SpongeBob SquarePants 400 Preview: Change of Pace

SpongeBob SquarePants 400 Preview: Change of Pace

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

After the crumpled cars and twisted sheet metal of Talladega, we're due for a change of pace this weekend. For the fourth time in 2015, the Sprint Cup Series goes intermediate oval racing. We visit Kansas Speedway for the spring event, which debuted in April 2012. SpongeBob SquarePants 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" variety so the handling characteristics will be much the same. One thing is for certain, the Chevrolet dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick 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 ovals have been kind to this duo early in 2015 and there's no reason to expect that to change now.

Since we're making our first stop of

After the crumpled cars and twisted sheet metal of Talladega, we're due for a change of pace this weekend. For the fourth time in 2015, the Sprint Cup Series goes intermediate oval racing. We visit Kansas Speedway for the spring event, which debuted in April 2012. SpongeBob SquarePants 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" variety so the handling characteristics will be much the same. One thing is for certain, the Chevrolet dynamic duo of Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick 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 ovals have been kind to this duo early in 2015 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 fourth season in the Sprint 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 14 races at Kansas Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson8.16194785663,045112.1
Matt Kenseth11.74532404872,775105.6
Kyle Larson7.098550448103.9
Greg Biffle9.65262072822,868102.8
Jeff Gordon11.8571157493,064100.5
Kevin Harvick9.94872263532,667100.4
Carl Edwards9.3538132972,55296.8
Tony Stewart14.54391421522,21395.3
Kasey Kahne13.9473155632,43492.7
Dale Earnhardt Jr.16.64421331242,10391.3
Martin Truex Jr.18.23561342512,06090.4
Brad Keselowski13.137460841,69988.1
Denny Hamlin14.544069682,20387.9
Clint Bowyer14.333148481,76086.1
Aric Almirola 18.2125526973584.4
Kurt Busch18.34051222361,98083.7
Paul Menard15.629227171,71480.3
Joey Logano19.82381122181,20679.7
Kyle Busch20.344262871,88578.8
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.20.555242631275.9

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 first event at the facility in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. Logano led 122 laps that day and generally pounded the field into the pavement. 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 camp will pose the biggest threat to Logano's crown this weekend. Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have won all three intermediate oval events to-date, and are set up to be the top contenders for the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. Johnson is a two-time winner at Kansas and Harvick is a one-time winner here. 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 Hendrick Motorsports star Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has never won at Kansas Speedway, but it's what he's done on the intermediate ovals this season that grabs our attention the most. Earnhardt has three consecutive Top-5 finishes at these style tracks and he's been closely nipping at the heels of Johnson and Harvick.

Coming off the big Talladega win, the victories could start coming in bunches for he and new crew chief Greg Ives. The momentum of the No. 88 team is tangible and shouldn't be discounted coming into Kansas weekend. Aside from this trio of drivers, Brad Keselowski could pop back onto our fantasy racing radar screens at Kansas. He is a one-time winner at the intermediate oval, and despite his lackluster 22nd-place showing at Talladega this past weekend, Keselowski is a rebound candidate with a ton of upside this Sunday afternoon. He led laps and finished in the Top 5 in our last intermediate oval race in Texas. Aside from the Earnhardt, Harvick, Johnson and Keselowski story lines, we're certain that Jeff Gordon will again manage to assert himself despite his problems at Talladega this past weekend. The Hendrick Motorsports star is still winless after race #10 and should be hungry coming to Kansas Speedway. He has strong loop stats at this facility and he won this event one year ago for his third-career Kansas victory. So keep Gordon 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, two victories and 586 laps led in 17-career starts at Kansas Speedway. Although the Hendrick Motorsports star hasn't displayed the winning touch of late at this oval, the No. 48 team can show up with a race-winning car any weekend. Of those 17 starts Johnson has converted 14 Top 10s for a staggering 82-percent rate. Considering that the veteran driver won both Atlanta and the Fort Worth events earlier this season, Johnson has to be seen as the top contender coming to Kansas Speedway. He is a must start in Sunday's SpongeBob SquarePants 400.

