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May 3, 2024

NASCAR Classics: Races to watch before Kansas

Jeff Gordon No. 24 car.

Throughout the 2024 NASCAR season, Ken Martin, director of historical content for the sanctioning body, will offer his suggestions on which historical races fans should watch from the NASCAR Classics library in preparation for each upcoming race weekend.

Martin has worked exclusively for NASCAR since 2008 but has been involved with the sport since 1982, overseeing various projects. He has worked in the broadcast booth for hundreds of races, assisting the broadcast team with different tasks. This includes calculating the “points as they run” for the historic 1992 finale, the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The following suggestions are Ken’s picks to watch before this weekend’s Advent Health 400 at Kansas Speedway.

2001 Protection One 400:

The NASCAR Cup Series arrived at Kansas Speedway in September 2001 for the first time and it didn’t take long for Jason Leffler to shock the garage area.

Leffler, a rookie driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, failed to qualify for the previous week’s race at Dover Motor Speedway. He promptly beat out series points leader Jeff Gordon at the 1.5-mile speedway to capture the first pole of his career.

He was also looking to beat the streak of bad luck that the other four first-time pole sitters faced in 2001.

Stacy Compton grabbed the first pole of his career at Talladega Superspeedway in April and finished 43rd after engine issues. A few weeks later, Ryan Newman also finished 43rd after capturing his first. He was driving a partial schedule for Team Penske.

The unfortunate luck for these pole winners soon struck again, as Jeff Green finished 42nd at Bristol Motor Speedway and Kurt Busch finished 39th at Darlington Raceway.

Rising star Casey Atwood, who was coming off a season-best ninth-place finish at Dover, backed up his effort with a fifth-place start at Kansas.

Gordon entered the weekend up 212 points on Ricky Rudd in the standings, looking to capture his fourth NASCAR Cup Series championship. Tony Stewart sat third in points, a whopping 407 points behind the leader.

Once the green flag dropped for the first time at the new speedway, it looked like Rusty Wallace and Newman’s Penske-powered cars were the ones to beat.

Wallace led a race-high 117 laps, and Newman moved from a 17th-place starting position to the front of the field as well.

The lead changed 19 different times during the race, but it was Gordon who stayed out front for the final 22 laps to take the checkered flag.

Newman came home second, followed by Rudd, Wallace and Sterling Marlin.

24 crew celebrates at kansas
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2004 Banquet 400 Presented by Conagra Foods:

Lakeland, Florida’s Joe Nemechek showed plenty of signs of speed during the first few months of the 2004 season, whether it be during qualifying or the race itself. He had yet to add a top-five finish to his resume but everything aligned perfectly at Kansas for a weekend worth remembering.

Nemechek put his No. 01 car on the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series race on Friday and backed that up with a victory in the Xfinity Series race at the track on Saturday after leading the final six laps.

On Sunday, a handful of drivers paced the front of the field over 24 lead changes, with Nemechek being among the four drivers who led between 19 and 72 laps.

He returned to the front to lead the final 37 laps, but it wasn’t a cakewalk for the driver. Nemechek held off a strong, late charge from the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford of Ricky Rudd to capture the checkered flag.

It was the third and final victory of Nemechek’s Cup career.

The race also marked Kyle Busch’s fourth career start, driving a No. 84 car for Hendrick Motorsports. He was caught up in a crash and finished 37th.

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2010 Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft Foods:

The 12-driver NASCAR Playoffs field arrived at Kansas Speedway in 2010 with just seven races remaining on the schedule, and drivers were caught up in a very tight battle for the championship.

Jimmie Johnson’s victory at Dover the previous week earned him 195 points, moving him up to second place in the standings and 35 behind Denny Hamlin. This left the top eight drivers in the standings separated by just 83 points.

The first 11 drivers in the standings at the time have all since been named to NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers list in 2023.

Greg Biffle took the lead from Paul Menard and led the final 50 laps to capture the victory. He gained 20 points on Johnson in the standings, who finished runner-up.

All 12 of the playoff drivers finished inside the top 19, with the first seven finishing positions belonging to such drivers.

Johnson’s second-place finish catapulted him to first and eight points ahead of Hamlin, who finished 12th.

Menard, driving the No. 98 car for Richard Petty Motorsports, was coming off an impressive seventh-place finish at Dover the previous race. He backed that up with a strong weekend at Kansas, starting second, leading 11 laps and finishing eighth.

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You can watch these three races and hundreds more by visiting NASCAR Classics.