Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kansas Speedway NASCAR Notes

Bowyer, Hamlin and Gordon chat during Wednesday's testing (Getty)
Picking Kansas Winner Easy As One-Two-Three
Easy to pick the favorites in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. Just check the top of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ standings.
Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin remain one, two and three as NASCAR’s post season rolls into its second half. Hamlin, Johnson and Keselowski are Kansas Speedway’s three most recent race winners. Coincidence? Perhaps; perhaps not.
Sunday’s race marks the first time in the Chase era – and the 21st Century – that the top three in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings go to a track where they’ve won the past three races.
It’s happened seven times, most recently on Sept. 26, 1999 at Dover International Speedway. Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin were the points leaders/three most recent race winners.
Keselowski saw his Chase lead halved at Charlotte Motor Speedway where a fuel-mileage miscalculation – heretofore the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team’s strong point – resulted in an 11th-place finish. Not the end of the world for Keselowski’s championship hopes but certainly a misstep, especially after he led the most laps (139) of the Bank of America 500.
Keselowski’s first victory (of eight) for Penske Racing came at Kansas in May 2011. His average finish in five Kansas races is 10.2. Oh – and he won on fuel mileage. He finished 11th in April.
Johnson is among four drivers with two Kansas victories. Last fall’s victory didn’t lead to a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Winning in 2008 did make Johnson the only driver with a Kansas victory and a championship under the Chase format.
While statistics may be a subject measurement with the 1.5-track repaved and reconfigured since May’s STP 400, Johnson’s results can’t be ignored.
His average finish (7.9 in 12 races) is best among active drivers. Johnson’s Driver Rating (120.7) also is best, as is his 373 Fastest Laps Run, Average Green Flag Speed (162.892) and 425 Quality Passes.
Johnson finished third in May’s Kansas stop.
Hamlin’s May victory was solid in every respect: A start of fourth, twice a leader including the final 31 laps and a Driver Rating of 128.6 – fractionally lower than that of second-place Martin Truex Jr., who paced the most laps.
The Virginia native has three top fives at Kansas and an average finish in nine races of 14.4, 11th-best among active drivers. His other Loop Data stats are in the mid-range – none better than seventh (342 Quality Passes).
Toyota’s one-two finish in May was unprecedented. The manufacturer never had won at Kansas Speedway, let alone sweep the top two positions. Hendrick Motorsports’ four victories – two each by Johnson and Jeff Gordon – are the most by a team in Kansas.

Bowyer Heads Home Truly A Championship Contender
A hero’s welcome awaits Clint Bowyer’s return to his native Kansas this week.
And why not? Bowyer, who switched teams at the conclusion of 2011 – from Richard Childress Racing to Michael Waltrip Racing – is riding a high that well could take the Emporia native straight to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
Bowyer’s third and latest victory of the year last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway boosted the 33-year-old veteran to fourth in Chase standings, 28 points behind leader Brad Keselowski. He’s enjoying a career-best season – most wins, top fives (eight) and top 10s (19).
For Bowyer – and MWR, in the Chase for the first time – change is good. He’s among active drivers who’ve boosted their competitive standing by swapping teams. Among them are Kyle Busch, eight victories in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing; Mark Martin, a five-time winner in his debut with Hendrick Motorsports and Tony Stewart, whose decision to co-own Stewart-Haas Racing was good for four wins in 2009 and a third NASCAR Sprint Cup title two years later.
Bowyer has three top 10s at the “old” Kansas Speedway including a second place in 2007. He finished seventh in last year’s Hollywood Casino 400 but was 36th in May’s STP 400. His Driver Rating is 85.7 – 15th best among active drivers.
Momentum, the will to win and a brand-new racing surface could make Bowyer a tough driver to beat in Sunday’s race and beyond. “If we could possibly pull this off again in Kansas, it would be, that’s my, do you dare say Daytona 500? But it truly is. That’s the biggest race you can possibly win in front of your hometown,” said Bowyer following his Bank of America 500 victory.

