this season and Saturday night at Kansas would bring on quite the party if it should occur.

Erik Jones (JW)
This just could be a breakout weekend for Erik Jones. Returning to a track where he has run a Cup car previously may be the ticket for Jones to challenge for a win. Back in 2015, Jones ran this race in the #18 Joe Gibbs Racing ride subbing for an injured Kyle Busch. Jones qualified 12th in that race and was running in fourth place when he crashed in turn four. Back then, Jones was competing in the Camping World Truck Series and the jump up to the top series was huge. Now, with a bit of Monster Energy Cup Series racing under his belt, the bit of comfort should help him this weekend. Furniture Row Racing is great at the intermediate tracks and if Jones and his team can keep it together and minimize mistakes, they will be in the running for the victory at the end.

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Dan Margetta

Dan Margetta