Mash The Gas: Kansas Speedway

It’s back to the mile and a half circuits for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as the Kansas Speedway hosts the Hollywood Casino 400 on Sunday afternoon. Even though the surface has had a year to age since being repaved last season, the Kansas Speedway is still super-fast and has produced very minimal tire wear which has prompted Goodyear to bring a slightly different tire to race on this weekend. The 1.5 mile tracks are the bread and butter of the Chase for the Championship and certain drivers have excelled at these types of tracks in the past. Here a few drivers we think you should watch on Sunday.

Matt Kenseth
Dan Margetta: Matt Kenseth and the #20 team have been the kings of the 1.5 mile circuits in 2013 with wins so far at Las Vegas, Kentucky, Chicago, and right here at Kansas earlier in the year. In fact, speaking of Kansas, Matt Kenseth has won every race here since the repave. He has top ten finishes in seven out of his last eight races here with five of those finishes in the top five. After winning the first two Chase races, Kenseth lost points to Jimmie Johnson last week at Dover but he could expand on his eight point lead this weekend as he’s back on a 1.5 mile track which has been his strong suit in 2013. Until someone knocks this team off the top of the hill on the 1.5 mile tracks, Kenseth is a strong favorite to grab win #3 of the Chase and #8 on the season.

Jimmie Johnson
John Wiedemann: Jimmie Johnson’s win last week broke the one-two finish streak of Joe Gibbs Racing and moved him into second place in the standing just eight points behind Kenseth. Including this weekend there are seven races to go in the Chase but it is shaping up to be a Hendrick and Gibbs showdown. Kansas should be great track to see where the teams are with both running well on the mile and a half ovals. Johnson finished ninth at this race last year and has two wins at the Kansas track. I predict that he will not be the driver lighting up the tires after the checkers fall but he will finish in the top three.

Kasey Kahne
DM: Kasey Kahne has been equally as strong as Matt Kenseth on the 1.5 mile tracks in 2013. The problem is he has no wins to show for it despite finishing second at Las Vegas, Kansas, and Charlotte. Kahne is currently mired in last place in the Chase standings, nearly two full races out of the lead and he needs a strong Kansas race to even think about salvaging his 2013 Chase run. Kansas could be the place Kahne turns it around as he has had four consecutive top five finishes here with two second place results. Sounds kind of familiar doesn’t it? If Kahne and the #5 team can find a way to close the deal, they could be awfully tough at Kansas.

Kyle Busch
JW: Looking at the stats, one would think that Kansas is not a track that Kyle Busch wants to go to. Accidents have been numerous at Kansas for Kyle in recent races and he only has two top ten finishes. But this year has been different for Kyle especially late in the year. Busch has a third place average in the three Chase races so far and I predict he will better that average with a win at Kansas. The championship Chase is going to continue to be a tight three car battle.

Brad Keselowski
DM: While the defending Sprint Cup Champion has had a dismal 2013 season to date, Kansas could provide a silver lining for Brad Keselowski. He has one win at the track and boasts a strong 9.3 average finishing position. Even though it’s possible most of Penske’s resources are being focused on their Chase car of Joey Logano, Keselowski has to be determined to at least snag a victory in these final races of 2013 and avoid being the first defending champion to go a full season without a win since 1980 champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. failed to win a race in 1981 after switching car owners midway through the year.

Jeff Gordon
JW: Right now. Now is the time for Jeff Gordon to put himself in the championship picture. 39 points back, the winner of the first two Kansas races needs to find some of that old glory and battle the top three drivers in the standings. Falling back much further in points will end a shot at the cup. Gordon’s run at Dover last weekend where he finished fourth shows that the #24 team can run to the front, now is the time to do it again.

Martin Truex Jr.
DM: After a tumultuous month in which Martin Truex Jr. was first kicked out of the Chase and then lost his sponsor and possibly his ride due to circumstances he had nothing to do with, Kansas could be just what the doctor ordered for this team. Truex’s last three Kansas finishes have been second, second, and fourth and he’s been dominant in each of those events. With the future somewhat uncertain for both the driver and team, a Kansas win would go a long way in providing them with at least some security going forward into next season.

Yellow Bumpers
JW: Kyle Larson will be making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut and Justin Allgaier will make his second Cup start this weekend. These drivers will be interesting to watch to see how they run with the big boys. Allgaier is a solid Midwest racer who will get everything out of his car that is possible without getting himself into trouble. Larson, on the other hand, is the latest “sliced-bread” driver that has risen through the series ladder like a rocket. I have no doubt that Larson will find himself at the front of the pack mixing it up. These two are the future and will be fun to watch.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
DM: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is my long shot pick this week, coming in at 75-1 odds in Las Vegas. Stenhouse has shown steady improvement on the 1.5 mile tracks in 2013, scoring a pole position at Atlanta and having finishes of 11th here at Kansas and 8th a few weeks ago at Chicago. Stenhouse celebrated a birthday this week and his driving style has always been flat out and fast which fits very well at the newly paved Kansas Speedway. The rookie has progressed nicely in 2013 and he could be one to watch Sunday at Kansas.

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