The third race of NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship takes us to Kansas Speedway, a race that is considered somewhat of a wild card for most teams. On just about every track on the circuit there is a similar one elsewhere where data and information gained on one translates well to the other. For each of the other races in the Chase, the crew chiefs can review all their notes from earlier this season using several different tracks. But Kansas is much different. It doesn’t run like any track and most teams have to rely on what happened last year to prepare for Sunday’s race.
Although Kansas is one of seven 1.5-mile tracks that consists of 10 races on the season, the 15 degrees of banking make it one of the flatter tracks of the seven. The information gained this year at all the tracks is of little use in preparation for Kansas. The track actually resembles the old layout of Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but of the current tracks, Chicagoland Speedway would serve as the best barometer. If looking back at what happened at Chicago in July — with long shot David Reutimann winning — this race could prove to be one of the most critical in determining this years champion.
In two of the last three years Jimmie Johnson has used Kansas as a gateway into taking the points lead and then checking out. In the 2007 season Johnson came into Kansas fourth in points, finished third and left with the points lead. In 2008 Johnson was second in points, won the race and left with the points lead. In each of those years Johnson was terrific on all the 1.5-mile tracks, but his team distanced themselves from the others by adjusting better on the fly to the unique nuances of Kansas.
This season Johnson hasn’t been the dominant force on the 1.5-mile tracks that he’s been throughout his career. He won at Las Vegas in the team’s first crack at it, but hasn’t won since. They have been fast in just about every practice at these tracks, but have experienced misfortune during the second half of races that has been unlike anything we have seen out of Johnson the last four years, years that ultimately led him to the Championship.
At Chicago, Johnson was fast in practice just like he is this week. He led the most laps and then ran into all kinds of issues on his way to a disappointing 25th-place finish. He had an entire myriad of problems, the type that had always escaped his team in the past such as missing an entrance to pit road which cost him the lead. Then later, spinning out after contact and then finally to close out the un-Johnson like night, having a right-front tire go down.
Chances are Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have got all their ducks in a row this week. Despite dropping closer to the level of the mere mortals he races with, the No. 48 team are four-time champs who have six wins this season. This is their go-time where they routinely shown everyone why they are the best. But if they’re not ready, there’s a few drivers who will be.
Jeff Gordon has had to sit and watch his teammate — the driver he initially brought in and gave great cars from his own stable to drive — win four straight championships, while he’s been stuck on four titles since 2001. What may be even worse is that Gordon has had to watch Johnson win races at a record pace while he remains winless for the last 57 races.
There aren’t many tracks Gordon can say he’s better than Johnson at, but Kansas is definitely one of them. He won the first two races held there and has a track best 8.9 average finish in nine starts. He was runner-up in last years race while Johnson finished ninth. Gordon currently sits 83 points from the lead in eighth-place while Johnson is 35 points out in second. Should the same situation occur this week like in Chicago, where Gordon finished third, Gordon would pass Johnson in points. Both are vying for their fifth championship and the race to get it between the two may be closer down the stretch than most believe.
Gordon’s run for a fifth title will be critical at Kansas because he does have an edge over others and must use it his advantage. During Saturday’s practices, Gordon set the tone strong with a great pair of sessions where he looks to have one of his better cars of the season. He had the fastest average lap speeds along with the fastest consecutive 10-lap average during happy hour, both great signs that Gordon‘s car will be fast on the long runs which is a major key to winning. He also ended up with the second fastest single lap time during the first practice session.
Should Gordon not have enough to win, look for Greg Biffle to continue his strong ways at Kansas that has seen him finish within the top-three in five of the last six races there, including a win in 2007. He finished both practices Saturday within the top-five single lap speeds.
Biffle’s teammate, Matt Kenseth, also looked very stout in Saturday’s practice with the third fastest speeds in the early session. Kenseth has the distinction this year of having the best average finish on the six combined 1.5-mile races run thus far.
Tony Stewart didn’t have a great practice session Friday or Saturday, but has to be considered a contender just because of the car he brought this week which won at Atlanta and was runner-up at Pocono. It doesn’t hurt that Stewart is a two-time winner who won this race last year as well.
Kurt Busch has never done well at Kansas, but his two wins at Atlanta and Charlotte this season are hard to ignore. Busch was fastest in Saturday’s early practice session and followed that up with 12th during happy hour. He’ll be debuting a new car this week and is obviously saving those winning cars for returns to Charlotte and Texas.
The surprise of Saturday practices was Paul Menard who was strong in every category. He’ll be starting on the front row with teammate Kasey Kahne. While it’s hard to back Menard because of consistent struggles, he‘s has performed well when practicing well like he did in Aylanta earlier this season. At 300 to 1 odds like the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book has posted, he’s worth a shot at a big pay day. You never know, David Reutimann won at Chicago with 40 to 1 odds.
