As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway, eight drivers are locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, provided they attempt to qualify for the remaining regular season races. Several prominent drivers are still searching for that elusive victory or the consistency needed to grab one of the eight remaining spots as the Chase approaches.
1) Jimmie Johnson is approaching two career milestones as he heads to Kansas Speedway.
A top-five at Kansas Speedway would give him 200 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top-five finishes. He is currently tied with Benny Parsons for 12th on the all-time NSCS top fives list and only two top-fives behind Buddy Baker in 11th (201).
Johnson is also one away from 300 NSCS top-10 finishes. He is 16th on the all-time NSCS top 10s list and only two top-10s behind James Hylton in 15th (301).
In the 18 NSCS events held at Kansas Speedway, Johnson has finished among the top 10 a total of 14 times. Combine that with two wins, three poles and the Series-best driver rating (112.1) and it’s a safe bet that Johnson will quickly mark these two items off his to-do list.
2) Reigning champion and current points leader Kevin Harvick is 47 laps away from becoming the 10th driver in NSCS history to lead 1,000 laps or more in the first 11 races of a season.
He has three consecutive poles at Kansas (October 2013, May 2014, and October 2014), holds the track qualifying record of 197.773 mph and has the sixth best driver rating (100.4). Leading 47 laps is certainly within Harvick’s capabilities and Kansas Speedway may be the perfect track to accomplish yet another milestone in his career.
3) Matt Kenseth is only one checkered flag away from 33 NSCS wins. Another victory would move him up to 21st on the all-time wins list, tied with Fireball Roberts.
He has two wins, two poles, six top-fives, 10 top-10s and the second best driver rating at Kansas. After a frustrating finish of 25th at Talladega, Kenseth will be looking for redemption this weekend.
Firsts – Now and Then:
Erik Jones will make his first official start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Kansas in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Although he replaced the ailing Denny Hamlin after the rain delay at Bristol, his drive to a 26th place finish is credited to Hamlin. Jones has one XFINITY Series win and four victories in the Camping World Truck Series.
David Ragan will begin a new chapter in his career at Kansas in his first race driving for Michael Waltrip Racing in the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. His primary focus will be centered on securing a spot on the Chase Grid.
“Our expectations are very high,” Ragan emphasized. “At the end of the day, Michael Waltrip Racing has all the tools and resources that Joe Gibbs Racing has or that Hendrick Motorsports or Stewart-Haas Racing has and there’s no reason for us not to be able to win a race and have a shot at making the Chase. Certainly, that is our goal going forward.”
Jeff Gordon won the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on September 30, 2001. It was his sixth win of his fourth championship season. He made it two-for-two at Kansas with another victory at the track on Sept. 29, 2002.
Jason Leffler won the inaugural pole at Kansas Speedway in 2001 with a speed of 176.499 mph. He holds the track record as the youngest pole winner, at 26 years, 0 months and 14 days.
Jim Roper, a Kansas native, won the very first NASCAR Strictly Stock (now Sprint Cup) race in June, 1949, at Charlotte Speedway. The event was 1,200 miles away from his hometown in Halstead, Kansas, but neither the distance nor lack of a car would deter him.
He purchased a Lincoln Cosmopolitan and drove it from the showroom all the way to Charlotte to compete for the $2,000 purse. He raced with the best including Curtis Turner, the Flock brothers and Red Byron, the reigning modified champion. Roper finished the race, second to only Glenn Dunaway.
But Dunaway was quickly disqualified when the post-race inspection revealed modifications to the rear springs, a bootlegger’s trick to improve the car’s handling. Roper was declared the winner even though he only finished 197 of the 200 laps. He only competed in one more NASCAR race, retiring in 1955 after he broke a vertebra in a sprint car accident.
Jeff Gordon is winless in his last full-time Sprint Cup season, but that could change this weekend at Kansas Speedway where he will defend his 2014 win at the track. The victory secured his place in the Chase and was the first of four wins during the 2014 season. Gordon also holds the track record with three victories and leads the series with10 top-five finishes in 18 starts.
Martin Truex Jr. continues to impress, coming off a fifth place at Talladega to capture his ninth top-10 finish of the season. He is second in the points standings, 40 points behind leader Kevin Harvick, but needs a win to guarantee a position on the Chase Grid.
