Even though Kansas Speedway is one of the newer venues in NASCAR track officials believed it was time repave the racing surface due to the wear and tear caused by the sizzling hot summers and freezing cold winters common to the nation's heartland. In addition to laying down new asphalt, variable banking was added to the turns and frontstretch. Thankfully all teams will get two lengthy testing sessions to lay down some rubber into the track and gain extremely valuable setup information at the same time. The results of these testing sessions should be monitored very closely and factor heavily into deciding whom to ultimately start.
Testing sessions: Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 1:00 pm EDT, Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8:30 am EDT
Practice sessions: Friday, Oct. 19 at 11:30 am EDT, Saturday, Oct. 20 at 10:00 am EDT, 12:50 pm EDT
Qualifying: Friday, Oct. 19 at 4:10 pm EDT
Race: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 1:00 pm EDT
Location: Kansas City, Kan.
Shape: D-shaped oval
Length: 1.5 miles
Turns: 17-20 degrees
Frontstretch: 9-11 degrees
Backstretch: 5 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing
Last year Keselowski posted outstanding results at Kansas, winning the spring race and scoring another podium finish in the Chase event. Back in April he started and finished in the 11th position in a very respectable performance. Last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, another 1.5-mile track, Keselowski paced the most laps but finished just outside of the top 10 after losing the lead and a lot of time late in the race by running out of fuel on the backstretch. The Blue Deuce is still No. 1 in the standings but he'll be looking to rebuild the points he gave back.
Jimmie Johnson | No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
In last year's Chase event Johnson absolutely dominated Kansas by leading 197 of the 272 laps run and holding an average running position of second, matching a career-best at the site. Aside from the wild card race at Talladega Superspeedway, Johnson has finished inside the top five in the four other postseason races. Now just seven points back, and facing a very favorable schedule over the final five races, owners that have saved Johnson starts can let him off the chain immediately.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Since 2009, Hamlin owns three top-five finishes in five trips to Kansas, highlighted by a victory at the site earlier this season. Indeed, Hamlin has been excellent on 1.5-mile tracks all year with runner-up performances in both Charlotte races and a recent victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He'll need to catch a few breaks to challenge for the championship but expect Hamlin to keep himself in position to pounce.
Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
A year ago Kahne finished as the runner-up at Kansas, his first top-five at the site. Earlier in the season Kahne returned to the site and finished eighth. Even though Kahne never challenged for the win last week to complete a CMS sweep he did finish eighth, giving him six straight top-15 finishes this season. Even though it took a while to get Kansas figured out Kahne is among the safest options on 1.5-mile tracks.
Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M/Sherwin Williams Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
In 11 starts since 2003 at Kansas, Biffle has tallied two wins, seven top-fives and has not finished worse than 12th. With that kind of resume it's no surprise the Biff leads all drivers in average running position on this track. Coming off his first top-five of the Chase, look for Biffle to make it two in a row.
Martin Truex Jr. | No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
In seven races from 2006-11 at Kansas, Truex never recorded a top-10 finish and only managed a single top-15 in those seven starts. However, back in April he led 173 of 267 laps and was the only driver to spend the entire race running inside the top 15. In addition to enjoying this breakout season, Truex has been nearly automatic on every intermediate track.
Regan Smith | No. 88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. sidelined by a concussion Smith got behind the wheel of the No. 88 only to suffer an early DNF due to an engine failure. However, he looked great in early stages of the race cracking the top 10 on lap 52 after starting back in 26th. Smith finished in the 24th position each of the last three Kansas races but will pilot the car that landed a seventh-place result earlier in the season.
Mark Martin | No. 55 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Back in April at Kansas, Martin qualified fifth and held an average running position of 10th but a blown engine left him to finish a disappointing 33rd. Last week, after skipping Talladega, Martin captured the outside pole and finished sixth. Despite taking 11 races off thus far Martin still leads the series with four poles. Assuming his equipment stays together, look for the veteran to start strong and finish strong.
Temper your expectations
Clint Bowyer | No. 15 5-hour Energy/Avon Foundation Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Even though Bowyer is a native of Kansas this track has rarely proven to be a home field advantage. In six starts since 2008 he's only managed one top-10 and has struggled in qualifying. Coming off a victory at Charlotte, his first win on a 1.5-mile track, Bowyer might be a tad overvalued for this race.
Tony Stewart | No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
While Stewart owns a pair of wins at Kansas, and generally runs well at the site, he's been too erratic lately to trust. Over the last 10 races he's scored three top-10s but also six finishes of 19th or worse. Among the elite drivers Smoke isn't worth the risk unless he looks great in the testing and practice sessions.