Roberts Weekly Driver Ratings
Each week I will provide an analysis of my top rated drivers on how well they will do in the race based on the following criteria:
• Practice sessions leading up to the weekend’s Sprint Cup race
• Chassis information on what was brought to each track by each team, good or bad
• Driver tendencies at certain tracks
• Recent and overall histories for each driver at each track
• Decipher poor past results with what really happened, good car — or bad luck?
These final ratings should help assist in final betting strategies with the Las Vegas books or match-up and prop plays, as well as help in NASCAR fantasy leagues.
Micah Roberts Top 10 Driver Ratings
Price Chopper 400
Sunday, October 3, 2010 – 10:16 am (PDT)
Rating Driver Odds Practice 1 Qualifying Practice 2 Practice 3
1. Jeff Gordon 7/1 18th 3rd 2nd 5th
Two-time winner with track best 8.9 average finish. Has lead 393 laps on 1.5-mile tracks this season.
2. Greg Biffle 10/1 15th 5th 5th 3rd
2007 winner with top-three finishes in five of last six Kansas races; new car this week.
3. Kurt Busch 12/1 13th 9th 1st 12th
Has led 393 laps on 1.5-mile tracks this season, including wins at Atlanta and Charlotte.
4. Jimmie Johnson 7/2 3rd 21st 6th 2nd
2008 win was his only top-five finish in eight starts. Using third-place Atlanta chassis this week.
5. Tony Stewart 12/1 12th 14th 18th 23rd
Two time Kansas winner, including last year. Using winning Atlanta chassis this week.
6. Matt Kenseth 20/1 11th 8th 3rd 13th
Leads all drivers with a 10.2 average finish in the six races on 1.5-mile tracks this year.
7. Carl Edwards 10/1 6th 31st 10th 7th
13.3 average finish in six starts; runner-up in 2008. Using third-place Michigan chassis this week.
8. Mark Martin 75/1 DNP 28th 17th 1st
2005 winner has three top-six finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this year. Using fourth-place Fontana chassis.
9. Jamie McMurray 25/1 5th 22nd 23rd 8th
Using same chassis this week that was runner-up at Darlington and fifth at Chicagoland.
10. Kyle Busch 7/1 24th 19th 21st 14th
No top-fives in seven starts at Kansas; using fifth-place Atlanta chassis this week.
Note: Kansas Speedway is one of seven 1.5-mile tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, but it’s banking is much flatter than the others with Chicagoland Speedway being the most similar.
Odds courtesy of the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.
Micah Roberts, a former Race and Sports Book Director, has been setting NASCAR lines in Las Vegas since 1995. He currently writes for multiple publications covering all sports. He can be reached at MM.Roberts7Gmail.com.
GREG BIFFLE ON KANSAS: “Kansas is a unique track that I have always enjoyed racing at. I think I enjoy it because I’ve run well there. We finished third there the last two years and had a win there in 2007 so we know we can get to victory lane there. The last two weekends have not been a great start to the Chase for us so we really need to get to victory lane to try to make up some of the points. This is a resilient team though and we are definitely going to give it all we have until the checkered flag drops at Homestead.”
CARL EDWARDS ON KANSAS: “Kansas takes everything. It takes a good engine, good qualifying effort and pit crew. The biggest thing I think it takes is a crew chief that understands how to make that car work through a long run there. So much happens at Kansas. The cars get tight, or they get loose in and you’ve got to really have a good crew chief. Fuel mileage is going to be key, too. I was fortunate to win the truck race there at Kansas. That was a huge victory and to win the Cup race would be unbelievable.”
MATT KENSETH ON RACING AT KANSAS: “Kansas is very similar to Chicagoland Speedway, but Kansas is just a little flatter in the banking than Chicago. Kansas is a good track, but it’s gotten to be a difficult place to pass during the race. It is a wide and flat track, but with the new car design, our challenge is making sure we can work on the set-ups to combat the fact that we can get pretty tight due to the aerodynamics of these cars. We’re just going to keep building upon what we’ve learned the past few weeks, and focus on making sure we make the right adjustments Sunday afternoon.”
TONY STEWART ON THE POSSIBILITY OF JOHNSON WINNING FIVE STRAIGHT TITLES: “If anybody can do it, that’s the team that can do it. But I think this is probably the best shot that 11 guys have had in four years to keep those guys from doing that. It’s the most competitive Chase field we’ve ever had. It’s still anybody’s game right now. There’s a lot of racing that has to go on. There are a lot of variables out of our control each week. They have just as good a shot this year as they’ve had the last four years of winning a championship. It’s not whether they can do it five times in a row. It’s can they do it this year? That’s the big thing.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON ON KANSAS: “For a mile-and-a-half, I think that Chicago and Kansas are pretty similar. In years past, mile-and-a-halfs have been our bread and butter and have been really good for us. And Kansas has a really cool transition in and off the corners where you can run second and third lane. It is pretty friendly and you can search around and try to find a line. The asphalt has aged pretty quick there too which has allowed us to run multiple lanes and move around. So in general, it is a track with options. For a mile-and-a-half race track, it has a lot of options and I have enjoyed racing there over the years and have been able to get a win there.”
