Welcome to Week 4 of my Countdown series... This episode finds us swinging through the Midwest for the Cup series' annual visit to Kansas City.
Race #4 of the Chase / #30 of the Season
October 9, 2005
1.5 mile quad-oval: banking = 15' (turns), 10.4' (frontstretch), 5' (backstretch)
Stats of Note:
Most Recent Track Winner: Joe Nemechek (10/04)
Winners at the Track in the Last 5 years: Joe Nemechek, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon (2)
Track Race Record: Joe Nemechek (04)
Best Avg. Finish Among Active Drivers: Jeff Gordon (5.0)
Ahh... the 1.5-mile intermediate track. There are 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks during the 2005 Cup season, and 5 of them appear in the Chase. Of course, these 7 tracks are not all identical, but several have very similar properties and teams tend to have set-ups ans chassis that run on several of them.
Of the 1.5-milers, Lowe's, Atlanta, and Texas have multiple races (and all appear in the chase). Chicago and Vegas made their single appearances in the first half of the season; Kansas and Homestead-Miami make Chase appearances only. All of this is important for several reasons... (1) I consider my picks on several of these tracks to be somewhat interchangeable - Roush and Hendrick drivers, as we have seen this year, can have a good day on any of them. (2) This is the type of track that drivers have the most experience on coming into the Chase, meaning that we have the most races to look to for potential high-performers with the new aero package. (3) Kansas itself is relatively new track - this will only be it's 5th Cup race - which means the drivers haven't seen it all that many times, and not all that often either with only one race per season.
With that in mind, here are my picks for Kansas...
I can resist no longer, I pick Greg Biffle to get his first win of the Chase in Kansas. Roush has no wins on this track yet, but that streak will end this year. Biff is going to be a very strong contender for the Championship, and the predominance of intermediate tracks in the Chase runs in his favor. We all know how little prior performance has been an indicator of Biff's season so far, but it is still interesting to note that of the 5 1.5-milers in the Chase, Biff's 2003-2004 average finish was best at Kansas - he finished 12th in 2003 and 3rd in 2004. In addition, he has run all four Busch races at Kansas and never finished outside of the top 5.
Biff has won at 2 of the 1.5-milers (Texas this year and Homestead at the end of last season) and has an additional top-5 at Atlanta this season. This will be the first of, I think 3 wins for him during the Chase. An ambitious prediction, of course, but he's up to it.
To Do Well
Jeff Gordon has been the man at this track, with 2 wins and 3 top-5s among the four races. However, he has lost all momentum as of this writing, and although I would leve to see him rapidly pull it together, make the Chase, and contend in this race, I admit to having lost a little faith. He will either be a strong top-5 here, or finish out of the top 20 - I don't think there is any middle ground here for the 24.
The man with all the momentum on his side at the moment - Tony Stewart - has a strong history at Kansas (3 top-10s and an average finish of 8.5) and has been the only driver to be able to really penetrate the Roush/Hendrick dominance on intermediate tracks this season. Look for him and Biff to have a nice duel a la Michigan in June. I also expect Jimmie Johnson to be in the mix - he's on track to win the Cup this year an will be looking to avenge his 32nd place at this track last year when a crash took him out with less than 30 laps left in the race. That DNF ultimately cost him the Championship, which he only lost to Kurt Busch by 8 points. JJ is always a contender.
As for veterans, look for Rusty Wallace and Joe Nemechek. Rusty is pushing for a Championship in his final season, and has always been strong at Kansas (2 top-5s, average finish of 8.5). By contrast, Nemechek has not been having the season he would have liked this year, but he has his best average finish at this track (15.5), produced by very erratic performances over the four races: 20th in '01, 4th in '02, 37th in '03 and a the win last year. Joe also has a Busch series win and 3 top-10s here. He's had a very strong car a couple of times this season, and although he isn't going to make the Chase, he could be a contender here.
As bizarre as it is to pick a driver who has won twice this season as a "dark horse," I'm putting Carl Edwards in this segment for Kansas. He's only been on this track once in a Cup car, finishing 22nd in last year's race. His win at Atlanta this season, though, shows the potential he has on this type of track. Furthermore, he has run 3 Craftsman Truck Series races here, winning last year and finishing 2nd in 2003 and 8th in 2002. Not bad, Carl.
Now, back to the "home" of NASCAR - Charlotte. Next up: UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Thoughts?