Outside Looking In:
Some of the biggest names in NASCAR are outside the top 16 and desperately need to make something happen, including Clint Bowyer (17), Carl Edwards (18) and Greg Biffle (22).
Bowyer and Edwards are winless at Kansas Speedway while Biffle has two victories. However, Biffle has only one top-5 in his last six outings at Kansas.
Kyle Larson is 24th in the points standings, partly due to missing the race at Martinsville this season after he fainted following an autograph session. Larson will make his third Cup start at Kansas this weekend. He finished 12th in his first attempt and claimed the runner-up position last year in October. The race will also mark Larson’s 50th career NSCS start.
Tony Stewart heads to Kansas Speedway in 30th place in the points standings. After a frustrating start to the season, the results of the last few weeks suggest that the team may have turned the corner. Stewart finished in sixth place, his best result of the year, three weeks ago at Bristol and looked to be headed for a top-10 at Richmond until an incident on lap 361 took him out of contention. He has two previous wins at Kansas in 2006 and 2009.
Paul Menard is 12th in the point standings and is looking for a win to claim his entry into the Chase. “Kansas is a pretty newly repaved track so it’s extremely fast,” Menard said. “Since it’s a night race it will be even faster than during the day. I enjoy night racing, I think it adds another level of excitement. You can see flames from the exhaust and sparks from under the car which makes it cool for the fans. The only downside is we have to wait all day for the race and there really isn’t much to do. I enjoy it, but I’ll be there ready to go whether it’s Sunday afternoon or Saturday night.”
Ty Dillon is looking forward to making his fourth Sprint Cup Series start and his debut at Kansas Speedway. “From all the practices, testing and races I’m starting to get very comfortable in the Chevrolet SS, “he said. “I’m fortunate to be put in the position to race as often as I do and I’m focused on going out and doing the best that I possibly can. Kansas will be a fun race this weekend, not only off the track, but on the track with the high speeds, different racing lines and competition. Our team will be ready.”
Ryan Newman is 15th on the Chase Grid and looking for a win to solidify his position. He finished in sixth place in his last outing at Kansas Speedway. “Kansas is super fast, I am kind of excited to get back there after it has aged a little bit,” Newman explained. “With the new pavement we’ve had a few years back, it has still maintained its speed. It seems like we keep coming back here with softer tires. In general, the track has maintained the speed and I hope it’s gained some more character.”
Martin Truex Jr. counts Kansas Speedway as one of his favorite tracks. With four top-five finishes in the last six races at Kansas, Truex is hoping to grab the checkered flag this time around. “I love Kansas Speedway,” Truex says. “I don’t know what it is about the track, it’s not much different than any other mile-and-a-half track, but something about the way the corners are laid out there seems to fit my style. I’ve run well at Kansas, led a lot of laps (251) and feel I should have won a few times there. “We’re enjoying the top-10s this season, but we want to get up there and be fighting for a win,” he continued. “Cole (Pearn, crew chief), the engineering staff and all the guys at the track and at the shop have done an outstanding job. We’re having plenty of fun, but we want that victory really bad.”
By the Numbers:
The following drivers are locked into the 2015 Chase provided they attempt to qualify for the remaining regular season races.
1) Kevin Harvick – 2 wins
2) Jimmie Johnson – 2 wins
3) Joey Logano – 1 win
4) Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 1 win
5) Brad Keselowski – 1 win
6) Matt Kenseth – 1 win
7) Denny Hamlin – 1 win
8) Kurt Busch – 1 win
The following drivers are currently in the Chase Top 16, but without any wins, are not locked in.
9) Martin Truex Jr.
10) Jamie McMurray
11) Kasey Kahne
12) Paul Menard
13) Aric Almirola
14) Jeff Gordon
15) Ryan Newman
16) Danica Patrick
Top 10 Driver Ratings at Kansas
112.1 Jimmie Johnson
105.6 Matt Kenseth
103.9 Kyle Larson
102.8 Greg Biffle
100.5 Jeff Gordon
100.4 Kevin Harvick
96.8 Carl Edwards
95.3 Tony Stewart
92.7 Kasey Kahne
91.3 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Tune in to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SpongeBob SquarePants 400 Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on FOX Sports 1.