[media-credit name=”Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images for NASCAR” align=”alignright” width=”239″][/media-credit]The elite teams of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be making their second trip of the season to the Kansas Speedway for Sunday’s running of the Hollywood Casino 400. The NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship is now 50% complete and we’re seeing a clearer picture regarding who’s in and who’s out in the title run. We’ll also be watching the drivers compete on the “new Kansas Speedway.”
THE STORY BREAKDOWN
Mathematically speaking, NASCAR hasn’t officially eliminated any one of the 12 drivers in the Chase. In all fairness, there are indeed some special mathematical and racing scenarios, fancy words for miracle, that could dramatically elevate those drivers currently in the lower half of the points standings.
However, with five of the ten races in the the books, it appears that reality has quickly overshadowed arithmetic. Reality says we’re now looking at a basic three man battle for the championship. Going into Sunday’s race, five time winner Brad Keselowski continues to sit on top of the points standings with three time winner, and five time champion, Jimmie Johnson right behind him and only seven points away. The third man in the title picture is Denny Hamlin who is only eight points behind Johnson and 15 points away from first.
It’s also way too early to dismiss driver Clint Bowyer whose win at Charlotte last weekend, his third of the season, propelled him to fourth in the rankings and 28 points behind the leader.
Two time race winners Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle are fifth and sixth in the points but, at 35 and 43 points respectively from the top, they are going to require one of the aforementioned special mathematical and racing scenarios to become major players in this title run.
Regarding the drivers ranked seventh through 12th: with all due respects to the hard work it takes to make the Chase line up to begin with, reality says that it’s time to pull them out of the oven and stick a fork in them. They’re done.
When the green flag falls on Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, every team in the 43 car field will be dealing with the same unknown factor: “the new Kansas Speedway.” The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ last race there was back in April. Since that time the speedway received a new layer of asphalt as well as new variable banking in the turns, 17 to 20 degrees, and the front stretch which is now banked at 9 to 11 degrees.
Essentially this means the teams will be racing on a “new Kansas Speedway” and that led to NASCAR’s recent decision to stage a test session this week to allow teams to accumulate the data they will need for Sunday’s race. It was immediately noticed, during the course of last Wednesday’s test session, that there was going to be a significant increase in speed from the new surface. A reported 47 cars were on hand for the test. From that field, 30 of the teams topped the track’s qualifying record, 180.856 MPH, set by driver Matt Kenseth back in 2005. Roush Fenway Racing Ford driver Greg Biffle topped the speed charts, last Wednesday, with a lap of 184.900 MPH.
The conclusion of the Hollywood Casino 400 could also turn out to be a little on the “fuelish” side. Fuel mileage has a tendency to become a deal maker, or deal breaker, at these so called 1.5 mile “cookie cutter”, tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. We certainly saw evidence of that last Saturday night at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN
To obtain a clearer picture regarding which driver is going to park his car in the Kansas Speedway’s victory lane on Sunday, we again turn to the number crunching professionals at the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).
The WSE this week is favoring drivers Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. They’re backing that with six to one odds. Hamlin won at Kansas this past April and also has three top five and three top ten finishes. His average finish ratio, (AFR) at Kansas is a respectable 14.1. Hamlin also has an emotional attachment to this speedway. His first ever Sprint Cup start came at Kansas back in 2005.
However, it’s Jimmie Johnson who owns all of the stout stats at the Kansas Speedway. He’s a two time winner there and is also the defending race champion. Johnson has also collected five top five finishes and ten top tens and has an outstanding, and series high, 7.9 AFR. In qualifying at Kansas, Johnson has a series’ high three poles. Also, bear in mind that Johnson, and crew chief Chad Knaus, are very good at playing the fuel mileage game.
Kasey Kahne is ranked at 7 to 1 despite the fact he’s still seeking his first win at Kansas and has a 16.1 AFR there. The line of thinking here might be the fact that Kahne has a history of strong runs at mile and a half tracks and he’s also good at conserving fuel.
