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Driver Reports: Harvick in position to strike

October 01, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Driver Reports: Harvick in position to strike
If one of the top three swings and misses at Kansas, Harvick will be ready to close the gap

MORE: FULL CHASE COVERAGE

1. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Kenseth leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 2,149 points.
Last week: After opening the Chase with back-to-back wins, finishing seventh feels like a disappointment. Kenseth wasn't too bummed, though, because while his No. 20 Toyota led 36 laps, it didn't have the feel the driver wanted. The bigger issue than simply finishing seventh, though, was that the six drivers who finished in front of Kenseth are all Chase drivers. Jimmie Johnson in particular gained ground with his 48-point day.
What he said: "When you look up, it's everybody that finished in front of you -- it's all cars that you’re racing for points. Overall, for how bad I felt like we struggled with the car, that was a decent finish."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Kenseth has two wins, six top-fives, nine top-10s and two poles. In the past eight years at Kansas, Kenseth ranks third out of 59 drivers with an average place of 9.5. He won the first 2013 race at Kansas.

2. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Johnson is second in the standings with 2,141 points.
Last week: A history-making effort at Dover allowed Johnson to put a sizeable dent in Matt Kenseth's points lead. Johnson won at the 1-mile track for the eighth time in his Cup career, a new record. Five-Time led 243 of 400 laps in his No. 48 Chevrolet, and took two tires following a caution flag with less than 30 laps remaining to win the race off pit road. Johnson is now eight points behind Kenseth, who finished seventh Sunday.
What he said: "When you put the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) up there … I think it’s going to be fun for the fans to watch. We came to a good track and we got what we needed to, done. I know that No. 20 is going to be awfully strong for the rest of the stretch, and I look forward to racing with him."
Outlook: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Johnson has two wins, six top-fives, 12 top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Kansas, Johnson ranks first out of 59 drivers with an average place of 7.4. He finished third in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

3. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Busch is third in the standings with 2,137 points.
Last week: Busch charged through the field both early and late, salvaging his third consecutive top-five finish on a day where his No. 18 Toyota wasn't at its best. Busch gained seven spots in the first three laps (he started 14th), and then passed three more drivers on the final restart after taking four tires.
What he said: "Certainly, I wish we definitely could’ve gotten more out of the car. We probably could’ve if I could’ve got the outside lane on the final restart I probably could’ve finished third, but we didn’t get that. It's frustrating to be fifth, but yet you look at the grand scheme of things and it's three straight top-fives to start the Chase, so not bad."
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Busch has two top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Busch ranks 19th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 18.4. He finished 38th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

4. Kevin Harvick (No. 29)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Harvick is fourth in the standings with 2,110 points.
Last week: Three title contenders have separated from the pack (Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch) in the points standings, but Harvick put himself in position to take advantage of any potential misfires from the top three. The driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet is up to fourth in the standings -- technically, he's tied with Jeff Gordon -- following a sixth-place finish at Dover. His 53 Green-Flag Passes were tied with Denny Hamlin for the most in the race, according to NASCAR Loop Data.
What he said: "That was a long day. All in all, all the guys did a good job of just kind of keep pounding away. That is what you have to do here at Dover as you get toward halfway it just kind of seems like you can make up positions by just staying in the game. We just kept ourself in the game."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Harvick has one top-five and six top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Harvick ranks ninth out of 59 drivers with an average place of 12.7. He finished 12th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

5. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Gordon is fifth in the standings with 2,110 points.
Last week: The last guy to make the 13-driver Chase field, Gordon continues to make the most of the opportunity. The veteran finished fourth at Dover and appeared to be in position to challenge for the win late after running third from Lap 280-360. A late caution wasn't what the 24 team wanted to see, because Gordon's Chevrolet was built for the long run.
What he said: "We had moments where I felt like we had the best car and there were moments where I felt like we were one of the worst cars. Man, I did not want to see that last caution. I felt like we were really in the perfect position, fuel mileage wise, tires, speed of the car, we were just sitting there riding trying to get to the end."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Gordon has two wins, eight top-fives and 10 top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Gordon ranks fourth out of 59 drivers with an average place of 9.7. He finished 13th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

6. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Biffle is sixth in the standings with 2,108 points.
Last week: Prior to the AAA 400, Biffle declared that the Chase was not a three-man race. The Biff backed that up with a ninth-place showing, but the top 10 was full of Chase drivers, so he actually lost ground in the standings, falling to sixth. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "We've just got to keep working at it. We're learning stuff as we go, so we'll just keep trying to get better every week. We went back and forth between being too loose and too tight, but I think we learned something today as to why we've run so bad here the last two or three years. That's good for later on, but not good for today."
Outlook: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Biffle has two wins, seven top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Biffle ranks second out of 59 drivers with an average place of 8.2. He finished 19th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

7. Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Newman is seventh in the standings with 2,101 points.
Last week: Long green-flag runs seemed to cause Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet to tighten, so the final caution wasn't a hindrance to him. In fact, it helped spur a eighth-place finish and a climb of two spots in the standings. The veteran is three points ahead of eighth-place Clint Bowyer and nine points behind fourth-place Kevin Harvick. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "Our day started out really well, the car was great for the first 100 laps or so. It got tight after that and we never could make the right adjustment to get it handling like I needed it to."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Newman has one win, three top-fives and four top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Newman ranks 24th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 20.9. He finished 14th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

