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Driver Reports: Previewing the Kansas race

May 08, 2014, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Johnson, Kenseth among drivers with strong Kansas history still seeking first win

Editor's note: The following drivers are ranked according to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings. Driver Reports includes the top 16 in the points standings and drivers currently in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.

1. Jeff Gordon (No. 24)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet 

Standing: Gordon leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings with 347 points.
Past five races: 39th at Talladega, 2nd at Richmond, 7th at Darlington, 2nd at Texas, 12th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 4 top-fives, 7 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Gordon's average finish is 12.5 and his average running position is 9.8 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Kansas, he has two wins, nine top-fives and 11 top-10s.
Quick hit: Gordon's success at this 1.5-mile oval came before the 2012 repave. The veteran won the first two Cup races here, and had a string of five consecutive top-fives from 2007-2011. In his last five races at the track, though, he has two top-10s and two finishes outside the top 20.

2. Matt Kenseth (No. 20)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Kenseth is second in the standings with 344 points.
Past five races: 37th at Talladega, 5th at Richmond, 4th at Darlington, 7th at Texas, 6th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 7 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kansas, Kenseth's average finish is 11.8 and his average running position is 9.6 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Kansas, he has two wins, six top-fives, nine top-10s and two poles.
Quick hit: Kenseth is one of four drivers to have an average running position of less than 10.0 over the past nine years at Kansas. He earned back-to-back wins in the fall of 2012 and spring of 2013. Kenseth's 11th-place finish last fall ended a string of six consecutive top-10s (four of which were top-fives).

3. Kyle Busch (No. 18)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Busch is third in the standings with 343 points.
Past five races: 12th at Talladega, 3rd at Richmond, 6th at Darlington, 3rd at Texas, 14th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 win, 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kansas, Busch's average finish is 22.2 and his average running position is 18.8 over the past nine years. In 13 career starts at Kansas, he has two top-10s.
Quick hit: Busch's average running position over the past nine years is 18th in the series, and he's said for years that this is among his worst tracks. The results bear that out -- he's finished outside of the top 30 in three consecutive races. The last time out, he wrecked his primary car during practice and his backup car in the race.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Earnhardt Jr. is fourth in the standings with 328 points.
Past five races: 26th at Talladega, 7th at Richmond, 2nd at Darlington, 43rd at Texas, 3rd at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 win, 5 top-fives, 6 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Earnhardt Jr.'s average finish is 15.6 and his average running position is 15.1 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Kansas, he has one top-five, seven top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Junior has been uneven at this 1.5-mile track over his career, but his average finish since joining Hendrick Motorsports is 14.8 compared to an average finish of 17.1 before. Plus he has a runner-up finish on a mile-and-a-half oval already this year (Las Vegas), so consider the No. 88 team to have top-five potential.

5. Carl Edwards (No. 99)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Standing: Edwards is fifth in the standings with 328 points.
Past five races: 30th at Talladega, 9th at Richmond, 13th at Darlington, 14th at Texas, 13th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kansas, Edwards' average finish is 9.9 and his average running position is 12.3 over the past nine years. In 13 career starts at Kansas, he has five top-fives and nine top-10s.
Quick hit: Edwards is one of three drivers with an average finish of less than 10.0 in the loop data era -- the others are Jimmie Johnson and teammate Greg Biffle. This is one of Roush Fenway Racing's best tracks, with three wins here over the past 10 races. Edwards is one of the favorites to win Saturday night.

6. Joey Logano (No. 22)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Logano is sixth in the standings with 305 points.
Past five races: 32nd at Talladega, 1st at Richmond, 35th at Darlington, 1st at Texas, 4th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 2 wins, 5 top-fives, 5 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kansas, Logano's average finish is 23.7 and his average running position is 22.2 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Kansas, he has one top-five and one top-10.
Quick hit: Do you believe Joey Logano has turned a career corner? If you do, ignore his first eight races at this track in which he recorded four finishes outside the top 25 and zero finishes inside the top 10. Instead, focus on last year's fourth-place run and his dominance on 1.5-miles this year (fourth at Las Vegas, first at Texas).

