GoBowling.com 400 Preview: Return to Intermediate Tracks

GoBowling.com 400 Preview: Return to Intermediate Tracks

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

After the crumpled cars and twisted sheet metal of Talladega, we're in for a change of pace this weekend. For the fourth time in 2016, the Sprint Cup Series goes intermediate oval racing. We visit Kansas Speedway for the spring event, which debuted in April of 2012. The GoBowling.com 400 will take our competitors back to an intermediate oval after a one-month hiatus from these style tracks. The 1.5-mile oval of Kansas Speedway may not give us a sequel of what played out at Texas a few weeks ago, but the teams that performed well at the Fort Worth oval in the Duck Commander 500 should be in for another strong race weekend. The teams that 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 almost the same driver group that we had at the Fort Worth oval. Both tracks are the "D-shaped" configuration so the handling characteristics will be much the same. One thing is for certain, the dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch 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 duo early in 2016 and there's no reason to expect that to change now.

Since we're making our first stop

After the crumpled cars and twisted sheet metal of Talladega, we're in for a change of pace this weekend. For the fourth time in 2016, the Sprint Cup Series goes intermediate oval racing. We visit Kansas Speedway for the spring event, which debuted in April of 2012. The GoBowling.com 400 will take our competitors back to an intermediate oval after a one-month hiatus from these style tracks. The 1.5-mile oval of Kansas Speedway may not give us a sequel of what played out at Texas a few weeks ago, but the teams that performed well at the Fort Worth oval in the Duck Commander 500 should be in for another strong race weekend. The teams that 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 almost the same driver group that we had at the Fort Worth oval. Both tracks are the "D-shaped" configuration so the handling characteristics will be much the same. One thing is for certain, the dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch 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 duo early in 2016 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 fifth season in the Sprint Cup Series schedule. As you'll see in the table below, some of the hottest drivers in the series are making a timely start at Kansas this weekend. Here are the loop stats for the last 16 races at Kansas Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson7.37265305813,484112.0
Matt Kenseth11.55503056413,246106.8
Kevin Harvick9.85532764273,139102.5
Greg Biffle10.35522092823,01199.3
Carl Edwards9.96061471152,95395.7
Martin Truex Jr.17.34261803462,54993.2
Kyle Larson14.516985369893.2
Kasey Kahne13.5588168632,92993.1
Brad Keselowski12.3447881552,21891.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr.16.05251441242,40890.9
Denny Hamlin15.452471682,58587.9
Kurt Busch16.95031332562,49986.9
Joey Logano17.23461682891,70386.1
Clint Bowyer16.535348481,80182.8
Aric Almirola 18.0165526990381.8
Kyle Busch19.347969872,15180.7
Brian Scott12.0350011780.2
Paul Menard16.034536241,96680.1
Ryan Blaney17.0556527078.6
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.19.891262642274.2

Our most recent Kansas winner, Joey Logano, will be challenged to defend his turf this weekend at the Kansas Speedway oval. The Penske Racing star won his second event at the facility in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. Logano led 42 laps that day and out-maneuvered rival Matt Kenseth over the closing laps to secure the win in controversial 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 Logano's crown this weekend. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch have won two of the three intermediate oval events to-date, and are set up to be the top contenders for the GoBowling.com 400. Johnson is a three-time winner at Kansas and Busch has never won here in 16 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 Logano's teammate, Brad Keselowski. The Penske Racing star is coming off the big win at Talladega and he won earlier this season at the 1.5-mile oval in Las Vegas. He 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 the win and a pair of Top-10 finishes at these style tracks and he's been closely nipping at the heels of Johnson and Busch. Coming off the big Talladega win, the victories could start coming in bunches for him and the No. 2 Ford team. The momentum of the No. 2 Penske Racing team is tangible and shouldn't be discounted coming into Kansas weekend. Aside from this trio of drivers, Carl Edwards could pop back onto our fantasy racing radar screens at Kansas. He has never won at this intermediate oval, and despite his lackluster 35th-place showing at Talladega this past weekend, Edwards is a rebound candidate with a ton of upside this Sunday afternoon. He cracks the Top 10 at a 71-percent clip and is one of the more consistent performers at Kansas Speedway. Aside from the Edwards, Busch, Logano, Johnson and Keselowski story lines, we're certain that rookie Chase Elliott will again manage to assert himself despite his lack of resume at the Kansas oval. The Hendrick Motorsports rising star is 11th in the driver standings after three Top 5s and six Top 10s through the first 10 races of the season. He has one Top-5 and two Top-10 finishes in the first three intermediate ovals in the schedule. So keep Elliott 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

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson has three poles, three victories and 601 laps led in 19 career starts at Kansas Speedway. Of those 19 starts Johnson has converted 16 Top 10s for a staggering 84-percent rate. The Hendrick Motorsports star won this event one year 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. Considering that the veteran driver won at Atlanta earlier this season and has Top-5 finishes in the other two intermediate oval events, Johnson has to be seen as the top contender coming to Kansas Speedway. He is a must start in Saturday night's GoBowling.com 400.

