With six races in the books last week for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup (NSC) season, a dry spell was bound to be broken. But it wasn’t Dale Jr’s 3 1/2 year drought ending, it was Greg Biffle bringing home the win and cowboy hat in the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Firing off those six-shooters was music to the Bif’s ears. There were some expecteds and some surprises in the finishing order, with runner-up Jimmie Johnson making a late-race charge, and part-timer Mark Martin having a hell of a showing in third in his Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota (a team that has really found its stride this season). Matt Kenseth, fellow MWR teammate Martin Truex Jr, Kasey Kahne (with his best finish of 2012 in his new Hendrick Motorsports ride), Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, and Dale Earnhardt Jr rounding out the top ten. The Samsung Mobile 500 was Biffle’s first win since October 2010, and coincidentally at a track we move on to this week: Kansas Speedway.
Some of the aforementioned names are likely to be seen at the top of the scoring tower again this week at Kansas Speedway for the STP 400, a 267-lap, 400.5 mile free-for-all on a track drivers will see for the last time. A topic of much conversation leading up to the race, the tri-oval banking of the Speedway will be torn up and re-constructed starting Monday (see Rumor Mill below). We’ll find out if this will be a relatively caution-flag-free race, or if this turns into a demolition derby before the wrecking crews tear up the track. Will the Roushketeers take another 1.5-mile race, or will the Hendrick Motorsports machine will finally score its 200th victory, that’s the question? Or will there be a spoiler in the mix? Be ready for the “car”-nage before the Checkered Flag waves.
Coverage for the race starts out early with NASCAR Raceday on @SPEED at 10:30pm EDT. FOX’s NASCAR SUNDAY begins at 12:30pm EDT, with race coverage itself at 1pm EDT. We have a number of Victory Junction Gang campers who will serve as grand marshalls and give the Command to Fire engines, following the National Anthem and a scheduled pre-race flyover of 4 A-10 Thunderbolts (otherwise known as Warthogs) from the 442d Fighter Wing at Whiteman AFB, MO. The Green Flag will wave at approximately 1:16pm EDT, with Coors Light Pole sitter AJ Allmendinger and his #22 AAA Dodge will lead the field to green. At this point, only Joey Logano and his #20 Home Depot Toyota will start at the rear of the field, having changed the engine on their primary car.
Best Bets: Two past winners here for my BB picks this week.
Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Chevrolet Mountain Glen Chevy)- Jimmie has won twice at Kansas, including the race last October during the Chase. He’s finished no worse than ninth the last four Kansas races, and has finished second in the last two 1.5-mile track races. Along with his two wins, Johnson’s posted four top-fives, and nine top-tens, and has three top-five and five top-ten finishes so far this season, averaging an 11.6-place finish. He’ll start back in fifteenth, but was fastest in final practice (only 3/4 of drivers ran in final practice).
Brad Keselowski (#2 Miller Lite Dodge)- Keselowski won this race last June, in an event that gave a serious jump-start to his season and propelled him into the Chase. He’s been in the top three the last two races here, including the win. While Brad hasn’t placed quite as well as he’s liked with an average nineteeth-place finish, he does have one win, two top-fives, and three top-tens so far in the first seven races this season. Keselowski will start in eleventh place when the Green Flag waves, and was fourth-fastest in final practice.
Probables: My probables this week are a couple of drivers with long dry spells (although one broke his last week).
Dale Earnhardt Jr (#88 Diet Mt Dew/National Guard Chevy)- Dale Jr’s run last week, despite only finishing tenth, has me moving him in to the Probable rankings for the STP400. A few articles over the last week discuss Jr and his belief in both himself and his team; he seems to be genuinely happy with his performance so far this season and is currently tied for second in the NSC Points standings despite that elusive win. This season’s performance of two top-five and five top-ten finishes (averaging 8.3) is a good reason why. Like I mentioned last week, it’s not a matter of if, but when he wins again. Jr was the runner-up at the fall race here back in October, and although winless here at Kansas overall, he has posted a top-five, and five top-tens. Earnhardt will roll off seventh, and was tenth-fastest in Happy Hour.
