Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kansas Preview: Biffle Rolls into His Best Track With Momentum

By Micah Roberts

Greg Biffle has the look of a champion in 2012 (Getty)
Greg Biffle’s win last week at Texas was his first of the year ending a 49-race winless streak and lengthened his points lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. With the win, it showed Biffle to be much more than just a flash in the pan who might be gobbled up by the Jimmie Johnson’s and Tony Stewart’s of the series. No, this version of Greg Biffle has the look of a being a champion who could become the first to win Championships in all three major NASCAR series.

The odds at the LVH Super Book also reflect the sudden change in perception. Although Biffle has finished no worse than 13th in any race this season, he was still listed at 12-to-1 to win the title going into Texas. After proving he could close out a race with a dominating performance, the LVH dropped him all the way to 8-to-1 as one of the favorites just behind Johnson and Stewart (5/1).

Biffle has now proven to be one of the elite in the series on the type of tracks that win championships, which is the 1.5 and 2-mile tracks. Stewart may have two wins on those tracks (Las Vegas and California), but he laid an egg at Texas and no one on the No. 14 team can explain why, either. Biffle, on the other hand, now has a win at Texas, third at Las Vegas and sixth at California which suggests his team is dialed in on these tracks and won’t be going away anytime soon.

Guess what kind of track comes up this week? Of course, another 1.5-mile track. The schedule is littered with them. You can’t win the Chase unless you can run well on the 1.5-mile tracks, which five of the 10 Chase races are.

Biffle could get greedy after satisfying his winning thirst last week because Kansas Speedway has been virtually owned by him. No one has a better average finish at Kansas (8.3) than Biffle and no one looks better than him right now. He’s got the best of both worlds in his favor right now: current form and past history.

He has two wins at Kansas, but what’s amazing about his runs there is that they have been great even when their team was going through funks. He hasn’t finished worse than 12th since 2003 and has finished in the top-3 in six of his last nine starts. Biffle should once again be in good shape at Kansas and will be using his Vegas chassis to get it done.

A driver who took an immediate liking to Kansas at the same Biffle did when they were rookies in 2002 is Jimmie Johnson. Johnson is just behind Biffle in career average finish (8.4) at Kansas and has won two of the last five races run there, including last fall. Johnson finished runner-up last week at Texas, his second runner-up on a 1.5-mile track this season.

Tony Stewart is a two-time Kansas winner and should be given a free pass for last week at Texas. It was just one of those freak things that happens once in a while. They couldn’t get his primary or back-up car set properly at Texas, but their winning Las Vegas and California notes should serve them well at the flatter Kansas layout. The banking is flatter than Vegas and almost the same as California.

Jeff Gordon won the first two Kansas races in 2001 and 2002 and has eight top-5 finishes in 12 career starts, but can't really explain why he's had so much success.

“For whatever reason, we have run well here since the beginning,” Gordon said. “We won the first two races and, even though we experienced engine issues in the fall, we ran well in both races here last year. And I think our cars are even better this year.”

Gordon looked strong last week at Texas with a fourth-place run and may have had a car capable of winning, but the long final green flag run never allowed him to get into position close to the leader. His run last week was his first top-5 of the season and moved him up to 17th in the standings.

Clint Bowyer will have his entire state watching him (Getty)
Clint Bowyer is a Kansas native and has always given it his best on his home track and this week will be no different.

“Anytime I go back to Kansas it’s always busy," said Bowyer, who had a career best runner-up finish at Kansas in 2007. "I’ll have a lot of different people pulling in a lot of different directions for appearances because of the fact that it’s your home track, but I’m getting in on Wednesday night and have an appearance at the Dealers Auto Auction and from there it just keeps rolling. That’s the thing – it’s difficult to go home because of getting pulled in all the different directions—all the while trying to focus on getting a good run, because that’s really what’s important to you the most there. It’s important to me to run well in front of all my fans, friends and family.”

And the stats prove that Bowyer has run well as he's averaged a 12th-place finish in his seven starts. He'll also have the luxury this week of using a great chassis that finished sixth in Las Vegas last month.

The Michael Waltrip Racing team has been flexing their muscles at almost every track and are on the brink of finally breaking through with a win. Last week it was Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr who finished in the top-6. This week, look for Bowyer to be up there.

Another driver that has home ties to the area is Carl Edwards who hails from nearby Columbia, Missouri. This Sunday, Edwards will try to do all he can to get his first win on the track.

“There would be no bigger win on the circuit than Kansas for me," said Edwards, who will be using a new chassis this week. "If I had to choose winning one race throughout the year, this would be the one I pick. The amount of pride that I would have winning that close to home and in front of so many people that are friends of mine, and people that have helped me would be huge. We have had some pretty good mile-and-a-half race cars and we get two shots at it each year. That race for me, whether it is right or wrong, I will put as much emphasis or pressure on myself as I can to go win there.”

Edwards has a solid 10.7 average finish and finished fifth in both races last season.

Brad Keselowski finished first and third in the two Kansas races and can't be dismissed despite some recent issues. Matt Kenseth had his best career finish last fall with a fourth-place finish, which is kind of surprising because of how well Kenseth usually does on these type of tracks. Kenseth should have a much better record there with at least a win considering how well he's done on similar tracks..

Keselowski’s win last year was also a surprise, but it’s very rare that surprises happen at Kansas. The driver who wins the race can usually be identified earlier in practice runs. It’s one of the better tracks where great practice times translate to race day.

Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
2) #14 Tony Stewart (7/1)
3) #16 Greg Biffle (7/1)
4) #15 Clint Bowyer (25/1)
5) #24 Jeff Gordon (12/1)

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