Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Is Kansas a Question-Mark Track in Its Own Right?

Kansas: Getting in Good Position for Talladega or a Question Mark in Its Own Right?

As shown last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, just about any race in each round of the Chase can become the survivor race.

Knowing that, will this weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway simply be a platform for drivers to solidify themselves for good standing come Talladega Superspeedway, or will it prove to create its own impact on the Chase standings?

Well, looking at the past two Chase Grid races at Kansas, don’t be married to the current points order, as the track has brought its own pizzazz as of late.

Even the last time the series visited in May, Martin Truex, Jr. lost the race lead due to a pit road penalty, opening the door for Kyle Busch to end his Kansas curse.

(Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)
Denny Hamlin is one of the five men in hot air heading into Kansas. (Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)

But in terms of Chase influences, Kansas had one of the most shocking moments in Chase history last year when Joey Logano spun Matt Kenseth, who relied on a win to advance, with six laps to go.

Additionally, the race only saw one Chaser finish outside the top 20, proving the close competition of the 2015 playoffs.

The year before, four Chasers finished worse than 20th, while only five finished in the top 10.

In other words, if you’re one of those who are looking straight to the last lap at Talladega, you haven’t done a good job of paying attention to Kansas’ history.

This weekend will see five drivers – Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Logano and Chase Elliott – fight for one spot. And  a win on Sunday would make for an easy week to end the Round of 12.

Is the XFINITY Series Round of 8 Split?

Looking at the eight drivers remaining in the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase, there seems to be a 50-50 split in terms of who could make the Final 4 in Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Judging by their respective performances so far in 2016, the title favorites look to be Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Erik Jones and Justin Allgaier, all of whom have gathered all nine regular-series wins by a full-time driver, a whopping 53 top 5s and 943 laps led.

The other four – Brendan Gaughan, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Blake Koch and Ryan Reed – combine for no wins, only eight top 5s and 91 laps led.

So, statistically, the Final 4 in Homestead is already set. But it isn’t the past numbers that choose the Final 4, it’s the next race.

With an even playing field, the opening round proved to be brutal for some of the top Chasers. Ty Dillon couldn’t bounce back after crashing out of Kentucky Speedway, while Brennan Poole and Brandon Jones were surprise early exits.

Now we are back to yet another even playing field, which will open the opportunities for some surprises in the Final 4, as consistency can and will still play a major role in deciding those spots.

What Will Alex Bowman Achieve If Issues Subside in Kansas?

When the green flag flew last week at Charlotte, it was a first for Alex Bowman: He was a favorite to win a Sprint Cup race.

And it was justified, as the Arizona native ran second quick in practice before qualifying on the front row for Sunday. With a high level of expectation on his shoulders for the first time, Bowman was up for a task in the 500-mile race.

His left-front tire, however, was not.

Just like that, Charlotte joined Bowman’s rash of issues through five starts in Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s No. 88 Chevrolet. At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a cut tire turned him into the wall, while Michigan International Speedway saw an engine issue take him out of contention.

At the two races in which he escaped significant woes, Chicagoland Speedway and the fall Loudon race, the 23-year-old came home 10th and 14th, respectively.

With another 1.5-miler on the table this weekend, what will we see from the Showman on Sunday?

6-8 October, 2016, Concord, North Carolina USA Alex Bowman (88), Casey Mears (13) crash in turn Three. ©2016, John Harrelson / NKP
With some good luck, Bowman could pull off something spectacular. (John Harrelson / NKP)

If he has reliability to count on, Bowman can hang with his Hendrick Motorsports brothers, who have flourished at the front of the field since the start of the Chase. Unlike Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne or Elliott, Bowman has that extra incentive to impress the masses.

He spoke candidly after qualifying last week at Charlotte, saying his remaining five races with HMS could simply be the rest of his Sprint Cup career.

Can you comprehend how much a win, or even a top-5 run, could impact that in the years to come? This sport has been known to blossom careers after just one strong run by a must-perform driver. That’s precisely how Bowman got his opportunity with JR Motorsports from Earnhardt in 2014.

It’s a solid possibility that Bowman will bring the power once again at Kansas. It’s the track type he has thrived on, he has the momentum and he has the drive to get it done. You can’t count him out.

Is Carl Edwards Capable of Getting Maiden Kansas Win?

Behind the steady stream of headlines labeling Truex and Johnson as the hot drivers for the Sprint Cup championship, there are drivers like Carl Edwards who are still in the hunt.

Edwards, unlike Truex and Johnson, has not tasted victory in the four Chase races thus far. In fact, it’s been since April at Richmond International Raceway that Edwards grabbed a win, with only two top-5 finishes since then and none since Kentucky in July.

So, there should be no mystery why Cousin Carl hasn’t gotten his share of attention in this championship fight. He just isn’t there.

You can say he maxed out early, getting all of the speed out of his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the opening months of the year. Maybe he and crew chief Dave Rogers haven’t been gelling or they simply are the soft spot in a hard-to-beat Toyota organization?

Whatever the reason, is there any chance of it changing this weekend at Kansas?

Boy, would Edwards love to make that a reality, as he comes into his home track with only one top 10 since August. In fact, Edwards says a win at Kansas would “mean more than the Daytona 500” if he could get it done.

So, the heart is there – as is usually the case with one of the happier faces in the garage. His past track record highlights his consistency, which could pay off significantly since he sits 20 points above the cutoff zone after Charlotte.

But the question is if he can win, and with everything put out for you to see, a victory this weekend could surprise much of NASCAR nation.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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