Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kansas Hollywood Casino 400 Preview

By Micah Roberts

Kansas gets its second visit of the season this week (Getty)
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series makes their second visit of the season to Kansas Speedway this weekend as the fourth race of the Chase. Last weekend's win by Kurt Busch at Dover jumbled things up even more with both he and his his friendly rival, Jimmie Johnson, making major moves forward. Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards now find themselves tied for the points lead as Tony Stewart took a giant step backwards after winning the first two races of the chase.

The only thing clear with seven races remaining is that Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr are getting closer to elimination. As for the other nine drivers, a mere 19 points separates them all.

Johnson's runner-up finish moved him up five positions in the standings and has the five-time defending champ once again lurking for the title. It was only a week ago where many of us were discussing that the reign might be over.

"Are we out of this, still?" Johnson jokingly said after the Dover race. "Last week, I was considered done."

Johnson's resume at Kansas has been impressive. In his last five starts there he hasn't finished worse than ninth and includes a 2008 win. His chances this week rest with a car that he finished 10th with at Chicagoland.

Many teams are bringing their same car from Chicago because it's a track that probably runs closest to Kansas. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are bringing theirs. Harvick used his for a runner-up finish, while Kyle was in store for a top-10 finish but ran out of fuel with two laps to go.

Brad Keselowski won the first of his three races on the season at Kansas in June, coasting to the victory on fumes as he played the fuel mileage strategy to perfection. He finds himself right in the mix of things and will use his third-place Michigan car to try and get it done again this week.

Kurt Busch had everything right but fuel mileage (Getty)
Keselowski's win was the misfortune of his teammate Kurt Busch who led 152 laps at Kansas, but was forced to give up the lead late and pit for fuel. After getting the win last week, it looks like he and crew chief Steve Addington are back on the same page again and they're bringing a car they feel pretty comfortable with this week.

“This is a sister car to our ‘758’ that we won Dover with last weekend, " Addington said earlier this week. "Since the last time out, we’ve gone back and completely redone this car with our latest stuff. It’ll be a good car for Kansas and we can’t wait to get back out there. We’re heading in there with the attitude that we have some unfinished business to take care of this time around.”

You have to love that attitude of the No. 22 team going for you when you got a betting ticket with Kurt Busch's name on it.

Jeff Gordon has finished fifth of better in his last five Kansas starts and captured the first two wins on the track beginning in 2001. Gordon dropped four positions to ninth last week, but should be able to make up some ground on most of the drivers this week.

“This has been a great track for us and I can’t wait for this weekend’s race," said Gordon. "I hope we run like we did earlier this year. If so, it gives us a chance to make up some points. I feel like Kansas is where we really turned the corner this year with our 1.5-mile program. We ran really strong and I felt like we had a shot at winning that race."

Stewart should be able to pick up the pace again this week as well based on past history. He is a two-time winner at Kansas and has finished eighth or better in his last three starts there. The best reason to like Stewart this week rests with the car he's bringing. It's the same car he used to finish runner-up at Las Vegas, a race he had in the bag before a pit-road mistake. He also used the same car to finish third at Atlanta over Labor Day weekend.

Edwards is hoping for some home cooking this week (Getty)
Kansas is a track that plays right into Edwards strengths since it's a 1.5-mile track. Although he hasn't won there yet, he's excelled by having finishes of sixth or better in five of his eight career starts there. Because the track is only 130 miles away from his hometown of Columbia, Mo, he's got other added incentive to do well this week.

“There is absolutely nothing better than racing in front of your family and friends at your hometown track this weekend at Kansas Speedway," said Edwards who is bringing his seventh-place Pocono chassis this week. "A win there would mean the world to me. We are going into Kansas tied for the lead with seven races to go and we are coming off a good finish at Dover. We’d like to build on that lead and Kansas would be the perfect track to do that.”

A driver outside the Chase that could make some noise this week is Greg Biffle who has won two of the last five races there, including last season. He's finished third or better in six of his last eight starts there.

“Kansas is a unique track that I have always enjoyed racing at, " Biffle said in a press release. "I think I enjoy it because I’ve run well there. We were able to win there last year and finished third there the two years before that. We got our only win of the 2007 season at Kansas too, so we know we can get to victory lane there if we don’t have anything go wrong. We’re working really hard on all fronts to do everything we can to get the No. 16 Ford into the winner’s circle. We have Sherwin-Williams on the car this week which is the same paint scheme we took to victory lane in Kansas last year.”

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #22 Kurt Busch (8/1)
2) #14 Tony Stewart (10/1)
3) #99 Carl Edwards (7/1)
4) #16 Greg Biffle (18/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (9/1)

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