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STP 400 Preview: Halfway to the Chase

Mark Taylor

Mark Taylor

Taylor covers NASCAR for RotoWire. He is a three-time winner of the FSWA's Racing Writer of the Year award. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

The Sprint Cup Series schedule gets a shakeup this weekend. In the various changes that were made by NASCAR prior to the season, the race weekend that features Kansas Speedway has been moved from the Chase lineup of tracks to the early summer. This oval hosts one race per season and this event is new to the calendar. The 1.5-mile oval of Kansas Speedway is our second straight week of intermediate oval racing. The teams that just dominated at Charlotte Motor Speedway are sure to be licking their chops for this visit to America's heartland. While Kansas only offers 15 degree corner banking compared to 24 degree corner banking at Charlotte, the similarities are enough to warrant reconsideration of the same driver group that we had at the Coca-Cola 600 last weekend. Both ovals are the D shaped variety so the handling characteristics will be much the same. One thing is for certain, the four drivers of Roush Fenway Racing will be looking forward to this Sunday's inaugural STP 400 with great anticipation, as the loop stats in the table below will outline.

Since we're making our one and only visit of the season to Kansas Speedway, we need to take a brief look back at history at this intermediate oval. These numbers will be even more important than normal, since the series only visits Kansas once per season. As you'll see in the table below, some of the hottest drivers in the series are making a very timely start at Kansas this weekend. Here are the loop stats for the last six races at Kansas Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUAL. PASSES# of FASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15DRIVER RATING
Greg Biffle3.72451572591,436122.6
Jimmie Johnson5.82702092841,389118.7
Jeff Gordon10.823368351,390106.5
Tony Stewart14.8224861321,216103.3
Matt Kenseth19.0165891961,06097.7
Mark Martin9.2158181501,12497.3
Carl Edwards10.722180421,03394.8
Clint Bowyer11.8101354361388.1
Kevin Harvick13.0152593581787.1
Kurt Busch17.3164587876084.6
Kasey Kahne20.8138333885582.7
Martin Truex Jr.25.6146323279482.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr.20.8158525972582.5
Denny Hamlin17.817928282881.8
Casey Mears11.2154302983981.6
A.J. Allmendinger12.01078025478.9
Brad Keselowski18.0475122576.1
Jeff Burton19.513031469575.9
Kyle Busch21.7195436565274.9
Brian Vickers17.811117041773.2


Kansas ace Greg Biffle and the rest of his Roush Fenway Racing teammates will be tough to contend with this Sunday afternoon at Kansas. Biffle has won at this 1.5-mile oval in both 2007 and 2010. The driver of the No. 16 Ford has led well over 300 career laps at the heartland oval, and finished in the Top 3 in each of his last four starts there. The other big time player this weekend should be our championship standings leader Carl Edwards. He has been rock solid this season and totally dominated the last two weekends at the similar oval in Charlotte. Edwards owns a 71 percent Top 10 rate at Kansas Speedway, so he's been consistently racing up front here just not contending for wins. That's likely to change this weekend. Aside from the Roush drivers, Tony Stewart could pop back onto our fantasy racing radar screens at Kansas. He is a two-time winner at the intermediate oval and he has started to show some signs of heating up the last couple weeks. Smoke has won two of the last five races at Kansas Speedway, so it wouldn't be a big surprise to see the No. 14 Chevrolet roll into victory lane on Sunday afternoon. Aside from the Roush and Stewart story lines, we're certain that Kyle Busch will again manage to assert himself despite this being one of his poorer tracks. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been on fire to this point in the season, and is likely motivated to reverse his bad luck at this oval. We'll highlight the fantasy racing drivers you need this weekend to dominate the day at Kansas Speedway.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Greg Biffle
Let's start with the numbers. He has two wins and six Top-5 finishes in nine career starts at Kansas Speedway. We're right in the middle of a great stretch of the Sprint Cup schedule for Biffle, and as he showed us at Charlotte last weekend another great performance should be in store. The No. 16 team has led laps and run up front virtually every visit to Kansas and this weekend should be no exception. The Roush Fenway veteran is always in the mix with the leaders at Kansas Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson
Our reigning Sprint Cup Series champion has three poles, one victory and 304 laps led in nine career starts at the heartland intermediate oval. Although Johnson hasn't displayed the winning touch of late, the No. 48 team raced with the leaders at Charlotte recently and he has always been a threat to win on intermediate ovals. Considering that he has three Top-3 finishes in his last four visits to the oval, Kansas Speedway presents Johnson with an excellent opportunity to scratch the win column for the first time since Talladega.

