This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.
Both tracks are the "D-shaped" configuration so the handling characteristics will be much the same. However, as we ran during the daylight hours at Texas, we will be racing under the lights this week at Kansas. That one wrinkle could play a minor role in altering the driver group just a bit. One thing is for certain, the incredible trio of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski that have so dominated the three cookie cutter oval
Both tracks are the "D-shaped" configuration so the handling characteristics will be much the same. However, as we ran during the daylight hours at Texas, we will be racing under the lights this week at Kansas. That one wrinkle could play a minor role in altering the driver group just a bit. One thing is for certain, the incredible trio of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski that have so dominated the three cookie cutter oval events to this point will be eagerly anticipating the 400-mile race at Kansas. The intermediate tracks have been kind to this trio early in 2017 and there's no reason to expect that to change now.
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 event is only entering its sixth season in the Monster Energy Cup Series schedule. 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 18 races at Kansas Speedway.
|DRIVER||AVG FINISH||QUALITY PASSES||FASTEST LAPS||LAPS LED||LAPS IN TOP 15||RATING|
|Martin Truex Jr.||16.8||490||273||518||3,009||95.7|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||15.9||554||148||124||2,531||90.0|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||18.9||130||26||26||669||73.9|
Our most recent Kansas winner, Kevin Harvick, will be challenged to defend his turf this weekend at the Kansas Speedway oval. The Stewart Haas Racing star won his second event at the facility in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. Harvick led 74 laps that day and out-maneuvered rival Carl Edwards over the closing laps to secure the win in convincing fashion. He's not been in top form just yet on these intermediate ovals this season, so he's not the clear favorite this weekend. The Chevrolet and Toyota camps will pose the biggest threat to Harvick's crown this weekend. Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. have won two of the three intermediate oval events to-date, and are set up to be top contenders for the Go Bowling 400. Johnson is a three-time winner at Kansas and Truex has never won here in 17 starts. Given what these two drivers have done at Atlanta, Fort Worth and Las Vegas earlier this season we have to pay special attention to these guys at Kansas.
The other big time player this weekend should be Penske Racing star, Brad Keselowski. The driver of the No. 2 Ford is a two-time winner already this young season and he won earlier this season at the 1.5-mile oval in Atlanta. Keselowski has one-career victory at Kansas Speedway, but it's what he's done on the intermediate ovals this season that grabs our attention the most. Keselowski has a pole position, a win, and three Top-10 finishes at these style tracks and he's been asserting his dominance in each start. Aside from this trio of drivers, Kyle Larson should pop back onto our fantasy racing radar screens at Kansas. He has never won at this intermediate oval, and despite his subpar 12th-place showing at Talladega this past weekend, Larson is a rebound candidate with a ton of upside this Saturday evening. He has four-consecutive runner-up finishes in the last four intermediate oval races dating back to last season's finale in Homestead. There's no doubt that the No. 42 Chevrolet will be up front again this week.
Aside from the Larson, Johnson, Keselowski and Truex story lines, we're certain that Penske racer, Joey Logano, will again manage to assert himself on a cookie cutter oval. The driver of the No. 22 Ford is fifth in the driver standings after six Top 5s and eight Top 10s through the first 10 races of the season. He has two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in the first three intermediate ovals in the schedule. So keep Logano in mind as one of those driver's just off the edge of the radar screen as we come to Kansas. 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
Kyle Larson – While Larson has somewhat muddled through the last few weeks on short tracks and superspeedways, he'll be re-energized at the return to an intermediate oval. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver built his early-season championship standings lead on the strength of the No. 42 team's performance on cookie cutter ovals. Larson has four-consecutive runner-up finishes at these style tracks dating back to last season's finale at Homestead. The young driver has six-career starts at Kansas Speedway with little to show for other than a runner-up finish in 2014. That history at this track is about to be changed for this driver. Larson has the speed on these ovals, and he'll be in the mix for the win in Saturday night's Go Bowling 400.
Brad Keselowski – Keselowski is a one-time Kansas winner and he sports some solid stats at this heartland race track. His 159 laps led and seven-career Top-10 finishes show his expertise at this facility. Recent outings have looked a little shaky, but there's little to worry considering how well the No. 2 team is racing entering the Kansas week. Keselowski is looking to build on the performance he had at Las Vegas earlier this year (pole, 89 laps led and fifth-place finish), and the fact that he won at a similar oval in Atlanta earlier in the season only bolsters his contender status for the Go Bowling 400. The Penske Racing star is heating up, and he'll be in the mix for the win this weekend.
Joey Logano – If Logano can find lightning in a bottle again, like he did in 2014 and 2015 at Kansas, we could see the No. 22 Ford in victory lane for the second time this season this Saturday night. The Penske Racing driver is still redefining his inconsistent Kansas resume, but with wins in two of the last five races at this venue, times are changing quickly. Logano has led close to 300 laps in his last seven Kansas starts, so he's quite used to racing up front here. Over that span he's logged all Top-5 finishes except for one mishap and crash, so when not winning, the No. 22 Ford is not far out of first-place. Logano will be in the mix for the win and a Top-10 finisher in Saturday night's Go Bowling 400.
