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Weekly Preview: Kansas Speedway -Texas Sequel?

Mark Taylor

Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A five-time FSWA award winner, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year each of the last two years. He is also a military historian, specifically the World War II U.S. Navy in the Pacific.

For the second week in a row, the Sprint Cup Series goes intermediate oval racing. We visit Kansas Speedway for the second installment of this event, which debuted in April 2012. 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 teams that performed well at the Fort Worth oval last Saturday night should be for another strong race weekend. 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 almost the same driver group that we had for the NRA 500. Both ovals are the "D-shaped" variety, so the handling characteristics will be much the same. One thing is for certain, the Joe Gibbs Racing dynamic duo of Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth that so dominated at both Las Vegas and Texas will be eagerly anticipating the 400-mile race at Kansas. The intermediate ovals have been kind to this twosome early in 2013, 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 second 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 10 races at Kansas Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson5.54534035272,335119.5
Greg Biffle7.24352022822,354113.0
Matt Kenseth12.93531693022,104106.4
Jeff Gordon13.441699372,331101.5
Tony Stewart13.03901371521,951100.8
Carl Edwards9.7407115721,74095.1
Mark Martin14.3289412101,77791.3
Kevin Harvick11.235879351,75490.6
Martin Truex Jr.20.92831042051,46490.5
Brad Keselowski9.827020171,10590.1
Kasey Kahne15.3338108391,65189.8
Denny Hamlin14.035969681,74489.8
Clint Bowyer14.024441481,29088.9
Kurt Busch16.83111132361,51388.5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.16.429775591,29786.4
Aric Almirola 26.030506916785.5
Kyle Busch19.438859841,50281.8
Paul Menard18.0182161796275.0
Brian Vickers 17.713922048671.6
A.J. Allmendinger22.1138234443371.6

Kansas ace Greg Biffle will be challenged to defend his turf this Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. Biffle is a two-time winner at this 1.5-mile oval, and he's fresh off an impressive Top-5 finish 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 54 percent rate here. The Toyota camp will pose the biggest threat to Biffle's dominance this weekend. New Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth owns one career win at Kansas, and it came in our last race at the facility last October. He led 78 laps and held off Martin Truex Jr. to pick up his first career victory at Kansas Speedway. While Kyle Busch doesn't have the greatest stats at this facility, his excellence on the 1.5-mile ovals this season is something to make note of going into the STP 400. The other big time player this weekend should be Hendrick Motorsports star Jimmie Johnson. He won at Kansas in the fall of 2011 for his second career victory at the Heartland oval. Johnson owns an eye-popping 85 percent Top 10 rate at Kansas Speedway, and he has led close to 550 laps at the 1.5-mile track. Aside from the Gibbs drivers, Biffle and Johnson, 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 ninth-place showing at Texas this past weekend, Keselowski is a rebound candidate with a ton of upside this Sunday afternoon. Aside from the Biffle, Johnson, Kenseth and Keselowski story lines, we're certain that Martin Truex Jr. will again manage to assert himself despite his post-race inspection problems at Fort Worth last Saturday night. The Michael Waltrip Racing star led a ton of laps at the Texas oval, and he has great 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

Kyle Busch -
Historically speaking, this is not that great of a venue for Busch and the No. 18 Toyota team. However, neither was Texas and we all seen how that turned out. Busch is on fire coming to the Kansas oval this weekend. He's won two of the last three races and led over 350 laps in those events. While Kansas has been a puzzle to this point in his Sprint Cup Series career, he should have the solution this weekend. No other driver has been as dominant as Busch in the new Gen-6 car on these intermediate ovals. That makes him the odds-on favorite in Sunday's STP 400.

Greg Biffle -
Let's start with just the numbers. He has two wins and nine Top-10 finishes in 13 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 potential run at the checkers could be in store. The No. 16 Ford team has led laps and raced up front virtually every visit to Kansas and this weekend should be no exception. With 346 career laps led at this heartland oval, Biffle is no stranger to leading the pack here. All the puzzle pieces may fall into place for his first victory of the 2013 season.