Carl Edwards
The Roush Fenway star will carry the momentum of a good run at Charlotte Motor Speedway into Kansas this weekend. Edwards has five Top-10 finishes in his last six visits to the intermediate oval, so the numbers are on his side. The No. 99 team's intermediate oval program is doing well right now as well. Edwards dominated to win the All-Star race at Charlotte recently, and he led 61 laps and dominated parts of the Coca-Cola 600 this past weekend. We know that Edwards will deliver at Kansas.

Tony Stewart
Stewart has been searching hard for his first win of the season. His closest brush with victory lane in 2011 was his performance at Las Vegas back in March. The NASCAR icon was very strong that day, leading 163 of the 267 laps run, and finished second. Smoke's career numbers at Kansas are impressive as well. He's a two-time winner at Kansas Speedway, and as recently as 2009. Stewart cracks the Top 5 at a staggering 50 percent clip at the Kansas oval so you know he'll be racing with the leaders this weekend.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Kyle Busch
Being at the mid-way point to the Chase for the Cup, we would like to think the urgency of the championship picture could reverse some trends for Busch this weekend, but we're very reserved about his chances at Kansas. Busch has only one Top 10 in seven career starts at the intermediate oval, and that's very ominous statistic for the STP 400 this weekend. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota put on a racing clinic at Charlotte the last two weekends, so there's reason for optimism. Rather than see Busch as a race winning contender at Kansas, we'd prefer to think of him more as a solid Top 10 candidate.

David Reutimann
Intermediate ovals have been the strength of this team and driver for the last three seasons. Reutimann's two career wins have come on the intermediate ovals of Chicago and Charlotte. The No. 00 Toyota team unloads fast Camry's for the Michael Waltrip Racing star at 1.5-mile tracks, and Kansas should be no exception. He finished a career-best eighth in this event two years ago and we believe Reutimann can challenge that mark in the STP 400 this Sunday afternoon.

Matt Kenseth
In keeping with the Roush Fenway Racing theme this week at Kansas, we have to give a hearty recommendation to the No. 17 Ford team. Kenseth's 103-laps led and Top 15 performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway this past weekend is a good barometer for what could happen this Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. The veteran driver has great loops stats at this intermediate oval and has led nearly 200 career laps there. Kenseth boasts two Top-10 finishes in his last three trips to this facility.

Kasey Kahne
The driver of the No. 4 Toyota just comes to life on certain tracks and the outing at Kansas should be no different. Kahne owns two career poles and 77 laps led at the speedway, and two of his last four trips to Kansas have netted Top-10 finishes. His Red Bull Racing Toyota was pretty strong the last two weeks at Charlotte, and we typically look at other intermediate ovals as a good indicator of performance for this race. Kahne should crack the Top 10 in the STP 400.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Kansas who can provide a solid finish


Jeff Gordon
Considering that Gordon owns two career victories and eight Top 10's at Kansas Speedway how can you not like the Rick Hendrick Motorsports star this weekend? Those eight Top 10's lead all active drivers at this intermediate oval. He's riding a four-race Top 5 streak at the 1.5-mile oval into this weekend's event. Gordon has been a few notches off peak performance of late, but that shouldn't be a concern at such a good venue for him historically.

Kurt Busch
The No. 22 team has started to come back to life of late, and Busch is looking to shore up a position in the Chase despite his poor outings at Richmond, Darlington and Dover in May. Busch only owns two career Top 10's in 10 visits to Kansas Speedway, but temper that with his Top-5 performance at Charlotte this past weekend. The Penske Racing star served notice in the Coca-Cola 600 that he will be a factor on intermediate ovals for the rest of the season, and that fact should resonate at Kansas Speedway.