At 8 to 1 odds is the trio of Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch. Keselowski has a win at Kansas along with a pair of top fives and tens and a 10.2 AFR. He’s also very good at the fuel game despite the gas miscue observed last weekend at the Charlotte race.
Biffle is a driver who also owns some strong Kansas stats and, at 8 to 1, is a very good wager consideration. He’s a two time Kansas winner with seven top fives, nine top tens and a very healthy 8.0 AFR,
Busch ranked at 8 to 1 seems to be somewhat mysterious. The Kansas numbers certainly doesn’t support the theory. His best efforts at this track has only netted him a pair of top ten finishes and a hefty 20.0 AFR. Busch’s 2012 effort has been sidelined with uncharacteristic mechanical woes and bad racing luck that kept him out of the Chase line up. Perhaps the line of thinking here might be: sooner or later his disappointing season has got to turn around.
At 10 to 1 odds is Clint Bowyer who has a single top five, three top tens and a 15.0 AFR at Kansas. Bowyer and company has been one of the big surprises this year. He’s a three time winner this year in events where saving fuel was critical and that has turned him into a bonafide player in the championship run. At 10 to 1, this driver is a solid wager consideration.
Jeff Gordon is ranked at 11 to 1. While the four time NASCAR champion’s drive for five has been derailed this year, he still has shown some strong moments during the 2012 season. His Kansas numbers are strong and include two wins, eight top fives and a healthy 11.1 AFR.
The WSE has the Roush Fenway Racing tandem of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth ranked at 12 to 1. Edwards’ 2012 season has been nothing short of a mystery and the law of averages says all that disappointment has to turn around somewhere. He’s still seeking his first win at Kansas but does have a 10.5 AFR there. Kenseth is also win less at Kansas and the 16.7 AFR is a little on the high side.
At 15 to 1 is the duo of Tony Stewart and Mark Martin. Stewart is a potential long shot wager worthy of consideration. He has two wins at Kansas and a healthy 12.2 AFR. Martin is a previous Kansas winner, with a 14.6 AFR, and is driving for a team that has shown a lot of strength this year.
The WSE’s Kansas list closes with Martin Truex Jr at 17 to 1 and Kevin Harvick at 20 to 1. Any driver not listed by the WSE this week is automatically ranked at 6 to 1 odds.
Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these posted numbers should be viewed for informational and entertainment purposes only. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their races. But, if you’re going to do it anyway, and many of you will, then you may as well use the number crunching skills from the professionals at the World Sports Exchange. Why not? This race is sponsored by a casino that actually overlooks the Kansas Speedway. That alone is a sign that says place a bet.
THE RACE BREAKDOWN
The Hollywood Casino 400 is 267 laps/400.5 miles around the Kansas Speedway’s 1.5 mile D shaped oval.
The race has 47 entries vying for the 43 starting berths. 12 of those entries are on the go or go home list meaning they are not guaranteed a starting berth because they are currently outside of NASCAR’s top 35 in owner’s points. These teams will have to rely on qualifying speeds to make the race.
The first NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the Kansas Speedway was held in September of 2001 and was won by Jeff Gordon.
There has been 13 Cup races at Kansas that has sent nine different winners to victory lane. Drivers Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart tops the win list with two trips to victory lane each.
Out of the 13 Cup races at Kansas, two have been won from the pole position and seven have been won from starting positions in the top ten. Nine of the 13 races has had a margin of victory less than one second.
Weather should not be a factor this weekend. The forecast on Saturday calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the low 70’s. The Sunday, race day, forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and daytime highs in the upper 70’s. If a surprise turn in the weather does bring some rain, the Kansas Speedway has a fleet of six jet dryers who can dry the track in 105 minutes.
The Hollywood Casino 400 will be broadcast live by the ESPN Network with the “Countdown” show beginning at 1 pm eastern time. Race re airs will be presented on Monday, 12 am et, on ESPN2 and Wednesday, 12 pm et, on SPEED.