7. Jimmie Johnson (No. 48)

Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet

Standing: Johnson is seventh in the standings with 304 points.
Past five races: 23rd at Talladega, 32nd at Richmond, 3rd at Darlington, 25th at Texas, 2nd at Martinsville.
Season stats: 3 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Johnson's average finish is 5.3 and his average running position is 7.4 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Kansas, he has two wins, six top-fives, 13 top-10s and three poles.
Quick hit: Johnson ranks first on the circuit in average finish and average running position here over the past nine years. He's finished in the top 10 for 10 consecutive races. He has three top-fives, including a win, in the past five races here. He's not only the pre-race favorite, he's a must-play for your Fantasy Live lineup.

8. Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford

Standing: Biffle is eighth in the standings with 300 points.
Past five races: 2nd at Talladega, 15th at Richmond, 5th at Darlington, 6th at Texas, 18th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Biffle's average finish is 8.7 and his average running position is 9.1 over the past nine years. In 15 career starts at Kansas, he has two wins, seven top-fives, nine top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Biffle was agonizingly close to his first win of the season at Talladega, and now comes to one of his best tracks. He ranks second in the past nine years in average place and average finish, behind only Jimmie Johnson, so expect the veteran to run up front all night. A win would be the fifth at the track for team owner Jack Roush, which put him above Rick Hendrick (who has four).

9. Ryan Newman (No. 31)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Newman is ninth in the standings with 299 points.
Past five races: 18th at Talladega, 8th at Richmond, 10th at Darlington, 16th at Texas, 20th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Newman's average finish is 22.4 and his average running position is 21.4 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Kansas, he has one win, three top-fives and four top-10s.
Quick hit: This is one of just two tracks on the circuit in which Newman has a win, but not a pole. (Daytona is the other.) Newman finished second, second and first in the first three races at the track. Since then, he has one top-10 in 13 starts. Perhaps having new equipment in his first year with Richard Childress Racing will be the spur Newman needs to improve here.

10. Brian Vickers (No. 55)

Michael Waltrip Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Vickers is 10th in the standings with 297 points.
Past five races: 4th at Talladega, 12th at Richmond, 26th at Darlington, 4th at Texas, 16th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Vickers' average finish is 21.1 and his average running position is 20.1 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Kansas, he has one top-10.
Quick hit: Vickers finished outside the top 30 in both Kansas races last year in his part-time role with Michael Waltrip Racing. How much does that matter? Hard to say. You can't ignore his spotty history here, but he's also outperforming expectations this season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver.

11. Brad Keselowski (No. 2)

Team Penske, Ford 

Standing: Keselowski is 11th in the standings with 294 points.
Past five races: 38th at Talladega, 4th at Richmond, 17th at Darlington, 15th at Texas, 38th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 win, 4 top-fives, 4 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Keselowski's average finish is 10.3 and his average running position is 14.2 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Kansas, he has one win, two top-fives and four top-10s.
Quick hit: This is one of Keselowski's best tracks -- exactly half his starts here have resulted in top-10s, and he's finished in the top 20 in seven of eight races. With his average finish in the loop data era ranking fourth among 48 drivers, Keselowski is a favorite to claim his second win and all but clinch his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- provided no one tries to take revenge from the Talladega wreck last week.

12. Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Standing: Hamlin is 12th in the standings with 292 points.
Past five races: 1st at Talladega, 22nd at Richmond, 19th at Darlington, 13th at Texas, 19th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kansas, Hamlin's average finish is 14.8 and his average running position is 14.1 over the past nine years. In 11 career starts at Kansas, he has one win, three top-fives and three top-10s.
Quick hit: With his first win of the season last week, Hamlin emphatically snapped his four-race slump since missing the Auto Club event. Now that getting the all-important win is behind him, expect the 33-year-old to challenge for the win under the lights.