Kevin Harvick -
The No. 4 Chevrolet team showed us some real grit at Talladega this past week. Harvick marched through a field of strong competitors to salvage an eighth-place finish at the Alabama super speedway. Hopefully things will be a bit easier this Sunday afternoon as the Sprint Cup Series visits Kansas Speedway. Harvick has won the last three-straight pole positions at this facility and during that span the Stewart Haas Racing star has one win and one runner-up finish to his credit. If we fast forward to this season we see that Harvick has one victory (Las Vegas) and a pair of runner-up finishes at Atlanta and Fort Worth. Those numbers speak volumes by themselves. If Johnson stumbles, it could easily be Harvick taking his third 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 84 laps led and four-career Top-10 finishes show his expertise at this facility. Recent outings have started out 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 put behind him a sub-par performance last Sunday at Talladega, and the best medicine for that would be a strong run at Kansas Speedway Sunday afternoon.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
Considering that Earnhardt is coming off the big Talladega win, we have to make him the "momentum 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 2015 work ethic that trumps that a bit. Earnhardt has Top-5 finishes 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 two of his last three trips to the Kansas oval, and that's good enough to warrant some serious fantasy racing consideration.

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

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 since the season-opening Daytona 500 at Kansas Speedway this Sunday. The Penske Racing driver is still building on his inconsistent Kansas resume, but that's of no concern considering how this driver and team has performed on the intermediate ovals dating back to last year. Logano won two of his five victories last season on intermediate ovals and he was a virtual lock for Top 10s when visiting these facilities. Logano will be in the mix for the win and a Top-10 finisher in Sunday's SpongeBob SquarePants 400.

Jeff Gordon -
Considering that Gordon owns three career victories and 12 Top 10s at Kansas Speedway how can you not like the Hendrick Motorsports star this weekend? Those 12 Top-10 finishes are second only to his teammate Jimmie Johnson at this intermediate oval, and 10 of those are also Top 5s. Gordon had a fantastic car this past week at Talladega Superspeedway, but an untimely accident ended his chances for a Top 5 late in that race. Given Gordon's recent performances on intermediate ovals (two poles and three Top-10 finishes in the last seven starts) he should be pretty dialed-in for Sunday's 400-mile race.

Matt Kenseth -
Keeping Joe Gibbs Racing in mind this week at Kansas, we have to give a hearty recommendation to the No. 20 Toyota team. Kenseth's two victories and 10 Top-10 finishes at this intermediate oval bode well going into the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. The veteran driver has great loop stats at this intermediate oval and has led 501 career laps there. Kenseth is still looking for his first victory of the season on a cookie cutter oval, so motivation to be out front won't be in short supply. The combination of a strong driver history at Kansas Speedway is going to meet Gibbs horsepower, so anything is possible in this Sunday's Kansas event.

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 Chevrolet. Kansas is no different for the No. 78 Chevrolet team. Truex owns four Top-5 finishes in his last six trips to Kansas Speedway. In last October's Hollywood Casino 400, the veteran driver started 15th on the grid and finished a stellar fourth after 267 laps. We expect to see the FRR veteran racing up front and competing for that surprising 10th Top-10 finish of the season at Kansas Speedway.

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

Denny Hamlin -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star commands the respect of one-career Kansas victory (2012) and four Top-10 finishes which includes his seventh-place finish here last October. When you look at Hamlin's recent intermediate oval stats, we see fifth- and 11th-place finishes at Las Vegas and Texas. The JGR driver is getting his momentum going forward on these style ovals. His 68 laps led at Kansas Speedway shows that Hamlin knows what it takes to race up front here. Outside of Matt Kenseth, this veteran driver represents the best of what Toyota has to offer this weekend in this key event.

Ryan Newman -
The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet has a pretty spotless record on the cookie cutter ovals the past two seasons. Newman's 2015 stats bear one Top-5 and two Top-10 finishes on the three races to-date. He has one-career victory at Kansas Speedway and five Top-10 finishes at this facility. That includes a strong sixth-place finish with 6 laps led in last October's Hollywood Casino 400. Now that we're past the spring short track part of the schedule and entering the intermediate oval and speedway part of the summer schedule, it's time to deploy Newman on almost a weekly basis.

