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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kansas Price Chopper 400 Preview: Beyond the Numbers
On this, the first weekend of October, NASCAR travels to the Midwest for a stop at Kansas Speedway. The Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods will get underway Sunday afternoon, where Cup Series driver will make a scheduled 267 laps around the 1.5 mile D-Oval. The third race in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship is pivotal for drivers like Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, and Tony Stewart who reside at the low end of the current point standings.

In his nine Cup starts in Kansas, Kevin Harvick has placed in the top ten on three occasions. In the 2009 race at Kansas, Kevin was only able to post a 24th place finish. His 2010 season has been more consistent than last year, however. Harvick claims a 9.8th place average finish for the 2010 season and historically, he finishes nearly 40% of races at intermediate tracks in the top ten. After sliding back three spots in the Chase standings to the 5th spot, Kevin will be out to prove he is still a contender and can make his way back to the top of the board.

Jeff Gordon won the first two races at Kansas back in 2001 and 2002 but hasn't seen a win there since. Going into the weekend Jeff posts an impressive 8.9 average finish at Kansas, the best among Chase drivers. In Gordon's nine Cup starts at this track he has finished outside of the top ten just twice. Eighth in Championship Points, Jeff is likely to move up with a strong weekend performance.

Another two-time winner at Kansas that NASCAR fans should keep an eye on this weekend is Tony Stewart. After winning the 2009 Price Chopper 400 but having back-to-back 39th and 40th place finishes the two years prior Tony shows 13.2 as his average finishing spot at Kansas Speedway. 162 points behind the Chase leader, Stewart will be driving for another win in Kansas this weekend.

After his win last week at Dover raised him to second place in the Chase standings, Jimmie Johnson is again a valid contender for the Championship. Johnson won at Kansas in 2008, has finished outside the top ten in just two of his eight starts, and shows a 10.2 average finish. Jimmie will be looking for Victory Lane again this weekend with hopes of getting to the top of the Chase Leader Board.

 Points leader Denny Hamlin has five Cup starts at Kansas Speedway; just one of those has given him a top ten finish. With momentum and confidence in his court I cannot see how Denny will not find his way to a competitive race on Sunday, however. Hamlin has proven he is more than competent on the smaller ovals this year and with his win at Richmond, a ¾ mile D-oval, he should be able to transform his small track skills to the larger D-oval in Kansas.

Mark Martin comes to Kansas showing four top ten finishes in nine Cup Series starts at this track. Martin has won at this track once, and placed in the top five on one additional occasion. At Intermediate tracks, Mark has ended his day of racing in the top ten 56% of the time. 2010 has not been a great year for Mark by any means, but this could be his weekend to get back into the headlines.

Jamie McMurray has not seen a top ten finish at Kansas since his first two Cup races there in 2003 and 2004. Jamie qualified in the 4th position in 2009 but finished in a disappointing 31st place. Just on the edge of the Chase for the latter part of the regular season, McMurray finished just outside of the top ten last week in 13th place. Jamie has proven his worth this year on the big tracks but is under his average for the Intermediates. Throughout his career McMurray has historically finished in the top ten in 30% of his races at Intermediate tracks. With another good qualifying run at the Kansas Speedway and a mistake-free day in the pits, the #1 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet should be in the top ten by then end of his 400 laps.

 Martin Truex, Jr. is my surprise top ten finisher of the week. In his four Cup Series starts at Kansas his best finish has been a 11th in his freshman year of 2006. Truex made his way to a 16th place finish in the 2009 Price Chopper 400. What may work in Martin's favor is his 8th place performance this year at the August Michigan race. The Michigan two mile track has similar banking to Kansas all the way around and the same five degree banking on the long backstretch. The #56 NAPA Toyota Team should find that a similar set-up will find them running competitively throughout the day.

Greg Biffle, in 9th place in Chase standings, has the second best average finish at Kansas with a 9.0, just one-tenth behind Jeff Gordon. Greg won the 2007 race in Kansas, has finished in the top ten in another four of his eight career Cup starts at the track. With over 42% of Biffle's starts at Intermediate tracks ending with top ten finishes, and 62.5% of his starts at Kansas resulting in top tens, Greg should be coming to the Midwest with a good amount of confidence.

Juan Pablo Montoya has started three Cup Series races at Kansas. During each of three appearances he has improved his finish from the previous year. In 2007 Juan finished in 28th place, in 2008 he finished in 20th place. In 2009 he finished the day in the 4th spot. Almost 25% of Montoya's starts at Intermediate tracks have resulted in top ten finishes.

 My winner pick for the Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft is Greg Biffle with Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin finishing in second and third. The remainder of my top ten includes Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Jamie McMurray, Martin Truex, Jr., and Juan Pablo Montoya. I am calling for another week of stress induced mistakes by the Clint Bowyer team as they await the next round of appeals hearings and predict that both Busch brothers will be non-contenders in this race.

Sprint Cup Series practice will air on SPEED Channel Friday beginning at 1 p.m. and qualification begin at 4:30 p.m., also on SPEED. The first practice on Saturday, starting at 12:30 will not be televised and although the second practice begins at 1:50 p.m. it will not air until 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening on ESPN2. NASCAR RaceDay begins Sunday on SPEED at 10 a.m. And NASCAR Countdown can be seen on ESPN2 starting at Noon. The Price Chopper 400, Presented by Kraft Foods will come on air at 1 p.m. On Sunday. Tune in to see how the Chase Leader Board gets shaken up this week!

Amy McHargue

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