Get ready for an uncomfortable amount of Wizard of Oz puns—the Sprint Cup Series heads to the Kansas Speedway this weekend for the Price Chopper 400.
We are now two races into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, and already the contenders and pretenders are beginning to separate themselves. Denny Hamlin will be in the running. Jimmie Johnson, obviously, will too. Carl Edwards could steal the title with a couple of well-timed victories, while Kyle Busch may quietly (believe it or not!) be there at the end as well.
But Hamlin now holds the largest lead in Chase history after two races, 35 points over Johnson, meaning that this weekend’s results will be intensely critical for all chasers. Can Hamlin extend that lead by beating Johnson and the field, or will a bad day for the No. 11 team, combined with a great day for a mid-Chase car, shake up the points?
My personal pick for the weekend lies within the Roush Fenway camp.
I know I’ve gone on the record multiple times saying that Greg Biffle has been anonymous within the Chase, and I still believe he has been. But Juan Pablo Montoya was anonymous all season, and he still managed to dominate at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis. Likewise, Biffle is a Kansas star, with five podium finishes in eight starts, and no finishes with Roush worse than 12th. His average finish is a flat 9.0. Safe bet? I think so.
My dark horse pick for the weekend is one A.J. Allmendinger. The ‘Dinger has only made two starts at Kansas, finishing ninth in 2008 and 17th last year, but this pick comes from examining the No. 43 team’s momentum. At Dover last weekend, the Richard Petty Motorsports team was one of the best in the field, qualifying second and battling back from getting caught off the lead lap. They’re beginning to show that the King’s race team is once again respectable and setting some high goals for 2011.
Three more, because we can:
The only driver to outpace Biffle at Kansas is Jeff Gordon, one of those mid-Chase drivers who desperately needs to make a statement with a victory. There’s no better place for him to do it; winner of the track’s first two races, his average finish is a fantastic 8.9, making Kansas his second-best Chase track. You try not to count a guy out of the Chase this early, but judging by the rest of the Chase schedule, this weekend may be now or never for him.
Clint Bowyer, too, has a solid track record at Kansas. He’s got a second-place finish, which came during his improbable 2007 run to third in the championship, and an average finish of a respectable 11.0. But most of Bowyer’s mojo will come from an even greater desire to win the championship with NASCAR’s sanctions upon the team. He and RCR aren’t too happy with the perceived dog and pony show in appeals, and will be looking to show everybody that they don’t need to cheat to win.
Finally, Brad Keselowski only has one Cup start at Kansas, but he managed to qualify third and finish 13th in it. Not a bad run for the Kez, who’s been getting a whole lot of love from me since his pole run at Loudon. He gives an excellent press conference. Hate him or love him, he’s the sport’s next big thing.