Kansas Happy Hour: Surprise, Johnson Tops Charts Again!

McCord RobertsCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2009

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 03:  Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's/KOBALT Tools Chevrolet during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods at the Kansas Speedway on October 3, 2009 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Jimmie Johnson has many in the NASCAR world saying, “oh no, here we go again” as the all-time leader in Chase wins (15) is running as well as ever in his quest for a fourth straight title.

At Kansas this week, you had better brace yourself, because Johnson is dialed in.

He had a dominant first session Saturday with the fastest lap time by a large margin along with the top average speed, a sign that he’ll be tough to chase down late if doesn’t encounter any issues on the track. During happy hour, he laid down the fastest lap at 172.983 mph early in the session and continued on with his great average times which were second best while running 47 laps.

Johnson won this race last season and has a total of five top-10 finishes in his seven career starts here. He brought his chassis from the last Atlanta race where he started third but finished 36th after suffering a broken axle. The car was brand new for that race and Johnson was fastest in the more relevant practice prior to the race. He’s only 10 points from Chase leader Mark Martin, and to the dismay of many, it’s possible he could take the lead for good this week.

Matt Kenseth is watching the Chase from afar for the first time since it was introduced, but Kansas has seemed to reinvigorate the slumping team. He finished fifth there last season and has led 98 laps over the last two seasons. He’s not usually a driver that tops the speed charts during practice, especially this season, but he looks very strong this weekend with great runs in both sessions Saturday. He was third fastest in both.

Juan Pablo Montoya brought a new chassis for this race, showing the seriousness of his organization in trying to improve upon their third place status in points. In the first session, Montoya had the 17th quickest lap but was second only to Johnson in average speeds. During happy hour Montoya laid down a big lap with the fourth fastest time and was fastest overall in average speeds even though he ran half the laps as most with only 23.

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David Reutimann’s best runs this season have been on the one-and-a-half mile tracks and based on his practice runs Saturday, Kansas will be no different as he was fourth fastest in the first session and 11th in happy hour, where he ran the most laps of the late session with 64.

This season Ruetimann has finished fourth in Vegas, 11th at Texas, 12th at Chicago, and won the rain shortened Charlotte race. He was equally as good on the two mile tracks of California and Michigan this year, which, because of the similar banking are similar to the setup needed for Kansas. He may not win, but he should have a car capable of running near the top five this week.

Jeff Gordon has won twice at Kansas and has finished in the top five in his last two starts. Of all drivers with at least four starts on the track, Gordon leads with an average finish of 9.8. In the first session, Gordon was eighth quickest with great average times. During happy hour, Gordon came right back another great run with the sixth quickest lap.

Mark Martin is sitting on his seventh pole of the season this week using the chassis that he won with at Darlington and Chicagoland. Of all the one-and-a-half mile tracks, Chicago is probably the most similar to Kansas which may spell bad news for everyone chasing him this week. Martin was sluggish in the first practice with the 19th fastest lap, though he had great average times. During happy hour, he came on strong with the second fastest lap in the 20th minute and had the third best average times.

Clint Bowyer has an average finish of 7.7 in three starts at his home track and came out with the fifth quickest lap in happy hour. He brought the same chassis that finished 18th at Indianapolis.

Kasey Kahne was 10th quickest in the early session and 12th best in happy hour, but should be considered to be rated higher on the basis of his Atlanta win and finishing third at Chicago.

Top 5 - Saturday’s Early Practice Session:

1) Jimmie Johnson 173.388 mph - AVG 23 laps @ 168.765

2) Denny Hamlin 172.574 mph - AVG 22 laps @ 168.287

3) Matt Kenseth 172.552 mph - AVG 30 laps @ 168.037

4) David Reutimann 172.079 mph - AVG 32 laps @ 167.029

5) Tony Stewart 172.079 mph - AVG 8 laps @ 169.919

Best Average Speeds: Jimmie Johnson & Juan Pablo Montoya (min. 20 laps)

Top 5 - Saturday’s Final Practice (Happy Hour)

1) Jimmie Johnson 172.983 mph - AVG 47 laps @ 168.085

2) Mark Martin 172.855 mph - AVG 35 laps @ 167.083

3) Matt Kenseth 172.205 mph - AVG 38 laps @ 167.404

4) Juan Pablo Montoya 172.018 mph - AVG 23 laps @ 168.214

5) Clint Bowyer 171.161 mph - AVG 40 laps @ 167.349

Top 10 Rated Drivers at Kansas based on Saturday’s practice sessions, past performances at Kansas, Chicagoland, Michgan, and California, current state of team, with a mix 2009 runs on the one-and-a-half mile tracks.

1) Jimmie Johnson

2) Mark Martin

3) Jeff Gordon

4) Juan Pablo Montoya

5) Matt Kenseth

6) Denny Hamlin

7) Kasey Kahne

8) David Reutimann

9) Clint Bowyer

10) Brian Vickers