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 was moved from mid June to mid April. The move of the STP 400 will allow competitors a second straight week of racing on an intermediate oval. The 1.5-mile oval of Kansas Speedway may not give us a sequel of what just played out at Texas, but the teams that performed well at the Fort Worth oval should be for another strong race weekend. The teams that just dominated at Texas 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 Texas, the similarities are enough to warrant reconsideration of the same driver group that we had for the Samsung Mobile 500 this past 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 new weekend in the schedule for the STP 400 with great anticipation, as the loop stats in the table below will indicate.
Since we're making our first stop of the season at Kansas Speedway, we need to take a brief look back at history at this intermediate oval. These numbers will be even more important than usual, since this race date is new to the part of the season. As you'll see in the table below, some of the hottest drivers in the series right now are making a very timely start at Kansas this weekend. Here are the loop stats for the last eight races at Kansas Speedway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUAL. PASSES||# of FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||DRIVER RATING|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||17.6||244||65||59||1,033||83.6|
|Martin Truex Jr.||26.3||206||43||32||990||80.7|
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 is a two-time winner at this 1.5-mile oval, and he's fresh off the convincing victory at Texas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 16 Ford has led close to 350 career laps at the heartland oval, and he cracks the Top 5 at an amazing 55 percent rate here. The other big time player this weekend should be Hendrick Motorsports star Jimmie Johnson. He won the last event at Kansas last October, and he battled with Biffle for the win this past weekend at Fort Worth. Johnson owns an eye-popping 82 percent Top 10 rate at Kansas Speedway, and he too owns two career wins at the 1.5-mile track. Aside from the Roush drivers and Johnson, Tony Stewart could pop back onto our fantasy racing radar screens at Kansas. He is a two-time winner at the intermediate oval, and despite his shocking 24th-place letdown at Texas this past weekend, Stewart is a rebound candidate with a ton of upside this Sunday afternoon. Smoke has won two races on ovals 1.5 miles in length or longer this season, so it wouldn't be a big surprise to see the No. 14 Chevrolet rally all the way into victory lane on Sunday afternoon. Aside from the Biffle, Johnson and Stewart story lines, we're certain that Mark Martin will again manage to assert himself despite his part-time schedule this season. The Michael Waltrip Racing star has been on fire to this point in the season, and he has spectacular loop stats at this facility. 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
Let's start with just the numbers. He has two wins and eight Top-10 finishes in 11 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 Fort Worth this past weekend another race-winning performance could 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 championship standings leader will be on the prowl for more hardware for his trophy case at the heartland intermediate oval.
Johnson has three poles, two victories and 501 laps led in 11 career starts at Kansas Speedway. Although the Hendrick Motorsports star hasn't displayed the winning touch of late, the No. 48 team battled for the victory with Greg Biffle this past weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Johnson is very close to breaking through for that first win of the 2012 season. Considering that his last visit to the Kansas oval in October of last year netted 197 laps led and a dominant win, you have to like Johnson's chances this weekend.
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 15-laps led and Top-5 performance at Texas 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 well over 200 career laps there. Kenseth boasts finishes of seventh-, sixth- and fourth-place in his last three trips to this facility. If there's a good sleeper play among the contenders, Kenseth is it.
Stewart had a shockingly bad performance at the Fort Worth oval this past Saturday night. However, we're not going to let that deter us from listing the No. 14 team in the contender's list this week. The hallmark of a champion is the ability to rebound and Stewart and this team has that trait in spades. Smoke's career numbers at Kansas are quite impressive. He's a two-time winner at Kansas Speedway, and as recently as 2009. Stewart cracks the Top 5 at a staggering 42 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
Historically speaking, this is a great venue for Martin. One win and five Top-10 finishes at Kansas Speedway rank this as one of his better intermediate ovals. Probably second only to Las Vegas. The move to Michael Waltrip Racing's No. 55 Toyota team has reinvigorated this veteran driver, so we expect Martin to be on his "A" game this weekend. Martin's last start on a 1.5-mile track yielded a brilliant third-place finish at Texas this past week, so there is good reason to have high expectations for this driver and team in the STP 400.
Considering that Gordon owns two career victories and nine Top 10's at Kansas Speedway how can you not like the Hendrick Motorsports star this weekend? Those nine Top 10's lead all active drivers at this intermediate oval, and eight of those are also Top 5's. Gordon has five Top-5 finishes in his last six trips to the 1.5-mile oval entering this weekend's event. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet is fresh of a fourth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, so it's easy to believe that this momentum will spill over to this weekend at Kansas.
The Roush Fenway star is still searching for his championship-contending form, but in the meantime the No. 99 team is slogging out hard-fought Top-10 finishes. Exhibit "A" is his recent resume would be this past weekend's eighth-place finish at Fort Worth. It didn't come easy, but Edwards got his No. 99 Ford into the Top 10 by the close of 500 miles. Hopefully this weekend's race at Kansas will be far easier. Edwards owns seven Top 10's in nine career starts at Kansas Speedway. He has brilliant finishes of sixth-, fifth- and fifth-place in his last three trips to this 1.5-mile oval.
The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet has finally come to life this season. Kahne overcame a slow start with his first Top 10 of the season this past weekend at Fort Worth. That's a great sign heading to Kansas this week. Kahne owns two career poles and 77 laps led at the heartland speedway, and two of his last four trips to Kansas have netted Top-10 finishes. In last October's Hollywood Casino 400, the veteran driver qualified fifth and finished second at this same facility. Kahne should crack the Top 10 in the STP 400.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Kansas who can provide a solid finish
Martin Truex Jr.
