NASCAR Sprint Cup at Kansas: 5 Reasons the Chasers All Need a Good Showing
Of the 12 drivers pictured here, nine still have a fighting chance to win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup. While no particular driver has been officially eliminated from contention yet, the time to catch up is dwindling quickly and solid opportunities for victory fewer and far between.
This week's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway will be a crucial test for all involved. It could, most definitely, dwindle the serious contenders down to only a few.
All of the Chase drivers placed well at the first race in Kansas in June. Actually, the results from that race are almost a who's who of the current Chase field.
These were the results of that race on June 5:
The only Chase driver not in the Top 12 was Ryan Newman, finishing 15th. The only non-Chase driver in the Top 10 was Greg Biffle.
Based on these results it is presumable that, at the very least, half of the drivers are going to repeat their strong performance at Kansas.
That alone is reason enough for all drivers to race hard this week, but there are others...
Kansas Was a Foreshadow of Last Year's Final Results
This year's placement of Kansas as the fourth race in the Chase is one race later last year.
After last year's race the standings looked like this:
1. Jimmie Johnson 2. Denny Hamlin 3. Kevin Harvick 4. Carl Edwards.
After the final race at Homestead Miami in 2010, the standings of first through fourth place were exactly the same.
It might just be a fluke, but all drivers really need a strong finish here to continue any realistic hope of winning the Sprint Cup.
I am not sure what is about Kansas, but it foreshadowed the final results of last year and it basically foretold the field that would compete for the 2011 championship.
After Kansas, All Drivers Will Test Fate at the Next Three Tracks
No race or track is necessarily easy in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but Kansas is arguably the most "vanilla" of all current NASCAR tracks.
It is a plain oval and not banked very high. It resembles the landscape of the Great Plains which surround it.
Kansas also affords drivers the chance for a heavy amount of green flag racing. The last two races have only yielded five caution flags each. In other words, it is fairly predictable; what you see is what you get.
The same cannot be said for the next three races.
Charlotte is notoriously unpredictable and can be tricky for even the best driver to maneuver. Talladega always threatens to unleash "the big one" on a slew of drivers and end any individual driver's day early. Martinsville's "paperclip" shaped short track is probably one of the most unpredictable tracks in all of NASCAR.
The best strategy for all involved is to finish strong in Kansas and hope for the best in the ensuing three weeks.
A Fuel Mileage Race Can Kill an Otherwise Good Day
Just ask Kurt Busch! He grabbed the pole at Kansas in June only to run out of fuel at the end.
He was in the lead with nine laps to go, but had to hit the pits and was lucky to still finish ninth.
This will likely happen to another driver in a race that is sure to come down to fuel preservation at the end. However, depending on when and where it happens on the track, that driver and his team may not be as fortunate as Kurt Busch and his Pennzoil Dodge Racing team.
A ninth place finish is decent in the Chase, but if that ninth becomes a 19th or a 29th due to fuel conservation, it could be devastating to any contender's hopes.
Qualifying Well Means Almost Nothing
Kyle Busch may be smiling here because of finishing third in qualifying at Kansas. Unfortunately for him, he could only translate this into a 12th place finish—second worst among all Sprint Cup Chase contenders.
Kansas proved fairly abysmal with regard to the qualifying efforts of the Chase drivers.
Brad Keselowski pulled out a victory after qualifying 25th. Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth all qualified in the 20's and ended up in the Top 10.
Jimmie Johnson qualified the worst of all Chase drivers (31st) and still managed to finish seventh.
Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch were the only drivers that qualified in the Top 10 and finished in the Top 10.
Bottom line: Drivers should not and cannot put much stock in their qualifying efforts and stay focused solely on the race and their final position.
Weather Could Play a Crucial Role
I have seen conflicting weather reports concerning this weekend at Kansas. It may be clear and sunny, but the chance exists for isolated rain and thunder storms.
Should the weather decide to threaten, it has a strong chance to hurt a driver.
Depending on how NASCAR decides to deal with such an event, one or two drivers could really be scorched if they end up standing in the back of the pack when the race is officially concluded.
This is an unlikely event, but the drivers, crew chiefs and teams must be aware of this possibility because it could have heavily damaging results.
The easy solution is for the drivers to ensure they are in or near the Top 10 for the entire race.
This is easier said than done with the realities of cautions, wrecks and pit row penalties all in play.
Carl Edwards was able to battle back from 28th after serving a late-race pit row penalty and finished thirrd last week. He now stands tied for first place with Kevin Harvick.
What if, on the other hand, the Dover, Delaware skies had opened up and ended the race while Edwards was making his charge? The results could have been truly fatal.