David Ragan
Roush Fenway Racing has been putting great cars under Ragan this season. Despite having only cracked the Top 10 once in four tries at Kansas, the young driver makes a great fantasy racing play this weekend. Ragan qualified eighth and finished second this past weekend at CMS for his best effort of the 2011 season. Since we're visiting an intermediate oval for the second week in a row, Ragan and the No. 6 team should stay on their game for the STP 400.

Marcos Ambrose
With the Aussie racing star being ranked 17th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, we have to consider Ambrose a legitimate threat to make the Chase for the Cup field later this season. Even if he doesn't make the 12-driver cutoff, he could still race his way in with a victory in any single race. When we visit the two road courses later this summer, it could get very interesting. Of course, nothing speaks louder than his recent body of work. Ambrose's third- and sixth-place efforts the last two races should have your full attention by now.

Brad Keselowski
It could be that Keselowski is finally starting to get the hang of these touchy Sprint Cup Series cars. His pole win at Charlotte last week and racing among the Top 10 for 600 miles really speaks to how far this young driver has come this season. Keselowski has only two career starts at Kansas Speedway, but he does sport a respectable 18.0 average finish in those efforts. We're willing to bet the No. 2 Dodge team cracks the Top 15 in Sunday's STP 400.

Casey Mears
If you're looking for help in deep leagues or weekly lineup leagues this weekend at Kansas, Mears is a driver to consider. While the season as a whole has been an up-and-down affair for the Germain Racing No. 13 team, there have been some bright spots along the way. With Top 25's each of the last two weeks, Mears is racing fairly well for this small team and generally staying on the lead lap. He has three career Top 10's in eight visits to Kansas Speedway, so it's apparent that Mears likes this race track.

A.J. Allmendinger
Allmendinger has found a streak of consistency this season. It's really remarkable what he's been able to do in the RPM No. 43 Ford. The upside with this driver is always worth noting. Allmendinger has three career Sprint Cup starts at Kansas Speedway with ninth-, 17th-, and 10th-place finishes the result. He forged a Top-5 finish at Charlotte this past weekend, so unless bad luck strikes the No. 43 team should be a Top 15 candidate at worst at Kansas.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Jamie McMurray
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing has been struggling with both their teams this season. McMurray has been getting the worst of it. He enters this race ranked a lowly 26th in the driver standings. McMurray lost an engine and finished a miserable 37th at Charlotte this past weekend. That performance caps a train-wreck of results this season on intermediate ovals for the No. 1 Chevrolet team. McMurray sports a lowly 25 percent Top 10 rate at Kansas Speedway, and that's yet another strike against fantasy consideration for the STP 400.

Mark Martin
Historically speaking, this is a great venue for Martin. One win and four Top-10 finishes at Kansas Speedway would normally place the No. 5 team in the solid plays list this week. However, Martin has struggled through the 2011 season. With only four Top 10's on the season and none in the intermediate oval races entering this weekend, it's hard to be optimistic about his chances. Martin's last two starts on intermediate ovals have yielded 34th- and 36th-place finishes. That's not what we expect from the legendary driver.

Denny Hamlin
Considering how hard Hamlin has worked recently to turn around his slow start to the 2011 season, it might be surprising to see him in the flops list this week. Hamlin doesn't have a stellar Kansas record, and that's the primary reason why we've ranked him in the no-go list this week. Hamlin has one Top-10 finish in six career starts at Kansas Speedway. Outside of that Top 10 performance is a whole lot of mediocrity at this oval. The Joe Gibbs Racing star had to fight a miraculous effort to crack the Top 10 at Charlotte last week, so he's clearly not all the way back to prime form yet.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Outside of a fourth-place finish at Kansas Speedway in 2009, Montoya has had a forgettable NASCAR experience racing at this oval. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet isn't having the best season either. With a career average finish of 20.2 at Kansas it's hard to get excited about Montoya's prospects this Sunday afternoon. Much like his last two intermediate oval efforts, he may fight to crack the Top 15 in the STP 400, but that's not really what we expect when we start this driver and team in our fantasy lineups.