Kyle Busch -
Considering that Busch has never won 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 won just a few weeks ago at Martinsville Speedway, which was another oval that had evaded Busch's grasp in 12 seasons of racing. There's no reason to believe he can't do it again this weekend. The Joe Gibbs Racing star has been superb on the intermediate oval circuit this season. A victory at Fort Worth and Top 5s at Atlanta and Las Vegas have Busch setting the pace on these ovals early in the campaign. He's picked up a pair of Top-5 finishes in his last two Kansas starts, so he's inching closer to victory lane at this oval.

Kevin Harvick -
The No. 4 Chevrolet team showed us some real grit at Talladega this past week. Harvick marched through a wreck-filled event to salvage a 15th-place finish at the Alabama superspeedway. Hopefully things will be a bit easier this Saturday evening as the Sprint Cup Series visits Kansas Speedway. Harvick has won three poles, one victory and a pair of runner-up finishes in his last five Kansas starts. If we fast forward to this season we see that Harvick has three Top-10 finishes on the intermediate tracks in three starts. One of those was a 131-laps led performance at Atlanta. The No. 4 Chevrolet team is ready to win on these cookie cutter ovals. If Johnson or Busch stumbles, it could easily be Harvick taking his second win of the season.

Brad Keselowski -
Keselowski is a one-time Kansas winner and he sports some solid stats at this heartland race track. His 155 laps led and six-career Top-10 finishes show his expertise at this facility. Recent outings have looked very promising but have ended without victories, so you could say that this Penske Racing star is coming to Kansas with some unfinished business this weekend. Keselowski is looking to build on the momentum of his Talladega victory this past week, and the fact that he won at a similar oval in Las Vegas earlier in the season only bolsters his contender status for the GoBowling.com 400. The Penske Racing star is heating up, and he'll be in the mix for the win this weekend.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the Top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Carl Edwards -
Edwards saw his two-race win streak come to an abrupt halt at Talladega last Sunday. That's just not been a track of much success for the driver of the No. 19 Toyota, so he'll soon put that effort behind him. Edwards will hit the reset button at Kansas Speedway this week. While winless at the heartland oval, he's been incredibly consistent there over the years. In 17-career starts the veteran driver has racked up 12 Top-10 finishes, including an eighth-place finish in his last outing at the oval. That checks in at a gaudy 71-percent rate, among the tops in the Sprint Cup Series. Edwards has had terrific speed on the cookie cutter ovals this season, and we don't expect that to change in this 400-mile battle.

Joey Logano -
If Logano can find lightning in a bottle again, like he did last October at Kansas, we could see the No. 22 Ford in victory lane for the first 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 three races at this venue, times are changing quickly. Logano has led 289 laps in his last five Kansas starts, so he's quite used to racing up front here. Over that span he's logged all Top-5 finishes, 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 GoBowling.com 400.

Kurt Busch -
Busch's performance on intermediate ovals so far this season have been spotless. His two poles, one Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes through three starts are a sign that the No. 41 team is running at full speed. Busch's Kansas record isn't the best with only 30-percent Top-10 rate, but he has been coming on strong here since the 2013 campaign. The veteran driver led 20 laps in this even one year ago and picked up a pair of Top-10 finishes at Kansas Speedway last season. There's no reason to believe these aren't similar results to what he could do this weekend.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Considering that Earnhardt is coming off the big Talladega wreck and DNF, we have to make him the "rebound play" this week at the Kansas oval. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet sports only a 47-percent career Top-10 rate at this week's oval, but it's his work ethic that trumps that a bit. Earnhardt has a pair of runner-up finishes and three Top 10s in all three intermediate oval races to-date this season, so his team has been just a tick off getting into winner's circle at these style tracks. The NASCAR icon sports Top 10s in three of his last five trips to the Kansas oval, and that's good enough to warrant some serious fantasy racing consideration.

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

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 11 Top-10 finishes at this intermediate oval bode well going into the GoBowling.com 400. The veteran driver has great loop stats at this midsize track and has led over 650-career laps there. Kenseth is still looking for his first victory of the season, so motivation to be out front won't be in short supply. He was leading late in the last race at the Kansas oval when the infamous bump from Joey Logano denied him victory lane that afternoon. The Joe Gibbs Racing star will look to atone for that disappointment in the GoBowling.com 400.