8. Clint Bowyer (No. 15)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Where he stands: Bowyer is eighth in the standings with 2,098 points.
Last week: The day's fourth and final caution on Lap 371 spoiled any shot Bowyer had at winning. And he had a good shot. The No. 15 Toyota appeared to be good on fuel for the final green-flag run, while the cars in front of him would need to pit for service. Everyone pitted during that last yellow, though, and Bowyer settled for 10th, his second top-10 in three Chase races.
What he said: "We’ve had a rough start to the Chase, but we worked hard and put ourselves in a good position to go for the win. Unfortunately, that caution there at the end ruined our plan. That is a tough one to swallow, but I'm ready to go to Kansas next week. It's my home track and I’m looking forward to racing in front of my home crowd."
Outlook: In 10 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Bowyer has two top-fives and five top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Bowyer ranks 15th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 15.2. He finished fifth in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

9. Kurt Busch (No. 78)

Furniture Row Racing, Chevrolet 

Where he stands: Busch is ninth in the standings with 2,094 points.
Last week: If it's not a pit-road problem, it's something else for Kurt Busch. The Furniture Row Racing driver can piece together strong showings, but has also had more than his share of misfortune. At Dover, it was a loose right-rear wheel on Lap 156 (of 400) that put the driver two laps down. He could not recover, and finished 21st, below every Chase driver except Carl Edwards.
What he said: "A loose wheel did us in. We were way off at the start, but after the first pit stop we made some good changes and started to make a move. But once again we had an issue with a loose wheel and that put us a couple of laps down. And with the lack of cautions we couldn’t make it up. This is the Chase, and you can’t afford to have these problems."
Outlook: In 15 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Busch has three top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Busch ranks 14th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 14.8. He finished 15th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Earnhardt Jr. is 10th in the standings with 2,092 points.
Last week: Earnhardt Jr. nearly captured his first victory of the season at Dover, leading 80 laps after starting from the Coors Light Pole. He overcame a pit-road snafu, too, from earlier in the race when he missed the entrance to pit road. Junior later had a slow stop when he got caught in traffic. Four tires on the last restart allowed the No. 88 to jump from fourth to second, but he couldn't catch his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson.
What he said: "Well, Jimmie (Johnson) was just that good. I thought that four tires were going to be enough to get to him and get him out of the way, but he is just that fast around here. That track position is really important and I gave that up early in the race with that mistake coming onto pit road. And it cost us a shot at the win there."
Outlook: In 14 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. has one top-five, six top-10s and one pole. In the past eight years at Kansas, Earnhardt Jr. ranks 17th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 16.1. He finished 16th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

11. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Edwards is 11th in the standings with 2,084 points.
Last week: Edwards took the biggest drop in the standings following a dreadful Dover outcome. Sitting fourth in the standings through two races, Edwards' No. 99 Ford was off Sunday. Then he had a broken hub. The result was a disastrous finish of 35th place that caused the driver to plummet seven spots in the standings.
What he said: "Overall, we gave it the best effort we could. … We've really got to step it up now to have a chance. We did not need to have that trouble, but there's a lot of racing left. We don't quit. We just have to keep moving."
Outlook: In 12 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Edwards has four top-fives and eight top-10s. In the past eight years at Kansas, Edwards ranks seventh out of 59 drivers with an average place of 12.5. He finished 17th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

12. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford 

Where he stands: Logano is 12th in the standings with 2,083 points.
Last week: Logano's start to his first postseason saw him go from one of the hottest drivers on the circuit to out of the title picture in one race. The 23-year-old recaptured some of that momentum at the "Monster Mile" with a third-place run, his best showing since his runner-up finish at Atlanta. | Click here to read a roundup on the six members of the Coca-Cola Racing Family
What he said: "We are concerned about points because we’re in the Chase and we’re not out of it yet. I just saw we’re 66 points back now so we gained a couple, which isn’t many, but these are the days we’ve got to have. We’re back on track."
Outlook: In eight career starts at Kansas Speedway, Logano's best finish is 15th in the first Kansas race in 2012. In the past eight years at Kansas, Logano ranks 32nd out of 59 drivers with an average place of 24.2. He finished 39th in the first 2013 race at Kansas.

13. Kasey Kahne (No. 5)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Where he stands: Kahne is 13th in the standings with 2,071 points.
Last week: Another mechanical issue for Kahne spoiled his run on a day where Hendrick Motorsports placed three drivers in the top four. Kahne had to use strategy to net a top-15 finish, so not pitting on the final caution was good enough for the No. 5 Chevrolet to come across the start/finish line in 13th place.
What he said: "Something was wrong and we lost a lot of power. Didn't seem like the engine, maybe it was something else like tail pipes or something. We are not real sure. We just salvaged a good finish and we didn’t pit there and got a top-15. So that was good for what we had and what we were dealt with." Outlook: In 12 career starts at Kansas Speedway, Kahne has three top-fives, six top-10s and three poles. In the past eight years at Kansas, Kahne ranks 11th out of 59 drivers with an average place of 13.9. He finished second in the first 2013 race at Kansas.