The Setup: First Kansas night race a challenge

May 08, 2014, Brad Parrott, Special for,

Crew chief Brad Parrott sizes up story lines, strategy for Kansas

Editor's note: Brad Parrott, a 19-time winner in NASCAR national series competition, has joined as a guest writer for the 2014 season. Here is his first-person analysis ahead of Saturday night's 5-hour Energy 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX) for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Kansas Speedway:

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Since this is Kansas Speedway's first night race, the transition from day to night will throw crew chiefs a challenge. Whether their changes make a night-and-day difference all depends on making the right calls.
Teams will have a similar situation to a few weeks ago at Darlington Raceway, where Sprint Cup teams practiced during the day and didn't have the luxury of practice once the sun went down. Teams will have to set their car about 10 degrees loose during the day to have a good car come nighttime.
It's going to be a race where everyone's not going to take four tires on every stop because the pavement is the way it is. There will be decent fall-off in lap times -- the track has a lot of grip to start, but it tails off. The track, being in the Midwest, has weathered a hard winter and it takes some age off the surface, for sure.
All 1.5-mile tracks are different, but the track that Kansas is most similar to is Las Vegas. Everyone will more than likely start to work off their Vegas setups to get a baseline. Some teams are scared to make big changes from those, quite honestly. Some will go to the seven-post simulator and run their Vegas setup if it worked well for them, but other teams will throw something totally different at it to see if it works with the simulation. All crew chiefs will head into the race with a playbook in hopes of making their big spring package work through the fast, variably banked corners.
I think what you'll see in the race is some similarity to this season's race at Vegas -- the Team Penske cars qualifying up front and racing up front all day. They've really showed their strength on these 1.5-mile tracks.
Look for the Roush Fenway cars to come back and make a move. They haven't showed a whole lot of mile-and-a-half strength but so many players throughout the season have stepped up. We're in that stretch now where wins mean everything and finishing well just means that you can carry that momentum to the next race.
Joe Gibbs Racing has performed well this season, but Kansas has been a gremlin for Kyle Busch lately. It may be a chance for him to regroup this year since the ride-height rules have changed. The cars are sitting on different springs, their shock absorbers are different, and it'll be just the third race for the Generation-6 car at this track.
If a team has done its homework in the last two weeks with a seven-post or other simulation tests, you can make Kyle Busch the best driver there if your car's set up right. The potential is there for him to have a better run there than he's had in the past, based off how his car handles right off the truck.
Strategy calls will definitely come into play. Kansas has had more than one race where gas mileage comes into effect, so we'll have some situations where teams may gamble on pit stops.
It's all about which team can gain track position and give themselves a chance to get out front.