Teams Confront Entirely Different Kansas Speedway
Loose the Dragon. That’s as in Kansas Speedway’s Tire Dragon, a device that’s been in use around the clock since the completion of the track’s repaving and reconfiguration in late summer. The machine uses more than 200 Goodyear tires to “rubber in” the new surface, which will see cars on track with testing by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
Additionally, a number of drivers – Randy LaJoie, David Green, Brian Keselowski, Steve Grissom, Justin Labonte and Brad Noffsinger – have been circling the 1.5-mile track in retired NASCAR Sprint Cup cars running higher lines to encourage multiple grooves with additional rubber. The same two processes were employed successfully in 2011 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Teams will see two major changes when they arrive in Kansas City, Kan. There’s the brand-new asphalt surface eliminating the seams that previously held the winter-ravaged and deteriorating pavement together and upset the handling of the race cars.
Kansas Speedway’s turns also have been reconfigured, relegating teams’ previous set-up manuals to the rubbish bin. The track’s turns were banked 15 degrees from apron to SAFER barrier. Variable banking of 17 through 20 degrees, much like that of Homestead-Miami Speedway, should create multiple racing grooves. Computer modeling based on the geometry of the track after the reconfiguration was completed has all three lines within 0.1 seconds of each other. The computer says the highest line – 20 degrees – is the fastest way around the track.

Edwards Will Take Any Victory, Especially In Kansas
It’s hard to think of Carl Edwards as “spoiler,” especially at his home track, Kansas Speedway.
But that’s the Columbia, Mo. resident’s role on Sunday, Edwards having failed to qualify for the Chase for just the second time in 2012 and without a victory since March 2011. But perhaps it’s Edwards’ time to get his due – where winning would be among his greatest achievements regardless of championship implications.
Edwards has the credentials to become Kansas Speedway’s first “outsider” winner since Greg Biffle crashed the Chasers’ party in 2007. His sixth consecutive top-10 finishes include a second in 2008, and at 10.5, his Kansas Speedway average finish ranks fourth among active drivers
Edwards isn’t the only outlier thirsting for a Chase-busting victory. Mark Martin, racing a part-time schedule for Michael Waltrip Racing, has been on the cusp of Victory Lane all season.
Were Martin, a Kansas winner in 2005 a Chase qualifier, he’d have championship buzz: two top-five and four top-10 finishes plus a Coors Light Pole in his most recent six races. Martin is a Kansas winner (2005) and finished 10th in last year’s fall event.

Stewart, Gordon Facing Must-Win Scenarios
Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart has five races in which to display last year’s magic. There’s still time to mount a successful defense of his third title – but not much and it’s running out.
And he’s going to have to get some cooperation from his competition.
Stewart stood fifth at the mid-point of last year’s Chase, three positions higher than currently ranked. The deficit to Carl Edwards was 24 points. Stewart currently trails by 50 points, following a 13th-place finish in Charlotte.
Stewart opened this year’s Chase with back-to-back top 10s leading laps at both Chicagoland and New Hampshire. He’s led one lap and finished 20th or worse in two of three subsequent races. Kansas offers opportunity. Stewart twice has won at the track where his Driver Rating (102.9) is third best.
The Hollywood Casino 400 likely is Jeff Gordon’s last stand. Gordon failed to take advantage of Brad Keselowski’s fuel-mileage miscue at Charlotte and is 50 points behind the Chase leader. Gordon also is a two-time Kansas winner (2001-02) and posted five consecutive top-five finishes between 2007 and last year’s spring race. On the flip side, Gordon was eliminated from last year’s Chase race by engine failure and finished three laps down in 21st this May.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Chevrolet can mathematically clinch its 10th consecutive NSCS Manufacturers’ Championship (and 36th overall) on Sunday in Kansas. If Chevrolet leads the manufacturer standings by 25 points leaving the race, it will clinch. Chevrolet currently holds a 24-point lead over Toyota. Finishing ahead of Toyota will guarantee the title. … Michael Jackson of Duluth, Minnesota, will enjoy a VIP experience at Kansas as one of four national finalists for the 2012 Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, given annually to a NASCAR fan who has had an impact on children in the local community. Jackson will take a pace car ride and garage tour and will meet Denny Hamlin, and other NASCAR Toyota drivers. Jackson’s chosen charity, Starlight Children’s Foundation, will receive $25,000 from The NASCAR Foundation. The national winner, chosen by a fan vote on, will receive $100,000 for his or her charity and be recognized at the awards banquet in Las Vegas in Nov. 30.

- NASCAR Media Services

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