Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kansas Price Chopper 400 Preview: Tony Stewart Looks Like a Good Bet This Week

By Micah Roberts

This week at Kansas Speedway we have all types of elements coming together that make for plenty of interesting candidates to win. This is the third race of the Chase and while there are all kinds of storylines going around that involve Clint Bowyer and his upheld fine and deduction of points, he’s just as good a candidate to win as anyone. There will be no lull or dry spell despite knowing that he can’t win the Championship.

The heated exchange of words and paint between Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick is over, but not forgotten. Harvick did the appropriate venting during Dover practice and didn’t allow it to carry over onto the race itself. Each went about their business at hand and didn’t let any bitterness towards one another affect their ultimate goal of winning a title. If one had wrecked the other and hurt either one’s chances of finishing well, the retaliatory smack the following week would have happened which basically would have eliminated each other from contention.

We talk about all the Chase drivers as candidates to win every week, but there are three to five drivers outside the Chase that could win Sunday based on the track and past performances on similar types. The track itself is a 1.5-mile tri-oval, but it doesn’t resemble the others just because of it’s banking being much lower than the others. If looking to compare Kansas with any, California’s 2-mile layout has similar traits, as does Chicagoland. Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas and Charlotte all have much steeper banking and race at higher speeds despite being the same distance.

Of all the tracks on the season, year after year, Kansas is usually the hardest to dissect a winner from by using traditional methods of looking at similar tracks, driver history and final practices. So this week, I’m going in another direction where I begin with the actual chassis the driver is using and descend with the remaining data. I have made my plays already and then will look for some more action after seeing practice on Saturday. (Check back Saturday for my final ratings)

When looking at all the drivers chassis’ this week, there a whole slew of quality rides out there with only one having winning experience. Several drivers have brand new cars, but there are about nine others who brought cars with top-five finishes at various tracks throughout 2010 who should all contend this week. Even the likes of Mark Martin and Joey Logano should be considered contenders just because of their cars.

At the top of the list is Tony Stewart who is using his winning chassis from Atlanta, the same car that finished runner-up at Pocono. I like this car a lot and expect him to do well regardless of what happens in practice. He’s a two-time winner at Kansas, but most importantly, one of those wins came last year while with his current team. I also like that Stewart is sitting 10th in points 162 points out which gives me comfort in my 12 to 1 bet that I’ll be getting their most inspired effort of the season. There aren’t many drivers I like when the pressure is on, but Stewart ranks right up there with Jimmie Johnson as guys who are immune to the pressures of high stakes racing.

I feel much more comfortable with Stewart over Johnson this week just because of the primary car Johnson is using. Johnson drove the car to third-place in Atlanta last month, but prior to that, it was 10th at Pocono and 37th at Charlotte. Johnson won this race in 2008, but it was only his second top-five finish on the track. Last season he led 53 laps, but settled for ninth-place. Should Johnson announce that he’s using his back-up car, then I’ll have a problem because that cars is nearly unbeatable. In four starts dating back to last season, the back-up has three wins and a fifth. Two of the wins came at California, a track that a car can be modeled after for Kansas. Hopefully he doesn’t wreck in practice forcing a move to that stout back-up.

Some of the other top experienced cars being brought this week are that of Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and even Dale Earnhardt Jr.

If looking for the top driver on 1.5-mile tracks this season, you’ll start with Matt Kenseth who has a 10.2 average on the six tracks. Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch each have the next best average at 11.3 while Kurt Busch has led 393 laps in the six races that include wins at Charlotte and Atlanta.

For Kansas specific, Jeff Gordon leads the way with an 8.9 average finish in nine races that include winning the first Cup two races ever held on the track. Gordon also finished runner-up to Stewart last season. Following Gordon is Greg Biffle with a 9.0 average finish in eight Kansas starts that includes his 2007 win. He’s on a streak right now that has seen him finish no worse than third in five of the last six races. Biffle will be using a brand new car this week.

Clint Bowyer finished runner-up to Biffle on his home track of Kansas in 2007 and has a career average of 11.0 in his four starts. Bowyer is using his fourth place car from Chicagoland this week which should run similar. Another local driver, Jamie McMurray, will be taking one of his better cars to Kansas that has led 143 laps this season en route to being runner-up at Darlington and fifth at Chicagoland.

This race almost has a strange feel to it the way Chicago did when David Reutimann dominated the entire race. I can see Stewart running well, Gordon competing and McMurray making a run for his third win of the year. When it’s said and done, It’ll probably be Johnson and Busch 1-2, but there’s no fun in that payout.

Early Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #14 Tony Stewart (12/1)
2) #1 Jamie McMurray (25/1)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (7/1)
4) #99 Carl Edwards (10/1)
5) #16 Greg Biffle (10/1)

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