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Heading into Saturday night’s 5-hour ENERGY 400 at Kansas Speedway, the five drivers sharing the all-time lead in Kansas victories all are winless thus far this season.
The collective 0-for-10 hitters are: Jimmie Johnson (No. 48, Lowe’s; Chevrolet); Jeff Gordon (No. 24, Drive to End Hunger; Chevrolet); Tony Stewart (No. 14, Bass Pro Shops; Chevrolet); Matt Kenseth (No. 20, Dollar General; Toyota) and Greg Biffle (No. 16, 3M; Ford).
The first four have combined for 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships. Biffle hasn’t won NASCAR’s biggest title, but he’s been close, finishing as the series’ runner-up in 2005. He also has won NASCAR’s two other national-series championships, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2000 and the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2002.
If you’re into stats like I am, the five drivers listed above have the top five Driver Ratings over the course of Kansas Speedway’s brief (since 2001, 16 races total) history in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Here’s that rundown: Jimmie Johnson, 118.9; Matt Kenseth, 109.6; Greg Biffle, 106.9; Jeff Gordon, 99.6; Tony Stewart, 97.5.
Goodyear in the Spotlight
Once again, the Sprint Cup garage will have to deal with a new left/right tire combination from Goodyear.
Last month, Goodyear conducted a one-day tire test to determine the tire combination to bring to this weekend’s race. The initial focus of this test was to refine the multi-zone tread right-side tire raced at Kansas last October. With sustained testing speeds at the existing track record, heat and wear rates were up, which led tire engineers to a change in direction.
“With the 2014 rules package, more severe operating conditions were expected at Kansas,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of tire sales, following last month’s test.
“With what we saw on the right side, we've decided on a conventional, single tread compound design, formulated to address treadwear, while maintaining the heat resistance still required for this surface. This compound will be the same as the one used in the traction zone of the Michigan right-side tire. The left-side tire will be the same one we raced at Kansas last October.”
NASCAR has had more than its share of weather woes this season—mostly wet ones.
And while no major rain is forecast for this weekend, Kansas Speedway sits in the middle of tornado alley. The weather can take a dramatic change in a matter of minutes.
Being out in the open on the flat plains presents a distinctive set of issues to deal with.
“Kansas is unique on how the wind changes direction from day to day,” said Kurt Busch in a press race media interview. “So turn two might be a problem one day and turn four might be a problem the next day. Now we have a night race, so it’ll be interesting to see how the racetrack wants to make the cars handle after moving from day to night."
The forecast calls for windy conditions and a small chance for rain on race day.
Each of the 1.5-mile tri-oval-shaped race tracks (often referred to as "cookie-cutter tracks") on the Sprint Cup schedule, while similar in shape and design, presents its own set of problems. That makes for a challenging task when working on race setups for the Gen 6 car.
This year NASCAR has also made changes to the aerodynamic and mechanical rules in the 1.5-mile package that coincide with the relaxation of the ride height restrictions on all tracks.
Team Penske appears to have their 1.5-mile package working according to plan, as the two races run on that track length have been won by Penske drivers—Las Vegas (Brad Keselowski) and Texas (Joey Logano).
Expect one or more of the larger teams to step up their game at Kansas. Best guess is Hendrick Motorsports. The home of Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, Hendrick placed more of its teams in the top-five at those two races than any other organization, except Penske.
Sprint Cup racing is unpredictable. Even single car teams like the Nos. 78 and 47, both with veteran crew chiefs, might step up and surprise.