Kevin Harvick – The No. 4 Ford team showed us some real grit at Talladega this past week. Harvick marched through the field in this wild event to lead 15 laps before being damaged in the late "big one" at the Alabama superspeedway. Hopefully things will be a bit easier this Saturday evening as the Monster Energy Cup Series visits Kansas Speedway. Harvick has won three poles, two victories and three runner-up finishes in his last seven Kansas starts. He's our last Kansas winner with the victory in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. If we fast forward to this season we see that Harvick has two Top-10 finishes on the intermediate tracks in three starts. One of those was a 292-laps led performance at Atlanta, and the other a 77-laps led performance at Fort Worth. The No. 4 Ford team is ready to win on these cookie cutter ovals.
Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning
Jimmie Johnson – Johnson has three poles, three victories and 601 laps led in 21-career starts at Kansas Speedway. Of those 21 starts Johnson has converted 17 Top 10s for a staggering 81-percent rate. The Hendrick Motorsports star won this event two years ago by out-maneuvering Kevin Harvick in the closing laps. He wasn't the fastest or more dominant driver of the day, but he went for the jugular at crunch time. Two of his three starts at Kansas Speedway since that win have yielded third- and fourth-place finishes. Coming off the win at Fort Worth a few weeks ago the No. 48 team is tuned up for another cookie cutter oval. He is a must start in Saturday night's Go Bowling 400.
Chase Elliott – The Hendrick Motorsports rising star will hit the reset button after his Talladega mishap last weekend, and nothing better than cookie cutter oval racing to get Elliott back on track. The young driver has been lights out this season on the 1.5-mile ovals with fifth-, third- and ninth-place finishes. Elliott has not been a major threat to win on these ovals, but he's reeling off the steady Top 10s. The driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet grabbed a ninth-place finish in this event one year ago in his Kansas Speedway debut in NASCAR's top division. The notes from that outing should come in handy, and Elliott should be even better this time around.
Kyle Busch – Considering that it took Busch 13 seasons to finally win at Kansas Speedway, some fantasy racing players may pass up on the No. 18 Toyota team this week. But we would beg to differ. He struggled for many seasons at this oval, but finally the results have begun to show dramatic improvement. Busch rides a four-race Kansas Top-5 streak into this weekend's action, and that includes a victory in this event one year ago. The Joe Gibbs Racing star's intermediate oval performance has been somewhat subpar in 2017, but this is a driver filled with a lot of resolve this weekend. Busch is coming off the heartbreaking last-lap loss at Talladega last week, and he's focused like a laser on keeping his current Kansas Top-5 streak intact.
Martin Truex Jr. – Intermediate ovals have been the strength of this driver for a number of seasons, and this year has been no exception. We only need to take a quick look at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fort Worth to see the proof. With finishes of eighth-, first- and eighth-place on the cookie cutter tracks this season, the No. 78 team is running in top form. Truex owns two Top-10 finishes in his last five trips to Kansas Speedway. In this event one year ago the veteran driver started on the pole, led 172 laps but finished 14th. We expect to see the Furniture Row Racing veteran running up front and competing for his seventh Top-10 finish of this young season.
Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Kansas who can provide a solid finish
Kurt Busch – Busch's performance on intermediate ovals so far this season has been a bit hit-or-miss with a pair of Top 10s in three starts. His current two-race Top-10 streak coming to Kansas is a hopeful sign that the No. 41 team is heating up. Busch's Kansas record isn't the best with only a 32-percent Top-10 rate, but he has been coming on strong here since the 2013 campaign. The veteran driver has four Top-10 finishes in his last seven visits to Kansas Speedway, which has boosted his career average. There's good reason to believe Busch will keep the good vibes and good momentum rolling in the Go Bowling 400. A finish between sixth- and ninth-place would be a reasonable expectation for Saturday night.
Matt Kenseth – Keeping Joe Gibbs Racing in mind this week at Kansas, we have to give a solid recommendation to the No. 20 Toyota team. Kenseth's two victories and 13 Top-10 finishes at this intermediate oval bode well going into the Go Bowling 400. The veteran driver has great loop stats at this midsize track and has led over 770-career laps here. Kenseth is still looking for his first victory of the season, so motivation to be out front won't be in short supply. He led 116 laps in the last race at the Kansas oval but would fall back and eventually finish ninth in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. The Joe Gibbs Racing star will look to atone for that disappointment in the Go Bowling 400.
Clint Bowyer – Bowyer has a new lease on his NASCAR life and he's making the best of it in the No. 14 Ford of Stewart Haas Racing. He comes to Kansas this week a lofty ninth in the driver standings and looking to continue improving with each race. The intermediate ovals thus far in 2017 haven't been homeruns, but they've been more like base knocks and doubles for the veteran driver. Bowyer has finishes of 11th-, 10th- and 11th-place on the three 1.5-mile ovals to-date. The Emporia, Kansas native considers Kansas Speedway to be his hometown track, so you know he'll be fired up for this event. Bowyer has languished in mediocrity for the last three years in front of his "hometown fans" and you know he'll be eager to put on a good show for the hometown crowd.