Jimmie Johnson -
Johnson has three poles, two victories and 547 laps led in 13 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. Johnson led 44 laps and finished ninth in his last trip to this intermediate oval, so we suspect he feels there's some unfinished business this weekend. Considering that he was the top Chevrolet finisher at Texas this past weekend, we have to give the five-time champion the nod for the contenders list this week.

Matt Kenseth -
In keeping with the Joe Gibbs Racing theme this week at Kansas, we have to give a hearty recommendation to the No. 20 Toyota team. Kenseth's victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this season is a good barometer for what could happen this Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway. The veteran driver has great loop stats at this intermediate oval and has led well over 300 career laps there. Kenseth won in last fall's Hollywood Casino 400, so victory lane is fresh in the memory of this veteran driver. The combination of a strong driver history at Kansas Speedway is going to meet Gibbs horsepower, so anything is possible in this 400-mile event.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for a Top 10 and have an outside shot at winning

Martin Truex Jr. -
Intermediate ovals have been the strength of this team and driver for a number of seasons. As Truex showed this past week at Texas, he can lead laps and contend for the win on 1.5-mile tracks. Kansas is no different for the No. 56 Toyota team. Truex owns a pair of runner-up finishes in his last two trips to Kansas Speedway. In this event one year ago he led 173 laps and narrowly lost the race to Denny Hamlin. We expect to see the Michael Waltrip Racing star mixing it up with the leaders this Sunday afternoon.

Brad Keselowski -
Keselowski is a one-time Kansas winner and he sports some solid stats at this heartland race track. Three of his last four trips to the 1.5-mile oval have yielded a victory and three Top-10 finishes. Considering that the No. 2 Penske Racing team is coming off a Top 10 at Fort Worth's intermediate oval (despite some rear-gear controversy) the current level of performance indicates a Top 10 for this weekend's STP 400. Keselowski is two-for-two in Top 10s thus far on intermediate ovals in the new Gen-6 car, and we're willing to bet he keeps that streak rolling at Kansas.

Carl Edwards -
The Roush Fenway star is searching to rediscover that championship-contending form, and he's gotten off to a good start at that this season. Edwards has taken well to the new Gen-6 car, and the results on 1.5-mile ovals bear that out. He claimed finishes of fifth- and third-place at Las Vegas and Texas. That places the driver of the No. 99 Ford at the head of the class with Kyle Busch for early-season performance in the new car on these type ovals. Edwards' Kansas resume shines with eight Top 10s in 11 career starts, which works out to a stellar 73 percent career rate at this oval.

Kasey Kahne -
The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet put on an exhibition in finishing second at Las Vegas recently, and we just can't shake that performance from our mind heading into this one. Kahne owns three career poles and 78 laps led at the heartland speedway, and his last three trips to Kansas have netted Top-10 finishes. In last October's Hollywood Casino 400, the veteran driver qualified on the pole position and finished fourth. Hendrick Motorsports has been pretty solid on these ovals and Kahne should continue to race with the leaders in Sunday afternoon's STP 400.

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

Jeff Gordon -
Considering that Gordon owns two career victories and 10 Top 10s at Kansas Speedway how can you not like the Hendrick Motorsports star this weekend? Those 10 Top-10 finishes are second only to his teammate Jimmie Johnson at this intermediate oval, and eight of those are also Top 5s. Gordon had a fantastic car this past week at Fort Worth's intermediate oval, but a broken wheel hub ended his chances for a Top 5 late in that race. Given Gordon's recent bad luck, he is a high-risk high-reward driver this weekend, and that's why we've dropped him to the head of the sleepers list.

Kevin Harvick -
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 13th-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 three Top 10s in his last five trips to this Kansas oval with an average finish of 7.4. 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 15 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, 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 46 percent career Top 10 rate at this week's oval, but it's his 2013 work ethic that trumps that a bit. Earnhardt had a great seventh-place finish at the similar oval in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, and he had a great car at Texas this past week that was only held back by a dead battery at mid-race. 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.

