Joey Logano won the first race in this round of the Chase last week in Charlotte. That means he has an automatic advance to the next round. So in reality he is the only driver, among the 12 remaining championship contenders, that has no pressure at all. However, there are some drivers among the 11 remaining Chase drivers that will have even more pressure than the others on them after last week’s race results.
Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sit at the bottom of the Chase Grid with -32 and -19 point deficits to make up below the cutoff line for the next round. Kyle Busch (-10) and Ryan Newman (-6) are also below that line to advance currently, but not as far down as Matt and Dale Jr. are. These four drivers will feel more pressure than any other drivers to finish the race in the top five at least if not win the Kansas race to advance to the next round.
That doesn’t mean that the other Chase drivers can relax. They know that a bad week can easily put them at the bottom of the grid just like a disastrous week did to the drivers at the bottom last week. After all, the first four drivers above the cutoff line on the Chase Grid are within 10 points of being below that line. In fact, other than Joey who has the automatic advance, the other seven drivers above the line are all within 13 points of being below that elimination line.
Kansas Speedway is an intermediate track with progressive banking through the turns (17 to 20 degrees) around the 1.5-mile track. There is plenty of room to get side-by-side and race at high speeds around the track. However, that also means there is plenty of room to make a mistake and find the wall or worse.
Which Chase Grid drivers have the best performance at Kansas Speedway over their careers? Here are the basic stats on the championship contenders at Kansas.
#1 – Joey Logano
1 win, 4 top fives, 4 top tens
Driver rating 82.3 (17th best)
#2 – Kevin Harvick
1 win, 4 top fives, 9 top tens
Driver rating 102.1 (4th best)
#3 – Martin Truex Jr.
0 wins, 4 top fives, 5 top tens
Driver rating 93.3 (8th best)
#4 – Denny Hamlin
1 win, 3 top fives, 4 top tens
Driver rating 86.5 (13th best)
#5 – Kurt Busch
0 wins, 1 top five, 5 top tens
Driver rating 85.5 (14th best)
#6 – Carl Edwards
0 wins, 6 top fives, 11 top tens
Driver rating 96.0 (7th best)
#7 – Jeff Gordon
3 wins, 11 top fives, 13 top tens
Driver rating 100.5 (6th best)
#8 – Brad Keselowski
1 win, 2 top fives, 5 top tens
Driver rating 90.8 (12th best)
#9 – Ryan Newman
1 win, 3 top fives, 6 top tens
Driver rating 72.5 (23rd best)
#10 – Kyle Busch
0 wins, 1 top five, 3 top tens
Driver rating 78.8 (19th best)
#11 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
0 wins, 3 top fives, 9 top tens
Driver rating 91.8 (11th best)
#12 – Matt Kenseth
2 wins, 6 top fives, 11 top tens
Driver rating 104.9 (2nd best)
As you can see although Matt is at the bottom of the Chase Grid right now and will feel the pressure this week in the Hollywood Casino 400, his performance at Kansas Speedway over the years predicts a good chance of improving his position on the grid.
Jeff Gordon is also poised for a potentially good weekend. He has three wins at Kansas, a tie for the most all-time at the track. If his team can find that little extra that they have been missing this year to move from a good performance to a great performance, he could be all alone with four career wins at the track.
Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick also has to be considered a favorite to win this week. Although he only has a single win at the track, he is ranked fourth in driver rating. He could easily grab that second win at Kansas and move another round closer to back-to-back championships.
Joey Logano already has a win from last week in this round to advance to the next round. However, he is the defending winner of this race from 2014. That is his only win at the track and his driver rating ranks him only 17th best at Kansas. However, with the momentum from last week’s win he could find his way to a second win in a row.
What is interesting to me is that half of the ten best in driver ratings at Kansas Speedway are not Chase contenders. Jimmie Johnson has the best driver rating at 111.6 and is the driver tied with Jeff Gordon for most wins at the track with three each. He was the winner earlier this year at the first Kansas Speedway race of the 2015 Sprint Cup season. Jimmie was eliminated from championship contention in the first round of the Chase and I’m sure would love to play spoiler to the remaining contenders.
The other four drivers in the top ten in driver rating at Kansas that are not on the Chase Grid are Kyle Larson (104.3, 3rd best), Greg Biffle (101.1, 5th best), Kasey Kahne (93.0, 9th best) and Tony Stewart (92.4, 10th best). Any of these drivers would love to claim the win to make a statement since they cannot win the championship.
Which driver will ride the Kansas winds to a victory in the Hollywood Casino 400 and which drivers (if any) will see the same Kansas winds blow their championship hopes away? We will all find out together when things get started at Kansas Speedway Sunday, October 18th at 1:15pm central time.
By: Buck Stevens