Jamie McMurray – While everyone has been talking about the hot No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team this season, what might be less obvious is his teammate, McMurray. The veteran driver of the No.1 Chevrolet hasn't been quite as strong as Kyle Larson, but he's still been just as consistent and especially on these cookie cutter race tracks. McMurray is a perfect four-for-four in Top 10s on these ovals dating back to Homestead at the end of last season. That places him in some pretty elite company with Joey Logano and Larson as the only three drivers to boast that statistic. His career numbers at Kansas Speedway aren't that great with a 15-percent Top-10 rate, but we're willing to bet the current momentum will trump history this time around.
Trevor Bayne – Speaking of momentum plays for this week, probably the biggest will be the Roush Fenway Racing Ford team. Both Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had great Talladega outings with Stenhouse grabbing his first-career victory. Bayne was equally fast but couldn't avoid the late "big one". In the intermediate oval department, the No. 6 team has been pretty fast and consistent. Bayne has finishes of 12th-, 13th- and 13th-place this season. That's a dramatic improvement over recent seasons. He has only a pair of Top-20 finishes in five-career starts at Kansas Speedway and no Top-15 efforts. We're willing to bet that statistic changes after 400-miles at Kansas this Saturday evening.
Ryan Blaney – It really shouldn't be any surprise that we endorse the No. 21 Ford team for this week's race at Kansas Speedway. Blaney's intermediate oval experience this season has been pretty good. He has finishes of 18th-, seventh- and 12th-place. However, of most interest is his 12th-place at Texas Motor Speedway. In our last cookie cutter oval event, the Wood Brothers Racing driver led a career-high 148 laps and looked like the driver to beat for most of the afternoon in Fort Worth. He would fall back to finish just outside the Top 10, but open a lot of eyes along the way. Blaney has pretty good Kansas stats in his hip pocket coming into this weekend. In four prior starts at the speedway he has one Top-5 and a pair of Top-10 finishes.
Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week
Kasey Kahne – After a bang-bang start to the season, with Top-10 finishes at both Daytona and Atlanta, the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet has cooled. Kahne went through a wide range of inconsistency between the Las Vegas race and Richmond, before finally logging a Top 5 at Talladega this past week. Through 10 races his average finish stands at 16.2 and 18.0 on the intermediate ovals. Kansas Speedway has been decent over the years to the Hendrick Motorsports veteran. Kahne has nine Top 10s in 19 starts for a respectable 47-percent rate. However, more recent outings have been much further below .500. Two of the veteran driver's last five starts at Kansas Speedway have netted Top-10 finishes. All signs point to an underperform weekend for Kahne.
Ryan Newman – The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet is off to a bit of a slow start this season, despite winning several weeks ago at Phoenix. He enters Kansas weekend 14th in the driver standings and without any Top 10s on the cookie cutter ovals to this point in the schedule. The 1.5-mile tracks are normally good venues for this Richard Childress Racing driver. However, he's struggled on these midsize tracks to this point. Finishes of 35th-, 17th- and 16th-place at Atlanta, Las Vegas at Texas are well below historical norms for this driver. Kansas Speedway is also one of Newman's lesser intermediate ovals. With seven Top-10 finishes in 22-career starts at Kansas Speedway, the veteran driver checks in at a lowly 32-percent Top-10 rate at this oval.
Austin Dillon – Outside of a fifth-place finish at Martinsville a few weeks ago, there hasn't much to cheer about if you're a fan of the RCR No. 3 team. Dillon has been slow and inconsistent finishing, and he only has 7 laps led through the first 10 races. The intermediate ovals are normally decent venues for Dillon, but not in 2017. Finishes of 32nd-, 25th- and 33rd-place have shown just how much this driver and team have struggled this season. It's tough putting Dillon in the slow down list this weekend as he had such a good season at the Kansas oval last year. He racked up a pair of sixth-place finishes in his two Kansas Speedway starts in 2016. Unfortunately, our confidence in this driver and team is so low right now, we don't feel that he's a dependable fantasy racing pick based on last season's work.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Considering that Earnhardt is coming off the big Talladega letdown, it's hard to get expectations up for the No. 88 team this week. 10 races into the season and the veteran driver has only one Top 10 and comes into Kansas weekend a lowly 25th in the driver point standings. Earnhardt would have liked to gotten a boost with a good Talladega finish last weekend, but it didn't happen. Kansas Speedway has been a 45-percent Top-10 oval for Junior over the years, and that stat holds pretty true over the last four seasons. However, his intermediate oval performance in 2017 has been lacking. The average finish over the three-race span is a 17.0. That's far below fantasy expectations for this driver and team. Keep Earnhardt benched for now until he shows more consistency.