Kansas Speedway might be the Wild Card in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup

By Brian Berg Jr.
Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) wins the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Photo Credit Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE

Last week NASCAR was at the fast Charlotte Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer was able to win the race based on pit strategy which resulted in running the longest on fuel.  This week NASCAR is at a track that won’t be quite as fast but faster than usual.  This week NASCAR is at the Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400.

The Kansas Speedway is one of those NASCAR 1.5 mile tracks that are the staples of the Sprint Cup Series.  On many occasions they are referred to as cookie cutter tracks.  In reality some are similar and others are only similar because they are the same distance around.  Kansas is one of those tracks and since it was repaved this past summer it is especially so.  Charlotte has 24 degrees of banking in the turns whereas Kansas has progressive banking from 17 degrees up to 20 degrees.  Charlotte has only 5 degrees of banking on the straight-aways but Kansas now has variable banking from 9 to 11 degrees.  Charlotte is a much faster track than Kansas due to the banking in the turns.  For comparison purposes Greg Biffle set a new track record there of 193.708 MPH.  The track record at Kansas is currently held by Matt Kenseth at 180.856 MPH.  The race is 400.5 miles or 267 laps.

After the race here last April the pavement was torn up and replaced with new.  As part of the repave the track was given variable banking.  The thought is that this would make the racing better.  As we have seen new pavement equals faster speeds.  This was evident during the special practices where drivers were going about 4 MPH faster than the track record.  This will be a topic for discussion the entire week and during the race.  Some drivers will take to the new track well others will not.  No one knows who will prevail.  Jeff Gordon said, “This is a trip to the ‘unknown. I’ll get my first look at the changes on Wednesday, so I really don’t know what to expect until then. I liked the old surface, but I’m sure there were reasons – whether it was the foundation or the construction – the track needed a repave. Whatever they put in front of us, we’ll just do our best as a team to adapt to it and make the car as fast as possible on the new surface.

During the race weekend this week there will be much discussion.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. will still be missing the race due to his concussion in testing here last August.  He crashed hard in turn one, didn’t tell anyone and aggravated it in another crash at Talladega.  Ironically, Denny Hamlin had a similar wicked crash in extra practice Thursday in the same corner.  Even though he was able to drive the car back to the garage a NASCAR official saw the damage and recommended he go to the care center.  Driver Safety and health will be a focus during the coverage of the event at Kansas.

This is the first race in the last half of the Chase for the Sprint CupClint Bowyer who won last week will be a focus of discussion due to now being in position to possibly make a run at the championship and coincidently is from Kansas. This is his hometown track.  Clint said, “Yeah, coming off of the win obviously rolling into your hometown is a lot of fun.  A lot of confidence, a lot of momentum, everything that comes off of a win.  But to be able to do it rolling into home, and Kansas is very special, a lot of testing over the next couple days, looking forward to getting there and seeing what we have for a race car and the new repave.

When looking at who might be good at this track, we have the statistics, but with the repaving those statistics are suspect.  The track is not only brand new but the banking is different all the way around.  According to the driver ratings, Jimmie Johnson has the edge at a rating at 120.7 followed by Greg Biffle at 116.3.  After them statistically tied are Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon with ratings of about 102.  The rest of the ratings drop off from there and noted below.  Incidentally all of those drivers except Matt Kenseth have won two races at Kansas.  Denny Hamlin won the race in April.

Since the track is much different it might help to look at another 1.5 mile variable banked track to see who is good there as well.  Homestead Miami is just such a track.  In 2003 the track was changed to its current configuration.  Since then Greg Biffle won three races in a row and Carl Edwards twice.  Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart have each won a race.

The only thing that is certain is the Kansas Speedway race may be more of a wild card race for the drivers and teams than Talladega was.  Brad Keselowski said “Well, obviously any time you make drastic changes to a track, it’s going to be a wild card.  You can throw away any stat book you have for this track, whether it’s average finishes or a guy that leads a lot of laps, the things I think a lot of people look at to judge who’s going to run well.”  This Sunday will be sure to separate the teams who are on their game from those who are simply just performing.  We shall find out whom this weekend.

If you can’t get to the track, the race will be on ESPN at 2 PM ET Sunday Oct. 21st.

Brian Berg Jr. is the Lead NASCAR writer for RantSports.com.

Follow him on Twitter @brian_jr1 during the race and throughout the week for more NASCAR news and commentary. On Facebook at NASCAR News and Commentary

Top 12 Driver Rating at Kansas
Jimmie Johnson………………….. 120.7
Greg Biffle…………………………. 116.3
Tony Stewart……………………… 102.9
Matt Kenseth……………………… 102.4
Jeff Gordon………………………… 102.2
Carl Edwards………………………. 96.2
Kevin Harvick………………………. 92.1
Mark Martin………………………… 91.9
Brad Keselowski………………….. 90.7
Kurt Busch…………………………. 90.3
Denny Hamlin……………………… 89.9
Martin Truex Jr…………………….. 88.4
Note: Driver Ratings compiled from 2005-2012 races (seven total) among active drivers at Kansas Speedway.

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