13. Kyle Larson (No. 42)

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, Chevrolet  

Standing: Larson is 13th in the standings with 286 points.
Past five races: 9th at Talladega, 16th at Richmond, 8th at Darlington, 5th at Texas, 27th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 5 top-10s.
Track history: Larson has zero Sprint Cup Series starts at Kansas. In one Nationwide Series start, he finished 30th in 2013.
Quick hit: Fifth at Texas. Eighth at Darlington. Ninth at Talladega. What can't Kyle Larson do? The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender is thriving at tracks in which he previously had no Cup starts. He's another terrific play in Fantasy Live this week.

14. Austin Dillon (No. 3)

Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Dillon is 14th in the standings with 281 points.
Past five races: 15th at Talladega, 27th at Richmond, 11th at Darlington, 21st at Texas, 15th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 top-10, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kansas, Dillon's average finish is 26.0 and his average running position is 28.5 over the past nine years. In one career start at Kansas, he finished 26th in 2011.
Quick hit: Richard Childress earned his first win as a team owner at the track last year when Kevin Harvick drove the No. 29 -- the same equipment Dillon is using -- to victory. The organization's superspeedway cars have been better than its mile-and-a-half program this year, though. Dillon finished 16th and 21st at the previous two races this year on 1.5-milers.

15. AJ Allmendinger (No. 47)

JTG Daugherty Racing, Chevrolet  

Standing: Allmendinger is 15th in the standings with 279 points.
Past five races: 5th at Talladega, 6th at Richmond, 15th at Darlington, 23rd at Texas, 11th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 top-five, 3 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Allmendinger's average finish is 21.9 and his average running position is 22.2 over the past nine years. In eight career starts at Kansas, he has two top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Through 10 races, Allmendinger has the look of a driver intent on being a Chase spoiler. His two best finishes of the year have come over the past two races. To continue that trend at Kansas, he'll need his best-ever finish at the track -- his ninth-place effort in 2008 remains his best performance here.

16. Marcos Ambrose (No. 9)

Richard Petty Motorsports, Ford 

Standing: Ambrose is 16th in the standings with 268 points.
Past five races: 19th at Talladega, 18th at Richmond, 14th at Darlington, 20th at Texas, 5th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Ambrose's average finish is 19.6 and his average running position is 21.1 over the past nine years. In nine career starts at Kansas, he has two top-10s.
Quick hit: Ambrose has had two ninth-place finishes, matching his car number, in six starts here for Richard Petty Motorsports. While road courses are still his forte, the Australian has performed better at Kansas than most since the track's repave.

19. Kevin Harvick (No. 4)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet 

Standing: Harvick is 19th in the standings with 258 points.
Past five races: 7th at Talladega, 11th at Richmond, 1st at Darlington, 42nd at Texas, 7th at Martinsville.
Season stats: 2 wins, 2 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 1 pole.
Track history: At Kansas, Harvick's average finish is 10.4 and his average running position is 12.2 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Kansas, he has one win, two top-fives, seven top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Harvick won last fall's Kansas race from the pole, something he also accomplished at Darlington this year. The last three races have been his most consistent of the year, with finally no spell of car trouble. Consider him among the favorites.

27. Kurt Busch (No. 41)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Standing: Busch is 27th in the standings with 196 points.
Past five races: 33rd at Talladega, 23rd at Richmond, 31st at Darlington, 39th at Texas, 1st at Martinsville.
Season stats: 1 win, 2 top-fives, 2 top-10s.
Track history: At Kansas, Busch's average finish is 15.4 and his average running position is 14.7 over the past nine years. In 16 career starts at Kansas, he has one top-five, four top-10s and one pole.
Quick hit: Since his Martinsville win, Busch has finished outside the top 30 in three of four races, and his non top-30 was a 23rd. Wins are more valuable with the new Chase format, and no one is more grateful for that than Busch. Still, if he doesn't start collecting top-10s -- or at least top-20s -- beginning Saturday in Kansas, his spot in the top 30 of the points standings will no longer be assured.