KANSAS SPEEDWAY ODDS & ENDS
compiled by Mike Forde
NASCAR Media Services
· Groundbreaking was held on May 25, 1999.
· The official opening of Kansas Speedway was in 2001, with the first events being an ARCA race and a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race on the same day – June 2.
· The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was Sept. 30, 2001.
· There have been nine NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Kansas
since the track opened in 2001.
· All of the races have been scheduled for 267 laps.
· 13 drivers have competed in all eight races at Kansas.
· Jeff Gordon won the first two NASCAR Sprint Cup races.
· Jason Leffler won the first pole in September 2001.
· Seven different drivers have won poles, led by Jimmie Johnson with three.
· Seven different drivers have posted victories, led by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart (each with two).
· There have been seven different winners.
· Six of the nine races have been won from a top-10 starting position.
· Two drivers have won from the pole: Joe Nemechek in 2004 and Jimmie Johnson in 2008.
· The furthest back in the field that race winner started was 21st, by Tony Stewart in 2006.
· Points leader Denny Hamlin made his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup start at Kansas – a 32nd-place finish in 2005.
· Two active drivers with more than one start have averaged a top-10 finish: Greg Biffle (9.0) and Jeff Gordon (8.9).
· Jeff Gordon leads all drivers in top fives (six) and top 10s (seven). Gordon’s only two non-top 10s were a 39th in 2006 and a 13th in 2004.
· Seven of the eight races that ended under green had a margin of victory under one second. The 2007 race ended under caution.
NASCAR in Kansas
· There have been nine NASCAR Sprint Cup races in Kansas, all at Kansas Speedway. The only other Kansas track to hold a NASCAR national series race was Heartland Park in Topeka, which hosted five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races from 1995-99.
· 16 drivers in NASCAR’s three national series (all-time) have their home state recorded as Kansas, including Jim Roper who won the very first NASCAR Sprint Cup race – Charlotte in 1949.
· There have been two race winners in the top three NASCAR series from Kansas:
Driver NSCS NNS NCWTS
Clint Bowyer 3 8 1
Jim Roper 1 0 0
Kansas Speedway Data
Race #: 29 of 36 (10-3-10)
Track Size: 1.5 miles
· Banking/Corners: 15 degrees
· Banking/Frontstretch: 10.4 degrees
· Banking/Backstretch: 5 degrees
· Frontstretch: 2,685 feet
· Backstretch: 2,207 feet
Driver Rating at Kansas
Jimmie Johnson 122.6
Greg Biffle 119.6
Jeff Gordon 104.7
Mark Martin 100.1
Tony Stewart 99.0
Carl Edwards 94.2
Matt Kenseth 93.7
Brad Keselowski 93.4
Clint Bowyer 93.4
Casey Mears 88.4
Note: Driver Rating compiled from 2005-2009 races (5 total) at Kansas.
2009 pole winner: Mark Martin (175.758 mph, 30.724 seconds)
2009 race winner: Tony Stewart, 137.144 mph, 10-4-09)
Qualifying record: Matt Kenseth (180.856 mph, 29.858 seconds, 10-8-05)
Race record: Mark Martin (137.774 mph, 10-9-05)
Estimated Pit Window: Every 40-44 laps, based on fuel mileage.
LAS VEGAS HILTON SUPER BOOK NASCAR ODDS TO WIN
PRICE CHOPPER 400
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2010
JIMMIE JOHNSON 7-2
KYLE BUSCH 7
JEFF GORDON 7
DENNY HAMLIN 12
JEFF BURTON 18
MATT KENSETH 20
CARL EDWARDS 10
GREG BIFFLE 10
KURT BUSCH 12
MARK MARTIN 75
TONY STEWART 12
CLINT BOWYER 15
JUAN MONTOYA 25
KASEY KAHNE 30
JOEY LOGANO 35
RYAN NEWMAN 40
MARTIN TRUEX JR 40
JAMIE McMURRAY 25
DALE EARNHARDT JR 75
BRAD KESELOWSKI 100
DAVID REUTIMANN 25
REED SORENSON 300
DAVID RAGAN 100
AJ ALLMENDINGER 35
MARCOS AMBROSE 300
SAM HORNISH JR 300
ELLIOTT SADLER 500
REGAN SMITH 1000
PAUL MENARD 300
SCOTT SPEED 1000
BOBBY LABONTE 5000
TRAVIS KVAPIL 5000
2010 NASCAR CHAMPIONSHIP (Updated Following Dover)
JIMMIE JOHNSON 7-4
JEFF GORDON 18
KYLE BUSCH 7-2
TONY STEWART 40
DENNY HAMLIN 13-5
CARL EDWARDS 18
KURT BUSCH 15
GREG BIFFLE 100
MATT KENSETH 100
CLINT BOWYER 100
KEVIN HARVICK 7
JEFF BURTON 20