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Fantasy NASCAR Race Preview: STP 400
Even though Kansas Speedway is one of the newer venues in NASCAR, track officials believed it was time to 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 in time for last year's postseason event in the Chase.
Practice sessions: Friday, April 19, at 1 p.m. EDT; Saturday, April 20, at 10 a.m. EDT, 12:30 p.m. EDT
Drivers to keep an eye on
From 2003 through the spring of 2012, Biffle registered two wins and half a dozen podium finishes and hadn't finished worse than 12th in 11 Kansas starts, with an average running position that never dipped below 11th. However, after restarting in the top five last fall, the Biff went into the wall on Lap 174 and would settle for a 27th-place day.
Not only is Biffle typically automatic at Kansas, he's coming off a season-high fourth-place performance last week at Texas Motor Speedway.
After winning the spring race of 2011, Keselowski claimed another spot on the podium in the first Chase event ever held at the site later that year. In 2012, The Blue Deuce scored an 11th-place finish in the regular season prior to adding an eighth-place result during the postseason. Aside from his result at Auto Club Speedway, Keselowski hasn't finished outside the top 10 in any race this year and is among the safest bets around.
A 14th-place finish in the fall race at Kansas snapped a streak of six straight top-10s for Edwards at the site. The race this weekend marks the third race on a 1.5-mile track this season, but only Kyle Busch and Edwards landed top-fives in each of the first two. Last year's struggles are officially all but gone from the rearview mirror, leaving Edwards as a sound option going forward.
Despite scoring some poles, Kahne was very much a mixed bag at Kansas until the fall of 2011. In the three races since, Kahne has tallied two top-fives and another top-10 while scoring another pole. Kahne returns to Kansas on a wave of six straight races this season with an average running position of 13th or better, finishing 11th or better in each of the last five with three top-fives.
With an average running position of eighth or better in five straight races at Kansas, Kenseth is also the most recent winner at the site, capturing the fall race with 78 laps led. This season, Kenseth has yet to put up an average running position worse than 12th. The end result hasn't always matched, typically due to issues outside the driver's hands, but Kenseth is very much a weekly contender.
Since 2006, Harvick has typically left Kansas happy thanks to eight top-15s in nine starts. After exiting the Daytona 500 in an early crash, Harvick has rattled off half a dozen finishes inside the top 15. Even though his average running position of 12.6 this season ranks eighth among all drivers, Harvick has only one top-10 to show for it. The finishes look mediocre, but the underlying performances suggest Harvick is inching closer to bigger things.
In seven Kansas events since 2008, Gordon's average running position has been worse than ninth just once. Even prior to an engine failure in the fall race of 2011 and another engine problem in this race a year ago, Gordon was putting together solid runs. A suspension problem last week at Texas spoiled a race in which Gordon matched a season-high average running position of sixth. Bad luck has been hard to shake at times, but Gordon hasn't lost his touch.
Last year's breakthrough campaign showed a whole new Truex, particularly on intermediates like Kansas. He was a house afire in the spring event, pacing 173 of the 267 laps, yet had to settle for the runner-up position. Truex didn't lead a lap in the fall, but finished in the same P2 spot with an average running position of 10th. After a mixed start to the season, Truex showed up last week at Texas with the best car the night of the race, but was beaten out of the pits late following a caution and once again had to settle for second.
Temper your expectations
Despite good qualifying results, Logano has left a lot to be desired at Kansas. In seven career starts, he has just one top-15 finish to his credit at the site. However, he's started eighth or better in four of the last five events. Last week at Texas, Logano overcame starting from the rear to finish fifth.
All eyes are on the pair of Penske cars this week following the confiscation of rear-end parts. The aftermath includes the suspension of crew chiefs and car chiefs of the No. 2 and the No. 22 cars for the next six races. While Keselowski's track record at Kansas looks good enough to trust still, Logano's does not.
Newman was outstanding in his first three trips to Kansas, scoring a victory and a pair of runner-up performances. However, since 2004, he's managed to add only two more top-15s. Newman is streaking right now with three top-10s in the last four starts, but would need to open your eyes in practice to consider starting this week.
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