Kurt Busch -
Busch's performance so far this season have put his legal and other off-track troubles well in the rearview mirror. His one win, one pole and three Top-10 finishes through seven starts are a sign that the No. 41 team is running at full speed. Busch's Kansas record isn't the best with only 22-percent Top-10 rate, but he has finished as high and second-place there in 2013. The veteran driver has one start this year on an intermediate oval, and it was a pretty good performance. He captured the pole position, led 45 laps and finished inside the Top 15 at Texas Motor Speedway. There's no reason to believe these aren't similar results to what he could do this weekend.

Paul Menard -
Richard Childress Racing has been putting good cars under Menard this season. He's cracked the Top 5 twice in 2015 and sits a respectable 11th in the driver point standings entering this event. Menard has four Top 10s in his last five Kansas Speedway starts and that only bolsters his career 42-percent Top-10 rate at this track. In his last Kansas outing last October, he piloted the No. 27 Chevrolet from 13th on the starting grid to a respectable ninth-place finish in the Hollywood Casino 400. Menard is certainly worth a look for this Sunday's 400-mile race.

Aric Almirola -
Almirola has really changed his fortunes on these 1.5-mile ovals in the last couple seasons. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver posted a respectable 19th-place finish in our last intermediate oval race which came at Texas Motor Speedway just a month ago. When we look at his Kansas experience we find that the driver of the No. 43 Ford has had a good recent run there. Almirola has three Top 10s in six career starts at the heartland oval. This maturing driver building a good resume at Kansas Speedway, and Sunday's start should be another quality outing.

Kyle Larson -
It really shouldn't be any surprise that we endorse the No. 42 Chevrolet team for this week's race at Kansas Speedway. Larson's intermediate oval experience dating back to last season has been pretty consistent. He claimed 12th- and second-place finishes at this oval one year ago during his rookie campaign. This season has been a similar affair with one Top 10 in the three cookie cutter oval races to-date. That Top 10 was an eighth-place finish at the similar oval in Las Vegas. Larson is looking to put some Talladega heartbreak in the rearview mirror so this is a timely start at Kansas Speedway.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

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, the struggles of 2015 hang over Smoke's head like a cloud entering this weekend. His Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas outings have yielded two finishes outside the Top 30 and a 29.0 average finish. That's been the story of this season for this struggling driver and team. It's best to stay clear of Stewart this weekend until he can get the ship righted.

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer will be racing at his home state track this weekend for the SpongeBob SquarePants 400. That's usually a good reason to select a driver for a spot fantasy racing start. However, the No. 15 MWR Toyota team is coming off a poor 30th-place finish at Talladega and is struggling to get traction this season. This all trumps Bowyer's good Kansas resume. Finishes of 24th-, 22nd- and 21st-place on the intermediate ovals this season are marks well below what we expect for Bowyer at these ovals. Put the history book aside this weekend, and keep Bowyer on the bench for deployment later this season.

Austin Dillon -
The sophomore Sprint Cup Series season hasn't taken off like the No. 3 team would have hoped entering the year. With only one Top-10 finish through the first 10 races, Dillon comes to Kansas a lowly 25th in the championship standings. Intermediate ovals have been of particular concern. The RCR youngster has no finishes inside the Top 15 on these style ovals and a 26.3 average finish spread across the three events. Those marks don't measure up to team and driver expectations and they shouldn't match fantasy racing expectations this weekend as well.

Justin Allgaier -
While his racing has improved dramatically on the short tracks of late, there are still some soft spots in the No. 51 team's armor. Allgaier has proved handy on the short tracks and even on the larger ovals, but the 1.5-mile tracks have been a real puzzle to this point. The HScott Motorsports driver has finishes of 20th-, 31st- and 39th-place at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas this season. That's likely a precursor of things to come this weekend. Allgaier's three career Cup starts at Kansas have netted three crashes and DNFs at what is a very tricky oval for this driver and team.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
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.
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta
Ambetter Health 400 Preview: New Slot for Atlanta
NASCAR Barometer:  William Byron Wins Rain-Delayed Daytona 500
NASCAR Barometer: William Byron Wins Rain-Delayed Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS:  Daytona 500
NASCAR DFS: Daytona 500