Saturday, October 5, 2013

Kansas Practice Notes: 2013 Hollywood Casino 400

Kenseth might have some tough competition this week at Kansas
During Saturday’s final practices at Kansas Speedway, we saw a couple of Fords that look like they might be able to compete for a win in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. The Fords were led by Carl Edwards who was fastest during the final practice session, and 2011 Kansas winner Brad Keselowski was third on the charts.

Edwards has never won on Kansas’s 1.5-mile layout, but he has an 11.3 average finish in 12 starts. The only driver more consistent at Kansas than Keselowski (9.3) is Jimmie Johnson (7.6).

Johnson was fifth fastest in both of Saturday’s practices and also was fastest Thursday during a Kansas test session. He’s a two-time winner there, but has yet to win on any of the seven 1.5-mile tracks this season. The No. 48 does look fast enough to compete with points leader Matt Kenseth, but is a large underdog head-to-head against the Joe Gibbs driver.

Kenseth has simply been the best on these tracks all season, winning four times, including the April Kansas race. He’s won two straight there and his car gave every bit of indication in practice that he’s still the driver to beat Sunday.

However, Kenseth may not look imposing this week just because there was a lot of cars out there with speed during practices that look like they can contend for wins.

Kevin Harvick won the pole on Friday and practiced well Saturday while sporting a brand new chassis this week. Harvick is the only driver to crack into the win column other than JGR drivers on 1.5-mile tracks, as he snatched the checkers at Charlotte in May. His teammate Paul Menard also fared very well Saturday with the fastest 10-consecutive lap average during happy hour.

Kyle Busch wrecked during Saturday’s early session and had to go with a back-up which starts him from the tail end during Sunday’s race. The No. 18 could find the type of speed that helped propel them to wins at similar, but higher banked, and faster tracks at Texas and Atlanta. They’ll figure things out during each pit stop and in the later stages of the race, he’ll be fighting for a top-5 and competing well.

This is a big test for Busch because so far he’s had top-5 finishes in the first three races of the Chase, and looks to be a real contender to win his first Sprint Cup trophy. Part of winning a championship is dealing with adversity. Busch probably knows that better than anyone and will use this race to challenge the entire crew, including himself. Once the car is set-up properly, he can let it fly and go for the win.

Joey Logano didn’t do anything special in practice, and he also has never done anything spectacular at Kansas as his 26.1 average finish will attest to, but he should be considered someone to watch and maybe take a chance on as his odds increase upwards to 35-to-1 and higher. The reason: simply because you always have to respect the car.

In this case, Logano is using the chassis that last raced at Michigan in August, and won. Logano oudueled Mark Martin, Keselowski and Harvick for his first win of the season and first win for Penske Racing after switching from Dodge to Ford. The win kind of changed the course of his season, and possibly his career. Because teammate Keselowski ran well in practice, there’s a good likelihood that getting help to make the No. 22 go fast won’t be difficult. Like Busch, watch Logano get better as the race goes on.

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