Harvick on fire at Kansas
It was an interesting afternoon at Kansas Speedway Friday as big names were found all over the practice charts and qualifying grid. Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske were the biggest winners of the afternoon as the two organizations combined to claim six of the top-nine starting spots with Kevin Harvick grabbing the pole for SHR. On the flip side, Hendrick Motorsports didn't have a single driver advance to the final round of qualifying, but the struggles of the HMS drivers paled in comparison to those of Joe Gibbs Racing. All three JGR drivers showed little speed in practice, and all three will be starting outside the top 20 Saturday night.
With big names starting at the front, the rear and everywhere in between, sifting through which drivers are worthy of starting this weekend can be a little tricky. Looking at a driver's total body of work between both practices and qualifying is a good first step, and sometimes, you have to look beyond the name of the driver and look at the stopwatch. Granted, there is nothing wrong with giving a great driver the benefit of the doubt when you are having trouble deciding on a pick, but when the speed simply doesn't seem to be there, benching a big name can be the smartest decision.
The top 3
1) Jimmie Johnson
No driver has been more reliable at Kansas, and Johnson has been rock solid so far this weekend, cracking the top 10 in both practice sessions and qualifying in the top 15. Throw in his series-leading 7.5 average finish at the track and his 10-straight top-10 finishes, and you won't find a safer option to build your team around this weekend.
2) Kevin Harvick
Harvick jumps into the No. 2 spot in the final rankings after grabbing the pole for Saturday's race and cracking the top 10 in both practices. He also won at Kansas last fall and has scored the second-most points in the series in the last seven races at the track. Harvick has already delivered dominating wins at Phoenix and Darlington this year, and a similar performance could be on tap this weekend at Kansas.
3) Joey Logano
His career numbers at Kansas aren't great, but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Logano's chances this weekend. He finished a career-best fourth at the track last fall, and he has picked up where he left off this weekend, posting strong times in practice and qualifying on the front. Logano has been excellent at 1.5-mile tracks in 2014, winning at Texas and finishing fourth at Las Vegas.
11) Greg Biffle
Although his numbers at Kansas have suffered slightly since the track was repaved, Biffle appears to have recaptured his old magic at the track this weekend. He cracked the top 10 in practice Friday and followed it up with a top-10 effort in qualifying. For his career, Biffle is a two-time winner at Kansas, and in 15 starts, he has 11 top-12 finishes, including six top-three finishes. He should at least challenge for a top-10 this weekend.
12) Ryan Newman
Newman was one of the biggest movers in my final rankings, vaulting from outside the top 20 into the top 12. He ranked 12th and eighth in the two practices Friday, and he kept the momentum going in qualifying with a seventh-place run. Granted, Newman has just one top-10 in his last 13 starts at Kansas, but he is showing plenty of speed in his first start at the track since joining Richard Childress Racing.
14) Kyle Larson
The rookie just gets better by the week. After pacing the field in the first practice of the weekend, Larson turned the fourth-fastest lap in Happy Hour and qualified in the top five. Perhaps more importantly, he has been solid at the 1.5-mile tracks this year, finishing in the top 20 at Las Vegas and notching a top-five at Texas. At worst, Larson should be able to crack the top 15 this weekend, and he has legit top-five upside.
18) Aric Almirola
Kansas has quietly been one of Almirola's strongest tracks, and he looks poised for another solid showing at the track Saturday night. He logged the second-fastest lap in the first practice Friday, and he qualified 12th. Meanwhile, Almirola finished in the top 10 in both races at Kansas last year, and he led more than 30 laps in both starts. In fact, he has led at least 15 laps in all four of his starts at Kansas.
Big names outside the top 10
16) Denny Hamlin
It doesn't look like his win at Talladega is doing much in the way of momentum. Hamlin was awful in both practice sessions at Kansas Friday, and qualified 30th. He is actually a former winner at the track, but he finished outside the top 10 in his two starts on the repaved track. Throw in his lack of speed so far this weekend, and Hamlin looks like a risky option.
23) Kyle Busch
Kansas has been an Achilles' heel for Busch throughout his career, and it doesn't look like his luck is going to change this weekend. He ranked outside the top 20 in both practices Friday, and he qualified outside the top 20. Throw in the fact that he has never finished in the top rive at Kansas, and it is really tough to justify taking a chance on him in any format.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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