“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”
I figured I would add some kind of excitement to this week’s race by using a famous movie quote to break the ice in this week’s column.
There were 17, uneventful lead changes among 9 drivers during the STP 400 earlier this year at Kansas Speedway, a race that I chose to watch the back of my eyelids rather than the on-track activities. According to this week’s media advance from NASCAR, Kansas Speedway was Brad Keselowski’s coming out party, winning there in June during the series’ first trip to the 1.5-mile track.
[media-credit name=”Kansasspeedway.com” align=”alignright” width=”250″][/media-credit]Apparently, I missed Keselowski’s run to the front in June, as he was only shown in the top spot for the last 9 laps, the only laps he lead all day. Keselowski’s run to the front started around lap 165, after the 5th and final caution flag flew during the STP 400. The final 102 laps would be run under green-flag conditions and Keselowski would go on to win by a margin of 2.813 seconds over second-place finisher Dale Earnhardt Jr.
My picks for June’s race at Kansas Speedway were Jeff Gordon as my Winner Pick and A.J. Allmendinger for my Dark Horse. Gordon finished 4th, and Allmendinger flirted with a Top-15 for the majority of the race, but failed in the fuel-mileage game and ended up finishing 26th.
I can’t say that I’m overly-excited for the race on Sunday, partly due to the fact that it’s almost guaranteed that that race will come down to fuel-mileage in the end. I AM excited for the second-half of The Chase to start, and to finally visit some tracks that will keep me awake on Sunday Afternoon.
There was no place to go for me but up after my performance two weeks ago at New Hampshire. I had my worst combined total finishes two weeks ago with a 25th and 26th-place finish for my picks. I half-rebounded last week at Dover, scoring a top-5 for my winner pick.
Let’s start with the bad news this week.
Greg Biffle was my Dark Horse pick last week at the Monster Mile after an intense look at his statistics prior to last week’s AAA 400. In the prior 5 races at the Monster Mile, Biffle’s finishes were: 19th, 6th, 19th, 3rd, and 16th. In the 5 races prior to the start of the 2009 season, Biffle’s finishes were: 1st, 3rd, 6th, 2nd, and 8th.
After getting off to a solid start it appeared that Greg Biffle was headed for a top-10 finish in Dover today. He was running seventh when the field restarted on lap 358 following a caution but lost control of his 3M Cubitron II Ford three laps later and made contact with the inside wall. Biffle brought the car to pit road for repairs but went two laps down in the process. When the checkered flag dropped Biffle was in the 27th position. He dropped one spot in the points to 15th.
“We had a fast car from the start,” said Biffle. “The guys worked hard in the pits all day and we should have had a top-10 finish at the least. We had a pit road penalty early on and were able to bounce back from that but we were just too loose on that last run.”
My winner pick faired a lot better than Biffle last week, finishing in the runner-up spot. Spinning his tires on the final restart might have cost Jimmie Johnson his seventh victory at Dover International Speedway, but it didn’t hurt his run for a sixth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson had led a race-high 157 laps coming into the final restart at Dover’s one-mile concrete oval. He lined up on the front row with Kurt Busch and spun the tires slightly, giving Busch the edge. Johnson crossed the finish line second, improving five spots in the championship standings to fifth.
Johnson spoke of his troubles on the final restart following the AAA 400 last Sunday “I just got a poor restart when I was the leader, and for the last restart, I didn’t get a good one again,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t race (Busch) through Turns 1 and 2. The cars were very equal. We saw that.”
I look to parlay my half-rebound last week at Dover into full-on success this weekend at Kansas.
Chevrolet has claimed 6 victories in the 10 Hollywood Casino 400’s, the most of any other manufacturer, but Chevy hasn’t seen Victory Lane at Kansas since October of 2009. Chevy’s recent lack of success has me looking at a Dodge and a Ford on Sunday.
Due to his success at Kansas in June, and his lack of success in The Chase thus far, Brad Keselowski is receiving my Winner Pick this week. Even though he led just 9 laps en route to his victory at Kansas in June, his teammate Kurt Busch led a race-high 4 times for 152 laps.
Busch’s soaked up Penske Racing’s pool of luck last week at Dover, and I think its Brad’s turn to hit the spotlight this weekend. He raced his way into the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup in dramatic fashion, but has failed to reach Victory Lane since his win at Bristol in late-August.
Keselowski is ready to put his name back in the discussion for the Driver’s Championship this year and I say he is the favorite to win on Sunday. “We do want to send a message this weekend that we are going to fight to the finish,” Keselowski said.
At this point in the season, Keselowski is looking to rebound from a disappointing power-steering issue and 20th place finish last week, and put his name back in the mix to take home the Sprint Cup.
Dark Horse Pick
David Ragan will be making his 175th Career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Sticking with my trend of not picking a Chase driver for my Dark Horse pick, I think Ragan stands the best shot of bringing home a Top-5 out of all non-chasers this weekend.
His past finishes at Kansas are less than impressive but Ragan and his Crew Chief, Drew Blickensderfer seem to have the fuel mileage game down to a science. In the prior two races decided by gas (Geico 400 at Chicagoland and Sylvania 300 at Loudon), Ragan finished 11th and 7th respectively.
Ragan has five prior Sprint Cup starts at Kansas Speedway. With those five starts, Ragan has an average starting position of 16.8 and finishing position of 17.6.
Ragan said earlier this week “We always look to improve at tracks from the first event there and Kansas is a track that really fits our program. Our engines run well there and our cars are fast. Drew and I are going to work hard to try and grab another win for our UPS team.”
He will be piloting the car that finished 13th at Kansas Speedway earlier this year, and I think Ragan is a driver ready to pounce on the chances of playing spoiler on Sunday.
That’s all for this week, stay tuned next week as I make my first trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway with SpeedwayMedia.com editor, Ed Coombs and Photo Journalist, Brad Keppel. I look forward to an exciting week next week, so be sure to stay tuned for live updates on my trip on Twitter @ML_B_Lo.
Until Next Week…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!