It won't be easy to match the madness that ensued at Talladega Superspeedway one week ago, but Saturday night's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway certainly won't lack excitement.
Races under the lights are always fun, as are races that carry a sense of urgency with them. The fact that the NASCAR Sprint All-Star race is one week away is a signal that drivers who have yet to win need to pick up a victory in short order to secure their spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
That means desperation will likely rule the night throughout the 5-Hour Energy 400, with drivers and teams rolling the dice in an effort to pick up that elusive win.
Here is everything you need to know about the 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas along with analysis regarding the drivers who stand the best chance of conquering the 1.5-mile tri-oval.
Where: Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas
When: Saturday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Steam: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Motor Racing Network
Drivers to Watch
Jimmie Johnson is one of the all-time greatest NASCAR drivers with six Sprint Cup titles to his credit, but he finds himself in a precarious position this season. JJ hasn't been awful by any means—he sits a respectable seventh in the standings—but he has yet to win a race. That is a rare occurrence for Johnson, and it puts a great deal of pressure on him to reach victory lane soon.
Luckily for Johnson, Kansas Speedway happens to be one of his best tracks. Johnson is one of just five drivers with multiple wins at Kansas, and his average finish of 7.5 is tops among active drivers, according to Racing Reference.
Johnson's dominance at Kansas continued during practice as he paced the field in the first session, per Fox Sports NASCAR:
The issue is that Johnson has looked great in practice and qualifying often this season, but it hasn't always translated to race day. Good fortune has played a big role in Johnson's success over the years; however, bad luck has reared its ugly head in the form of mechanical and tire issues on numerous occasions.
It would be very easy for frustration to set in, and according to Dustin Long of Motor Racing Network, crew chief Chad Knaus is already getting a bit tired of losing:
One win would change the outlook of Johnson's season significantly, and Kansas is definitely a track that the champ knows how to conquer.
Which driver is most likely to win the 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas?
Few drivers in NASCAR have been as consistent as Greg Biffle over the years. He is almost always near the top of the standings and among the leaders in terms of top-five and top-10 finishes. Biffle's one weakness, though, is his inability to seal the deal and win races. Biffle has just three wins over the past four years, so he couldn't have been thrilled when the Chase format was altered.
This season has been old hat for Biffle as he is in eighth place and still without a victory. Kansas has been Biffle's own personal playground over the years, though, as he has an average finish of 10th and two wins as well. Biffle has always been good on intermediate tracks, and Kansas may be his best.
In addition to attempting to make the Chase, Biffle has other motivations as well. According to Nate Ryan of USA Today, Biffle is among the top drivers in NASCAR not under contract for next year:
Clint Bowyer re-signing at MWR (with 5 Hour and Brian Pattie) leaves Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards as top #nascar drivers in contract years.— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) May 5, 2014
It is entirely possible that Biffle will return to Roush-Fenway Racing in 2015 as the pilot of the No. 16 machine, but that is far from a guarantee at this point. Winning a race, making the Chase and performing well there will give him plenty of options moving forward, though.
Biffle very well may have won at Talladega last week rather than finishing second if not for a race-ending caution. If the luck works in his favor instead of against him Saturday night, then he may be the one left celebrating.
Like Johnson, Matt Kenseth is usually among the winningest drivers in NASCAR on a yearly basis. He is enjoying a spectacular season in most areas, but he has yet to capture a victory. Kenseth has had a lot of success over the years at Kansas with two wins and nine top-10 finishes, so he is yet another candidate to send a winless drought.
Kenseth was able to close the gap in the standings at Talladega last week, and he now trails Jeff Gordon by just three points for first place, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Points: Jeff Gordon is still the points leader, by 3 pts over Matt Kenseth. Then KyBusch, Dale Jr., Carl Edwards. #NASCAR— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) May 4, 2014
A spot in the Chase will be reserved for the points leader with 10 races remaining regardless of whether they win or not. That means Kenseth could potentially make it without taking the checkered flag provided he continues to trend upward. That is a very dangerous game, though, and it is far from a given that he will overtake Gordon.
With so many excellent drivers still trying to get their first win, things are going to get wild at Kansas and beyond. Kenseth is an even-keeled driver who almost always seems to avoid trouble and give himself a chance to win.
That will bode well for him in the 5-Hour Energy 400, and it certainly makes him a top contender.
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