Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kansas Practice Notes: Plenty of Long Shots With Great Chances of Being STP 400 Winner

Martin Truex Jr looked geat in Saturday's practices
By Micah Roberts

If you had to take a double take when looking at Saturday’s practice times from Kansas Speedway, you wouldn’t be alone. It’s been quite a while since we have actually seen an Earnhardt-Ganassi car have the look of a winner based on practice times, but between Juan Pablo Montoya being fastest in the early session and Jamie McMurray having the best 10 consecutive lap average in both practices, they should both hold their own in Sunday’s STP 400.

In light of the penalties NASCAR assessed to the Penske drivers after last weeks race at Texas, the initial reaction to seeing Montoya and McMurray so mysteriously fast is that they may be attempting some creative engineering, which is totally cool. This is a tough series and more power to the teams that stretch the boundaries of the rules. With a part-time team, the threat of losing points isn't a big deal, so if the No. 12 team found something for Hornish, good for them.

McMurray hasn’t been as good at any of the previous seven tracks this season, but does find running himself consistent weekly sitting 12th in points. The speed from Montoya is probability the biggest surprise. He has yet to finish in the top-10 of any race this season, and is still sitting behind Denny Hamlin in points at 27th place.

It wasn’t just McMurray and Montoya that made a huge impression. Part-time Penske Cup driver Sam Hornish Jr. blazed a trail on Saturday with the second best 10-consecutive lap average behind McMurray. Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr all looked fast as well. It was like a bizzaro practice day where most of the top drivers from the down force tracks this season didn‘t shine as much.

Matt Kenseth won the fall race last season, while driving the No. 17 Stenhouse Jr. is using, and finished Saturday's happy hour with the fastest individual lap. Kenseth gets the top rating this week because of that lap and winning at Las Vegas, which is the most similar to Kansas’ 17-20 degrees of variable banking.

Kyle Busch has never fared well at Kansas, and didn’t practice particularly well, but he’s still been the best on these type of tracks this season. His Fontana and Texas wins give him a lot of creditability here.

Martin Truex Jr. ran well in practice and gives plenty of reasons that he might be in store for his first win since 2007 at Dover. He was unlucky last week with a second-place finish at Texas, and he finished second in both Kansas race last season.

There looks to be about 25 drivers that have a good chance of winning on Sunday which shows that some of the teams that were behind on the Gen-6 car at Las Vegas, Fontana and Texas, are catching up fast. 2003 Kansas winner Ryan Newman looks to be one of those drivers that could shock the series.

This has the look of being a race that a long shot could cash at high odds. The best advice is to have an open mind with futures this week and take a gamble on a few.

No comments: