Friday, May 9, 2014

Kansas Practice Notes: Bowyer has best practices of season on Friday

Clint Bowyer had his best set of practices of 2014 at Kansas on Friday
Clint Bowyer’s third-place finish at Talladega last week was his first top-5 of the season, and apparently he’s looking to better that mark this week at Kansas Speedway where the home cooking has helped give his team their best practice sessions of the year. In Friday’s first practice session, the Emporia, KS native laid down the third fastest lap (188.528 mph) on the 32nd of 50 laps run, a session that most teams used a mock-race set-up. In the second and final practice, mostly used in qualifying trim, he was second fastest.

Bowyer did have the fastest lap during happy hour until the final minute of the 50-minute session when Tony Stewart topped the charts at 192.809 mph. It’s a good sign for Stewart who is still searching for his first win of the season. He‘s looked uneasy at times while still recovering from last seasons broken leg, but being fast can help mend the mental approach to injuries in a hurry.

The main story from Friday is Bowyer, and it helps that Kansas his is home track and also that Saturday night‘s race sponsor is 5-Hour Energy, who also happens to sponsor Bowyer’s car. His best finish there was second-place in 2007, and he was fifth in this race last season. But it’s been a struggle for him this year, not just on the two 1.5-mile tracks and 2-mile layout at Fontana -- tracks that are relevant to Kansas, but everywhere. His teammate, Brian Vickers, has had quality finishes all season long, but Bowyer has been out of character at tracks he typically does well at.

The one positive the No. 15 Toyota had before Talladega last week was an eighth-place finish at Texas in April, a track that correlates well to the flatter Kansas layout. Vickers finished fourth at Texas and was seventh fastest in Friday’s final practice, an indication that the Michael Waltrip Racing stable might have something for the Penske Ford’s that have won both 1.5-mile races this season.

If Bowyer had more on his resume this season besides the quality Texas finish and restrictor-plate finish at Talladega, he would have been rated higher than No. 4 in our driver ratings. The drivers ahead of him are Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano. In Harvick and Logano’s case, they each have two wins on the season and proved they can close races out. In Gordon’s case, he’s been good every week and leads the series in points and seven top-10 finishes. Gordon finished second to Logano at Texas.

Gordon has shown that he can’t close out a race yet this season. He could have probably had two wins if he was of the nastier nature, but at least he has a car and team that has him position to be fighting for wins. Bowyer hasn’t had that this year -- yet. At 20-to-1 odds, Bowyer would certainly be attractive to take a shot with and gamble to see if his practices translate over to race day.

Kyle Larson has been fast on every down force track practice this season, and did it again Friday with the fastest lap during the first practice session. It didn’t translate well to race day at Las Vegas, but he grabbed a second-place finish at Fontana and fifth at Texas. Larson was also fourth fastest in qualifying trim during the final session. Larson had 20-to-1 odds before the practices, but those odds will be hard to find now as it’s quite obvious that he’s knocking on the door for his first career win.

Despite the poor finishes by Harvick at Las Vegas (41st) and Texas (42nd), he still tops our list as the driver to beat because we know he’s going to be fast and if he has the chance to win with the weekly ‘swing for the fences’ approach now that he has two wins, he would wreck his Mom to grab the checkers (maybe not on this particular special weekend for Mom). You get the idea. he's a badass. Plus, he's using his winning chassis from Phoenix which won't hurt his confidence.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Jeff Gordon’s consistency, which makes him a strong threat to win. The best car this season for Hendrick Motorsports has been Gordon’s No. 24. When’s the last time we have been able to say that during a season? Certainly not since Gordon brought Jimmie Johnson in to drive the No. 48.

Keep a close eye on Johnson this week to see how he fares and use it for the Charlotte events over the next two weeks. He’s on a run at Kansas of 10 straight finishes of ninth or better, including two wins. If there is a track he’s capable of bouncing back on, Kansas would be it. He’s using a chassis this week that led 104 laps at Fontana before a tire issue caused him to finish 24th.

Look for Gordon and Harvick to be battling for the win with Logano not far behind. The best candidates with longer odds to win are Bowyer, Larson and two-time Kansas winner Greg Biffle. The Richard Petty cars also look to have a little zip in them and might be good wagers for driver match-ups.

Read More Here.........Final Driver Ratings for Kansas

Practice 1 Speeds

Practice 2 Speeds

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