Martin Truex Jr. -
Intermediate ovals have been the strength of this driver for a number of seasons. As Truex showed this past week at Talladega, he can get to the front and mix it up with the Top 10 in this Furniture Row Racing Toyota. Kansas is no different for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. Truex owns two Top-10 finishes in his last three trips to Kansas Speedway. In this event one year ago the veteran driver started fourth on the grid and finished a strong ninth-place after leading 95 laps. We expect to see the FRR veteran racing up front and competing for his third Top-10 finish of the season on the 1.5-mile speedways.

Chase Elliott -
The front-runner in the Rookie of the Year chase has put together a nice little streak coming to Kansas this week. With Elliott's fifth-place finish at Talladega last Sunday, he now has three Top-5 finishes in the last four events entering this weekend. The young driver is not only looking like an early favorite to run away with the ROTY, but to also make the Chase for the Cup field. Elliott has a pair of Top-10 finishes in the three intermediate ovals to-date. This will be his first Sprint Cup Series start at Kansas Speedway, but the Hendrick Motorsports youngster picked up a pair of Top 10s in two Xfinity Series starts at the Speedway between 2014-15.

Kasey Kahne -
While his racing has been inconsistent at best this season, Kahne has been very steady on the intermediate ovals. Two of his three starts at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fort Worth have resulted in Top-10 finishes. This style of racing has been the lone bright spot for the No. 5 Chevrolet team. Kahne also sports good career stats at Kansas Speedway. The veteran driver has eight Top-10 finishes in 17-career starts at this heartland oval. Two of those have come in just his last four starts there, which includes his strong fourth-place finish in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. Kahne has been shaky this season, but don't let that keep him out of your fantasy racing lineup this weekend.

Trevor Bayne -
Speaking of momentum plays for this week, probably the biggest will be the Roush Fenway Racing Ford team. Bayne had one of his best performances in recent memory in last week's Talladega race. He led 22 laps and looked like a contender to win late, before finishing a respectable 10th. In our last intermediate oval race, Bayne was equally impressive. He led 12 laps and finished a respectable 15th at Texas Motor Speedway in the Duck Commander 500. The young driver of the No. 6 Ford just continues to get better with each race this season, he's one to hedge on this weekend at Kansas.

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 dating back to last season has been pretty consistent. He claimed a surprising sixth-place finish at the similar oval in Las Vegas earlier this season. The rookie driver has two-career Cup starts at the Kansas oval, with a top finish of seventh in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. Blaney is looking to build on the success of his Top-10 finish at Talladega last week, so he'll ride some pretty good momentum into Saturday night's GoBowling.com 400.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Ryan Newman -
The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet is off to a bit of a slow start this season. He enters Kansas weekend 18th in the driver standings and with only two Top-10 finishes to this point in the schedule. The cookie cutter ovals normally are good venues for this Richard Childress Racing driver. However, he's struggled on these midsize tracks to this point. Finishes of 24th-, 13th- and 17th-place at Atlanta, Las Vegas at Texas are well below historical norms for this driver. Kansas is also one of Newman's lesser 1.5-mile tracks. With six Top-10 finishes in 20-career starts at Kansas Speedway, the veteran driver checks in at a lowly 30-percent Top-10 rate at this oval.

Denny Hamlin -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star is not running out of the gates this season on the intermediate oval circuit. One finish inside the Top 15 and two outside the Top 15 at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas are less than expectations for this driver and team. That average finish across that span is an uncharacteristic 15.7. Hamlin is a one-time Kansas Speedway winner, but his 33-percent Top-10 rate at the track underscores his inconsistency here. Only two of Hamlin's last six starts at the heartland oval have resulted in Top-10 finishes. This a good week to give the No. 11 Toyota team a seat on the bench and mitigate the risk.

Tony Stewart -
Historically speaking, this is a great venue for Stewart and his No. 14 Chevrolet team. With two wins and nine Top-10 finishes, Kansas Speedway has been a very successful oval for the three-time champion. However, his recent return from the back injury sustained in the preseason shows that Smoke is not quite back to 100-percent health or skill. His 19th-place finish at Richmond two weeks ago was followed by a partial-race at Talladega last weekend. While relief driver, Ty Dillon, did help Stewart to earn a Top-10 finish, that shouldn't be expected as the norm. It's best to stay clear of Stewart this weekend until he can get back into better racing shape.

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer stopped the bleeding with Top-10 finishes in two of the last three events. However, those were starts at short tracks and superspeedways. Up until those performances, the No. 15 Chevrolet team was mired deep in a slump. Much of that poor performance had come on the cookie cutter ovals. Bowyer's 35th-, 22nd- and 38th-place finishes at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas are incredibly poorer than his career averages at those ovals. Kansas Speedway itself has been tough on Bowyer in recent years. He hasn't cracked the Top 10 in his last five trips to Kansas. That has dropped his career Top-10 rate at the heartland oval to a lowly 33 percent.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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