Jeff Gordon's blown engine created a green-white-checkered finish for the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, infusing even more drama into the already see-saw battle that has become the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship.
Matt Kenseth led the field from the green flag, but it was Jimmie Johnson's day. He led the most laps and jumped Kasey Kahne at the final restart to take the victory.
The track Kansas track was slippery throughout the day as predicted. The track conditions enabled a number of teams to take their turns out front, but it was Johnson and Crew Chief Chad Knaus that outsmarted the rest of the field. They chose the proper number of tires and in the final stop and adjusted the chassis throughout the afternoon to keep ahead of the changing conditions.
This week, the Chase goes under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the proverbial home of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Kevin Harvick claimed the last victory at the track, May's Coca-Cola 600. May's race produced a fuel-mileage contest that saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. and a handful of other competitors drop out, paving the way for Harvick to record his third victory of 2011.
Jimmie Johnson - Without much shock, Johnson was the leader with 10 laps to go at Kansas. Chad Knaus and Johnson were fast all day, and made the correct calls in the pits under the final cautions to keep the car out front. He earned the bonus point for leading the most laps and claimed maximum points with the win. Last weekend could have been the one that Johnson points to as being pivotal in his sixth championship. Johnson consistently has one of the fastest cars in the Chase. Fantasy owners can rest assured he'll have another quick car at Charlotte where he has finished in an average position of 16.4 in the last five races. That statistic includes a win and another top-five finish.
Joey Logano - After finishing 29th in the Hollywood Casino 400 one would think that Logano would be in the downgrade portion of this preview. Instead, Logano's inconsistency in 2011 has been limited to certain tracks, and Charlotte is not one of them. In fact, Logano's worst finish in the last five Charlotte races was 13th in the 2010 Coca-Cola 600. In all races at the track, Logano can claim top-10 finishes in four of five tries. He has a great recent record at Charlotte to say the least. His average finish of 7.4 in the last five races is amongst the best in the series. Two top-fives and four top-10s have propelled him forward in that ranking, and Logano is a viable fantasy option this week as a result.
Matt Kenseth - Kenseth qualified fourth for Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway, which was a strong performance from the No. 17 team that isn't exactly known as a top qualifier. After a long day's work, Kenseth's fourth-place finish now marks three straight top-10 finishes and consecutive top-fives. He finished 14th in May's Coca-Cola 600, but that was his worst finish in the last five events at Charlotte including non-points events. He now looks to bring some of the momentum he has built the past few Chase races to Charlotte. He finished an average of 8.4 in the last five races there while also grabbing a top-five and four top-10s. Kenseth is quietly stalking the Sprint Cup, and fantasy owners should take notice.
Kyle Busch - An 11th-place result in Kansas, combined with just one top-10 in the Chase so far, help put Busch into eighth position in the points. It isn't what Busch would hope for. He has achieved new levels of maturity in his driving, finished more races and is more intelligent about racing with the bigger picture in view in 2011. With two top-fives and four top-10s in the last five races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Busch is the statistical favorite to have a great day this week. His average finish in that span is 10.4, and he led 25 percent of the laps in that time as well. Fantasy owners should look to Busch for strong results this week.
Jeff Gordon - It was all Gordon could do to nurse his car to the finish of the Hollywood Casino 400. With just a handful of laps remaining his water temperature was already too high and starting to affect the oil pressure as a result. When the engine finally let go, Gordon lost points in the Chase and was unable to salvage a finish in the end. A top-five and two top-10s in the last five Charlotte races propel Gordon to an average finish of 13.4. He has been running at the end of each of those full race distances. Gordon could be gunning for a fifth championship despite his result in Kansas, and it's unwise to bet against him this week.
Brad Keselowski - This season could be remembered as the emergence of Keselowski. He came from seemingly nowhere to score his first win, make the Chase and then appear as a contender throughout. He was in the top five with just a few laps to run Sunday, crossing the finish line third. It was his third top-five in the four Chase races to date. Keselowski came quite close to sweeping the Kansas races in 2011. That type of performance still seems to be a track specific trend for the No. 2, though. At Charlotte, Keselowski's average finish is a disappointing 19.5 in the last four races. He hasn't finished in the top 10 in any of those tries despite qualifying on pole once.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Sunday was a very mediocre performance for Earnhardt, and unfortunately that has become the norm for the popular driver since joining Hendrick Motorsports. He finished 14th in the Hollywood Casinos 400, never making a major impact at the front of the running order. Things just aren't firing on all cylinders for this team yet. Earnhardt's most recent average finish at Charlotte is very disappointing. Despite a top-10 result, his average finish from the last five races is 27.2. Worse yet, he was running at the finish of each of those races, yet only finished on the lead lap twice. This isn't the week for fantasy owners to get excited about the No. 88.
Greg Biffle - Kansas produced a second top-10 finish for Biffle in three races. He qualified well, as expected, at the track as a Roush Fenway Racing driver, finishing eighth after flexing muscle throughout the distance. Despite Roush's pace in Kansas, Charlotte might be a place to lower your expectations for dominance. Biffle's average finish at the track is only 17.2 after the five most recent races, with just one lone top-five finish. While finishing on the lead lap four of those tries the average result didn't take much of a turn upward. Fantasy owners might want to look to the more traditional top finishers in 2011 for more reliable points.
Brian Vickers - Vickers wasn't nearly as quick as teammate Kasey Kahne in Sunday's Hollywood Casinos 400. He wasn't mentioned much as being in the mix throughout Sunday afternoon and rolled home to an undistinguished 19th position, while Kahne stormed to second position and his second consecutive top-five. Vickers ran the last three Charlotte races and has average finish is 19.0. He scored a top-five, which shows some potential, but his consistency in 2011 has been suspect. It is great to see the driver back in the series after such a severe health scare, but he hasn't yet gotten back into the groove to finish at the front of the field any given weekend. Fantasy owners should continue to tread cautiously when considering him.
Paul Menard - Kansas Speedway hasn't been bad for Menard, but it hasn't bee fruitful, either. He qualified in an impressive sixth position, but the trials of the day forced him a bit farther back at the finish, as he claimed 12th. He hasn't finished in the top 10 since the August visit to Pocono Raceway, and despite his emergence this season as a contender, he doesn't get the job done on a weekly basis. Menard's qualifying effort at Kansas should have inspired the fantasy world, but his results at Charlotte don't signal that the same should be expected this week. With one top-10 finish in the last five races at the track, Menard isn't one to rely on this week.
Follow @cjradune on Twitter.