Intermediate ovals have been the strength of this team and driver for the last three seasons. However, success has been slow to come at Kansas Speedway for Truex. He has only one Top-15 finish in seven career starts at this 1.5-mile facility. Truex is in the midst of re-writing his record books in 2012 and is about as hot a driver as there is in the series right now. The Michael Waltrip Racing star enters this weekend on a four-race Top 10 streak and coming off a pole win, 69 laps led and solid sixth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. Need we say any more?
The No. 29 Chevrolet team showed us some real grit at Texas this past week. Harvick marched through a number of issues to salvage a ninth-place finish at Fort Worth. Hopefully things will be a bit easier this Sunday afternoon as the Sprint Cup Series visits Kansas Speedway. Harvick owns four Top 10's in his last six trips to this Kansas oval. That's the type of consistency that all fantasy racing players look to. Speaking of consistency, Mr. Harvick and his Richard Childress Racing team have only finished outside the Top 11 once this season, so you can hang your hats on that at Kansas this weekend.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Considering how hard Earnhardt has worked this season to be competitive each week, it's no wonder that you often find him in our solid plays or sleeper's list each week. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet sports only a 42 percent career Top 10 rate at this week's oval, but it's his 2012 work ethic that trumps that a bit. Earnhardt has a pair of Top-10 finishes on the two intermediate oval races to-date this season. While neither were stellar performances, they were good enough to post respectable Top-10 results. We'll leave you with this one last thought
Earnhardt finished second in this event one year ago.
Richard Childress Racing has been putting good cars under Menard this season. He's cracked the Top 10 three times in 2012 and sits a respectable 13th in the driver point standings entering this event. Despite having only cracked the Top 10 once in six tries at Kansas, Menard makes a great fantasy racing play this weekend. Ragan qualified 11th and finished 18th this past weekend at TMS for his fifth Top-20 finish of the season. Since we're visiting an intermediate oval for the second week in a row, Menard and the No. 27 team should stay on their game for the STP 400.
With the Aussie racing star being ranked 24th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, things have not started the greatest for the No. 9 Ford team. But that doesn't mean that Ambrose hasn't been getting quality cars, it has been more of a function of bad luck that has been holding him back thus far. Ambrose was heading for his second Top 10 of the season last week at Texas when the gas tank ran dry with just a lap-and-a-half remaining, relegating him to a subpar 20th-place finish. We expect luck to turn eventually, and as early as this weekend. Ambrose scored a Kansas career-best finish of ninth-place last fall in the Hollywood Casino 400. He can get it done at Kansas Speedway.
Bowyer will be racing at his home state track this weekend for the STP 400. That's reason number one to consider the driver of the No. 15 Toyota. Competing in front of the home town fans is always great motivation. Reason number two is his solid Kansas resume. Bowyer owns three Top-10 finishes in seven career starts at the 1.5-mile track. That includes a nice seventh-place finish at this facility last October. As far as consistency goes, Bowyer has never DNF'd at Kansas Speedway in his Cup career and has only finished outside the Top 20 once (21st in 2009) so that should be quite reassuring for this Sunday's 400-mile event.
Allmendinger has started to find his stride with his new Penske Racing Dodge team. Finishes of 15th-, second- and 15th-place in each of the last three races shows that the No. 22 team is starting to click with Allmendinger. Kansas Speedway should offer up another Top-15 finish for the team. Allmendinger has two Top-10 finishes in five career starts at Kansas Speedway, with a respectable average finish of 17.6. We fully expect him to qualify well for this weekend's STP 400 and race throughout the Top 15 all race long this Sunday afternoon at the heartland oval.
Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs
The struggles of Joe Gibbs Racing this season on intermediate ovals has been painfully clear to see. Among the worst performers of this stable has been Logano at these 1.5-mile tracks. Logano finished an uninspiring 19th in this past weekend's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas. Considering that the No. 20 Toyota team has not been anywhere near the Top 10 since the second race of the season (Phoenix) it's hard to have high expectations for this week's event at Kansas. Logano has no Top-10 finishes in five career starts at Kansas Speedway, and that works out to a woeful 27.2 average finish at this 1.5-mile oval. From momentum and historical standpoint, this is a bad weekend to deploy Logano and the No. 20 team.
The seventh race of the season is a good check up point for Busch and his new Phoenix Racing No. 51 team. The report card is not a good one. Seven events into the 2012 season, the veteran driver has only one Top-10 finish and finds himself a disappointing 26th in the driver point standings. It's all too clear that owner James Finch is playing catch up with equipment, crew chief and personnel-wise with the talented former champion. Busch's career numbers at Kansas aren't the greatest either with only a 25 percent Top 10 rate at this facility. It's best to look elsewhere for your fantasy racing help this weekend.
Despite being a one-time Kansas winner, we're making the call on a Kansas flop this weekend for Keselowski. The intermediate ovals have been downright abusive to the Penske Racing star recently. That all culminated this past Saturday night with a sour engine and 36th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway. His luck at Las Vegas earlier this season was just as bad, as Keselowski drug home a 32nd-place finish in that event. While we believe the driver of the No. 2 Dodge is wildly talented and a rising star in the series, we have to shy away on the old "where there's smoke there's fire" clichι for this one.
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 25 in the STP 400, but that's not really what we expect when we start this driver and team in our fantasy lineups.