Paul Menard -
Richard Childress Racing has been putting good cars under Menard this season. He's cracked the Top 10 three times in 2013 and sits an impressive 10th in the driver point standings entering this event. Despite having only cracked the Top 10 twice in seven tries at Kansas, Menard makes a great fantasy racing play this weekend. When the Sprint Cup Series last visited Kansas Speedway last October, it was the No. 27 Chevrolet team that led 6 laps and finished a career-best third in the Hollywood Casino 400. Menard is certainly worth a look for this Sunday's 400-mile race.

Aric Almirola -
This pick if more of a feeling than an analytical prognostication. Almirola only has two career starts at Kansas Speedway and both were finishes outside the Top 20. However, his Top-10 finish at Texas Motor Speedway really opened our eyes. It's not how the RPM driver finished, it's how he raced. Almirola qualified third in the NRA 500 and raced among the Top 10 most of the night. He finished a respectable seventh and looked like he belonged among the Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseths of the series. Almirola also finished 16th earlier in the season at the Las Vegas oval. This driver may be coming of age with his 80th-career Sprint Cup start coming within reach.

Joey Logano -
If Logano can shake off the distractions of everyone being mad at him on the track, and NASCAR leaning on the No. 22 team due to parts infractions last week at Fort Worth, then he may have a good run at Kansas Speedway. While the two issues do hang over his head a bit, he did deal with both last Saturday night en route to a Top-5 finish at Texas Motor Speedway. Logano's new lease on life at Penske Racing appears to be paying dividends. The 12th- and fifth-place finishes at Las Vegas and Fort Worth are evidence of that. Logano's poor Kansas Speedway numbers shouldn't be a factor this weekend as the same did not hinder him at Texas this past week.

Elliott Sadler -
The mandatory start in Yahoo! Fantasy Racing's “C” group this week is NASCAR veteran Sadler. He will be making the first of three starts this season in Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 81 Toyota. We don't need to remind everyone of Gibbs' excellence and horsepower on these ovals in 2013, and Sadler will reap the benefits of that in this start. We have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the veteran driver's last start at Kansas. He owns a lowly three Top 10s in 10 career starts at the oval, but that matters not this weekend. We should surely see a Top-15 performance from Sadler in the STP 400.

Flops - Drivers to avoid at all costs

Clint Bowyer -
Bowyer will be racing at his home state track this weekend for the STP 400. That's usually a good reason to select a driver for a spot fantasy racing start. However, the No. 15 MWR Toyota team have not taken to running in the new Gen-6 car just yet on these style ovals. In fact, Bowyer's 27th- and 15th-place finishes at Las Vegas and Texas are a bit concerning entering Kansas weekend. His home state track has been a bit of an up-and-down affair over the years. He nets a sub-par 44 percent Top 10 rate at Kansas Speedway, and that's far from a ringing endorsement.

Kurt Busch -
The seventh race of the season is a good check up point for Busch and his new Furniture Row Racing No. 78 team. The report card is a bit of a mixed bag. Seven events into the 2013 season, the veteran driver has two Top-10 finishes and finds himself a disappointing 24th in the driver point standings. Busch has had good cars this season and deserves more than the two Top 10s, but the luck and breaks have not gone his way. The two intermediate oval races to-date have netted the veteran 20th- and 37th-place finishes at Las Vegas and Fort Worth. Busch's career 21 percent Top 10 rate at Kansas Speedway is a clear indication to stay away this weekend.

Tony Stewart -
Stewart had a shockingly bad performance at the Fort Worth oval this past Saturday night. When 500 miles were complete, he came home an uninspiring 21st-place. Prior to that, Stewart struggled to finish 11th at our other intermediate oval to-date at Las Vegas. Despite his two career victories and nine Top-10 finishes at Kansas Speedway, we have to wave the yellow flag this weekend. Stewart's not looking good and he's not running well right now. The chemistry in this team is choppy at best right now, so it's best to stay clear of the No. 14 Chevrolet at Kansas Speedway.

Jeff Burton -
Outside of fifth- and seventh-place finishes at Kansas Speedway in 2006 and 2008, Burton has had a forgettable NASCAR experience racing at this oval. The driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet isn't having the best season either. With a career average finish of 20.1 at Kansas it's hard to get excited about Burton'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.