Greg Biffle (#16 3M NOVEC 1230 Ford)- Greg’s been having a pretty good season so far, considering he’s currently first in the NSC points standings. He’s got a win, four top-five, and five top-ten finishes so far, and looks to make it two in a row this week at Kansas. The Biff’s been no worse than tenth the last four races at Kansas, and finished no worse than fifth in three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks. Two wins, six top-fives, and eight top-tens also lets you know he’s got this track wired. For his sake, I’m hoping Greg takes advantage of this last race at Kansas, before all the note books have to be thrown out and new data histories begun. Biffle will start seventeenth, but was third fastest in Happy Hour.
Dark Horses- The up and coming teams this season so far, Michael Waltrip teammates are my DH picks for this race.
Martin Truex Jr (#56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota)- Martin has been running well so far this season, and has even contended in a couple. He’s got nothing but goose-eggs here (no finishes in the top ten), but has two top-fives and five top-tens this season through seven races, and sits fourth in the NSC points standings. Truex’s made some huge strides, finishing no worse than eighth in three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks. Martin will start sixth, and did not run final practice.
Mark Martin (#55 Aaron’s Dream Machine)- One of the oldest drivers currently in Sprint Cup competition, Mark has been enjoying not running every single race this season. He has, though, posted a top-five and three top-tens in the five races he has run, including a sixth-place finish last week at Texas. The MWR teams fielded this year have truly turned things around, where they are being consistently driven at the front of the pack. Mark’s got a win, two-top five, and five top-ten finishes at Kansas Speedway; he’ll start fifth, and was second fastest in final practice.
The other notables for this week include Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Ground Toyota), Kevin Harvick (#29 Rheem Chevy), and the other two Hendrick teams of Jeff Gordon (#24 DuPont 20 Years Chevy) and Kasey Kahne (#5 Farmers Insurance Chevy). Hamlin’s posted two top-fives despite some overall poor performance, Harvick starts on the outside of the front row and has continually run up front this season; Gordon has two wins here, and Kahne was the runner-up here last October with a seventh-place finish last week at Texas. Of course, be on the lookout for Biffle’s Roush teammates as well., Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
Rumor Mill: A few stirrings this past week in the NASCAR news world.
Kurt Busch again without a ride??: Rumors abounded this week that Kurt Busch may be found without a ride shortly, as sponsorship dollars have apparently not followed Busch as much as team owner James Finch would have liked. Finch and his Phoenix Racing Team have been battling the financial crunch that might prevent them from running a full season and give Busch the ability to contend for a second Sprint Cup Championship. That, combined with a lackluster finishing record so far this season, may result in either Finch outright releasing him, or forcing Busch to sever ties due to an inability to race the entire season. More to follow on this one.
Kansas Speedway Renovation: The Kansas Speedway track surface will be no more as of tomorrow. The shovels and demolition teams are at the read for Monday’s work to begin. The Kansas Army National Guard will begin the action with an M1A1 Abrams tank and combat earthmover following the race Sunday. Said to be deteriorating too fast for safety, track owners have elected to pre-emptively renovate the surface and have it ready for the fall race here in October. The new track (Image here) will feature variable banking slightly higher than the current surface 17-20 degrees vs. the current 15-degrees), and will remove the bumps that have affected drivers in recent years, as well as the racing groove that has shifted down the racetrack. Many drivers are not necessarily happy about the re-paving, considering it will take a number of races to get the surface in true racing form. Kansas Speedway president Pat Warren remarked that the time and effort wouldn’t be undertaken unless it was necessary, considering the great variation in temperatures throughout the year that wreaks havoc with the racing surface. (Associated Press)
Final Thoughts: Many NSC teams are peaking in their performance, so it will truly be anyone’s race. And with all the other sports action Sunday, including NHL Stanley Cup playoffs and the arch-rivals NY Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox series wrapping up this weekend, there will be no shortage of sports to check into. This is doubly so if there is a big wreck that brings out the Red Flag. Mother Nature will likely be on her couch, as there’s only a ten percent chance of rain; hopefully the six jet dryers on hand will only be used for cleaning debris and Speedy-Dry off the track. So tune in to FOX, your local Motor Racing Network affiliate, or on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Ch 90) for the racing action. I’ll be on the couch as well flipping channels if the race gets stalled, but will have my normal race updates, analysis, and occasional rants on Twitter (@speedglutton).
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