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Qualifying the Chasers: Kansas

October 08, 2011, Bill Kimm, NASCAR.com

JGR duo of Busch, Hamlin among five Chasers starting in top 10

Carl Edwards (Qualified second) -- Edwards is the only Chase driver to start off with three top-10s, two of which were top-fives. If history holds true, expect him to continue that streak at Kansas. In eight starts, Edwards has three top-fives and six top-10s and in his past four at Kansas, Edwards has finished sixth or better in three of them. The one glaring omission is a victory. Edwards has been strong at Kansas, just not dominant. He's led laps six of eight starts, but no more than 31 in a race and in four of them it was seven laps or less. Qualifying has been an issue for Edwards at the 1.5-mile track -- his average starting position is 20.5.

Kyle Busch (Qualified third) -- A sixth at Dover has Busch back in the championship picture and unfortunately for him, he is heading to one of his worst tracks. His 22.4 average finish is better than just Talladega and Homestead for the JGR driver and he has just one top-10 in eight starts -- a seventh in 2006. But, he finished 12th in June and actually led 11 laps -- his second 12th-place finish in the past three races. One thing that's missing -- a top-five. Kansas and Homestead are the only two Cup tracks Busch has yet to crack the top five.

Matt Kenseth (Qualified fourth) -- Kenseth is coming off a sixth at New Hampshire and a fifth at Dover and is heading to a track that he is literally a Jeckyl and Hyde. In 11 starts at Kansas, Kenseth has five finishes of seventh or better and four finishes of 30th or worse. The good news -- three of his five top-sevens have come in the past four races and he has led laps in four of the past five. But which Kenseth will show up ... that is million-dollar question.

Denny Hamlin (Qualified seventh) -- Hamlin finished 18th at Dover, basically ending any chance at the championship. So now, Hamlin and the No. 11 team can just go for wins, and that starts at Kansas. After a rough start at the track, Hamlin has started to find his groove. In his past four starts at Kansas, Hamlin has finished 12th or better, including finishes of fifth in 2009 and third in this year's June race. That race was Hamlin's best at Kansas, leading 34 laps after starting 15th.

Jeff Gordon (Qualified 10th) -- Off of a strong 34th-to-12th at Dover, Kansas provides another opportunity for Gordon to gain in the Chase standings. Kansas is Gordon's second-best Cup track and his resume is impeccable. In 11 starts, Gordon has finished worse than 13th just once. He has two victories and six other finishes of fifth or better, including his past five starts at the 1.5-mile track. If there is a negative, it's the two wins came in '01 and '02 and he has only led laps in three of his 13 starts. Still, his 8.1 average finish is tops among all drivers at Kansas.

Ryan Newman (Qualified 11th) -- With back-to-back to finishes of 25th and 23rd in the past two Chase races, it's safe to say the panic button has been hit in the No. 39 garage. It's too bad it has to be hit at Kansas, where Newman has seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. In the first three Cup races at the track, Newman had two runner-up finishes to Gordon and a win in 2003. But after that, a complete reversal with six finishes outside the top 15, including five outside the top 20. But things have turned back to the positive with a ninth in '09 and a 15th in '10, both with Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman, though, isn't fully back to his glory days. He has led just nine laps in the eight races since his victory and his 17.3 average finish is eighth among Chase drivers.

Brad Keselowski (Qualified 12th) -- The Chase rookie has proved himself worthy as one of three drivers (Stewart and Edwards) with two top-fives in the first three Chase races and the other 11 shouldn't keep an eye on the No. 22 as he looks to make history as the first driver to win two Cup races in a season at Kansas. Keselowski saved fuel better than anyone in June and coasted to his second career Cup victory. The finish is Keselowski's only top-10 at Kansas, although in his Cup debut at the track he finished 13th.

Kevin Harvick (Qualified 14th) -- Points leader Harvick has good days at Kansas, and he's had bad days. Unfortunately, there is no telling which Harvick will show up. In 11 starts, Harvick has just one top-five and four top-10s. Harvick also has five finishes of 15th or worse. The last time the Cup Series was in Kansas in October, Harvick had a great day leading 16 laps and finishing third after starting 24th. In this year's June race, though, Harvick was mediocre most of the day and finished 11th. Which Harvick will we see Sunday?

Kurt Busch (Qualified 17th) -- Busch is looking to win two in a row for the first time since his second and third Cup victories back in 2002. And while he doesn't have a victory at Kansas, he has to be considered a favorite this weekend. Busch led 152 laps in June and was on his way to victory but had to pit for fuel with 10 to go and finished ninth. The past three races, Busch has finished 13th or better and has led laps in two of them.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Qualified 18th) -- Don't let the numbers fool you, Earnhardt isn't as horrible at Kansas as it may appear. His 17.5 average finish is ninth among Chase drivers and he has yet to win, but he does have five top-10s and is coming off his best finish at the track in June -- runner-up to Keselowski. Earnhardt has two DNFs at Kansas, and both ruined good race days. Take out the two DNFs, and Earnhardt's average finish is a much more respectable 13.7.

Jimmie Johnson (Qualified 19th) -- Johnson jump-started his Chase with a second at Dover and the rest of the field should be concerned as the Cup Series heads to Kansas, because Johnson is stellar here as well. In 10 starts, Johnson has finished 10th or better in eight of them with a victory and two other top-fives. Johnson is currently in a five-race top-10 streak at Kansas, which includes three finishes of third or better. Johnson has led laps in 60 percent of his Kansas starts and when he leads, he leads in bunches -- three of those race he held the point for more than 50 laps.

Tony Stewart (Qualified 23rd) -- After back-to-back victories to start the Chase, Stewart took a big points hit with a 25th-place effort at Dover. But, things could turn around quickly for the No. 14 at Kansas. Stewart has finished first, fourth and eighth in his past three Kansas starts and has led at least 20 laps in all of them. Aside from a hiccup in 2007 and 2008, Stewart hasn't finished worse than 14th at Kansas. In all, Stewart has two victories, five top-fives and eight top-10s in 11 starts with 152 laps led.