First let’s take a look at the race and track factors. The Kentucky Speedway is one of NASCAR’s “intermediate tracks” at 1.5-miles in length. These tracks make up a large part of the circuit the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on each season. However, that does not mean they are easy for the drivers. While they have the same length, the tracks to have distinctive aspects that make them very different to race around.
Kansas Speedway has turns with progressive banking of 17 to 20 degrees. That helps the drivers some, but it is not a high banked track so the cars will need to have good handling balanced with speed to have a shot at winning.
The drivers often have to deal with the Kansas winds at this track. If the winds are blowing across the track it can change the handling of the cars from end to end of the track and create a major challenge for the drivers on the track and the crew chiefs in the pits to figure out the adjustments to make.
This year’s stage racing has also changed pit strategies in each race. This weekend’s race will have 80 laps in stages one and two and 107 laps in the third stage for a total of 267 laps (400 miles) of racing.
Next let’s take a look at the Chase Grid as it stands before this weekend’s race since this is an elimination race in the NASCAR playoffs. Each race has a maximum possible points of 60. None of the drivers in contention currently are more than 60 points above the cut line. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski have wins during the Round of Twelve that gives them and automatic advance to the Round of Eight. While some of the drivers have enough points that they just have to a good day to advance, others are in a position that they will need a great day and some are in a must win situation to have a shot at advancing if other drivers don’t have a terrible day.
Now let’s look at how the drivers have performed at the track during their careers in NASCAR’s top division.
Top 10 Driver Ratings at Kansas
- Jimmie Johnson – 108.7
- Matt Kenseth – 106.5
- Kevin Harvick – 105.8
- Martin Truex Jr. – 98.4
- Ryan Blaney – 92.2
- Kasey Kahne – 91.1
- Kyle Larson – 90.6
- Brad Keselowski – 90.3
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 88.6
- Kurt Busch – 87.6
Driver names in red are current championship contenders.
NOTE: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2017 races (19 total) among active drivers at Kansas Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson has the most wins at the track among active drivers at three trips to Victory Lane in Kansas. He is also tied for all-time wins at the track with retired driver Jeff Gordon. Jimmie would love to move to the top of the wins list by himself and secure and advance to the next round of the playoffs this weekend with a fourth trip to Victory Lane at the track.
Kevin Harvick is the defending winner of the 2016 running of this race which was his second win at the track. Moving up to a three-way tie with Jimmie and Jeff would put him into the Round of Eight in NASCAR’s playoffs. Championship contender Matt Kenseth is also looking to advance by getting his third Kansas win.
Joey Logano failed to make the playoffs this season. Although he cannot win the championship he could bring his Kansas win total to three if he is the driver making it to the checkered flag first.
Martin Truex Jr. has been dominant this season and especially on the intermediate tracks. I pointed out earlier that he has already secured his place in the next round of the playoffs. However, with the addition this year of Playoff Points, he won’t be holding back in any way. Martin won the first race at Kansas this season, his only Cup Series win at the track. There have only been two drivers that have managed to win consecutive races at Kansas to date in NASCAR’s Cup Series: Jeff Gordon (fall race 2001, spring race 2002) and Matt Kenseth (fall race 2012, spring race 2013). Martin will try to become the third driver to win consecutive races at Kansas and the first driver to sweep the races at the track in a single season. Perhaps part of the reason a season sweep hasn’t happened is that Kansas race #1 is a night race and race #2 is a day race.
Current Chase Grid drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski all have a single career win at the track. Brad already has an advance to the next round, Denny is looking pretty good to advance and Kyle is far enough down he is probably looking at this race as a “must win scenario” to advance.
Ryan Newman is the only other active driver with a Kansas win. He has already been eliminated from championship contention and getting his second win at the track would likely feel extra special to him.
Chase Grid drivers and non-contenders will all have the same goal, get to the front of the pack and stay there for the final lap to claim the win. Will there be a spoiler? Will a playoff driver get the win and advance? Will any of the contenders have a disastrous day that gets them eliminated from the playoffs?
The answers will come lap-by-lap following the green flag starting the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway this Sunday, October 22nd at 2 PM central time (3 PM eastern time).
By: Buck Stevens