Mash The Gas: Kansas Preview

Joey Logano leads the field to start the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway. [Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images]

Joey Logano leads the field to start the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway. [Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

It’s back to the 1.5 mile ovals for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this weekend as the Kansas Speedway hosts the 400 Saturday night.

Go Bowling 400
Kansas Speedway
400.5 miles (267 laps)
Saturday, May 7 – 7:30pm ET
FS1, 7 pm ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Because the Kansas event is a night race, a look back to the last race conducted under the lights on a 1.5 mile track a few weeks ago at Texas could provide some insight on what drivers should have success at Kansas. Still others such as Kurt Busch suggest that due to the increased grip level of the Kansas track as compared to Texas, the race could play out more like the Las Vegas event back in March.

No matter how everything unfolds Saturday night, the drivers have to welcome a return to some sense of normalcy after the wreck strewn pressure cooker event at Talladega a week ago.

Here are some drivers to watch in the 400 on Saturday night from the Kansas Speedway…

Joey Logano (Dan Margetta)
While Joey Logano has yet to win since being put in his place by Matt Kenseth at Martinsville last season, he hasn’t toned down his aggressiveness as he returns to the site of his last victory and the incident that touched off the ongoing feud. Logano has won two of the last three Kansas events and he finished a strong second at Las Vegas and was third at Texas which makes him someone to highly consider as a contender this week. His Kansas record includes two victories and five top-five finishes which earns him 8-1 odds this weekend. If Joey Logano and the #22 team were looking for a place to capture their first win of the season and punch their ticket to the Chase, Kansas Speedway should look enticing. The only possible drawback is that Logano really hasn’t extended the olive branch since last season’s dust-ups and doesn’t have a whole lot of friends on the racetrack. It really doesn’t matter if he’s out front though and Logano is looking to lead the charge Saturday night as the others can “get in line with the rest of them.”

Jimmie Johnson (John Wiedemann)
Jimmie Johnson is the defending champion of this race and is looking for his third win of the season and series leading fourth victory at the track. Stats wise, Johnson is at the top of the charts with the most top five (8) and top ten finishes (16) in nineteen races at the Kansas track and an average finish of 7.3. Johnson has finished in the top five in all three mile and a half races so far this season including a victory at Atlanta. Johnson is all set for making the Chase so all that is left on his agenda is to rack up as many wins as possible.

Kyle Busch (DM)
For a long time the Kansas Speedway was Kyle Busch’s Kryptonite and just surviving the weekend was the goal. That has changed recently as Busch owns top five finishes in his last two events at Kansas. He missed this race last year due to injury and it was the final event he sat out before going on his championship winning tear. Kyle Busch won the night race at Texas this year and he led late in the race at Las Vegas before finishing fourth. He has top five finishes in every race contested on the 1.5 mile tracks this season and has a series leading eight top five finishes in the first ten races of 2016. Busch enters this weekend at 8-1 odds and while he still seeks his first Kansas victory, the focus here has shifted from merely surviving to being considered a strong contender to find victory lane.

Kasey Kahne (JW)
Kasey Kahne is close to having a turnaround season. His best finishes so far have been at the D-shaped ovals where he had his best finish of fourth and top tens at the mile and a half Texas and Las Vegas Motor Speedways. Can Kahne continue a turn around and position himself solidly in the Chase? This weekend will be a tell tale sign as Kahne enters the weekend four points behind the cutoff position currently held by Trevor Bayne. Prior to joining Hendrick Motorsports, the intermediate tracks are where Kahne had the most success and that success was supposed to increase with the powerful team. Kahne made the Chase in his first season with Hendrick and finshed fourth in the final standings. Since then his results have seen a steady decline. A solid finish this weekend could boost the team as they head towards Charlotte where Kahne is very good and could find his way to victory lane.

Carl Edwards (DM)
The Kansas event is a home game for Carl Edwards and this is the place he wants to win at the most. He has yet to win at Kansas but does have six top five finishes and twelve top ten results which brings him in at 8-1 odds this week. While having not yet found victory lane, Edwards does have the second best average finish at Kansas and he did sit on the pole at Texas and lead laps and finish seventh. He’s also strong together top ten finishes in six of the least seven races, a stretch that also includes two victories. Edwards and new crew chief Dave Rogers have worked together nicely this season despite doing things just a bit different from their Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and a win at Edwards’ home track would be a big deal for both the driver and the crowd. Carl Edwards has “home field advantage” this weekend and he is definitely one to watch Saturday night.

Rookie Battle (JW)
The Sunoco Rookie Of The Year battle is making up for all the past years when there hasn’t been one. While Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney challenge each other for the ROY award, they are becoming a challenge for the rest of the field. Both drivers finished in the top ten last weekend at Talladega giving Elliott his third top five and sixth top ten finish. Blaney’s run was his third top ten finish. At Kansas Speedway, Blaney finished seventh in the fall Sprint Cup Series event and Elliott has two top ten finishes running in the XFINITY series. Elliott is running well at the intermediate tracks with an eighth place finish at Atlanta and a fifth place finish at Texas, the start of three top fives in the last four races. Blaney had a sixth place finish at Las Vegas earlier this season, combine that with his experience at Kansas and he should be set for this weekend. It’s going to be tough to pick one rookie over the other as the season progresses and it sure is going to be fun to watch.

Martin Truex Jr. (DM)
By all rights, Martin Truex Jr. should have won the night race at Texas a few weeks ago but a pit call to remain on the track late in the race cost him the victory. The #78 team has a chance to redeem themselves Saturday night at Kansas and make up for the Texas disappointment where Truex led the most laps and dominated the race before losing out on the win. He enters the Kansas event at 10-1 odds and while he has yet to win here, he does have two runner-up finishes. He also led the most laps in this race a year ago and was strong in the other races on 1.5 mile tracks this season. After kicking himself for the Texas pit call, crew chief Cole Pearn has to be looking toward Kansas to make things right and get Truex his first victory of 2016. This team has ran too good to not have a win this year and they could continue their dominating performance of Texas only this time the deal could be sealed with a trip to victory lane.

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