Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: The Chase heads into Kansas

Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
The Chase is on - the points battle has locked up and the top 9 drivers are only separated by 19 points headed into Kansas Speedway this weekend for race No. 4 in the Chase. After two fuel-mileage races at Chicagoland and Loudon and a make-or-break race at Dover, the championship battle has become more difficult to predict than ever.

Kansas is the second 1.5-mile track in the Chase race schedule. We better warn you: Several races at Kansas have come down to fuel mileage, most recently in the spring.

Who has the best stats and is highly favored to win at Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400? Let us tell you.

The following drivers appear in order of their points position, followed by their stats at Kansas Speedway. 

1. Kevin Harvick - Atop the standings and quite a contender - By Melissa Wright
Top 5s: 1, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 0 

The NSCS heads to Kansas this weekend for the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Kevin Harvick, who has a 2011 season-to-date driver rating of 92.6, is currently tied first in the points standings with Carl Edwards. Harvick has yet to claim a victory at Kansas in the Cup Series. His past success at the 1.5-mile tri-oval consists of one top 5 and four top 10s. He has an average finish of 14.3 in 11 races, an average running position of 13.9 which is eighth best and a driver rating of 89.4. Harvick has ran 1,073 laps in the top 15. 

"Happy Harvick" is quite the Chase contender this year. He has four wins, eight top 5s, 15 top 10s, an average finish of 11.2 and has led 14 races for 343 laps. It wouldn't surprise me to see the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet up front battling to remain the points leader, especially when five of the Chasers have at least one win at Kansas.

“I think the competition level is so even. I don't think you're going to see anybody come in here and dominate like you have before, as far as just taking off and running away. You're going to be consistent and solid and it's just a matter of keeping yourself in it until you get to the last couple of races and if you can keep yourself in contention, hopefully you've eliminated most of the other guys in the Chase.”

Also, Kevin Harvick is running double-duty this weekend. He will be piloting the No. 4  Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet Impala as a third NASCAR Nationwide Series entry for KHI. Saturday's race will mark Harvick's third and final appearance in the No. 4 Chevrolet this season. This could be an advantage over some of the other drivers. He commented about running in the NNS this weekend, "I'm really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of the Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet Impala this weekend. I enjoy racing at Kansas Speedway. I have one Nationwide win at the track so far, so it's safe to say Kansas has been good to me. The track reminds me a lot of Chicagoland Speedway, only the bumps are in different places, and we have done well there too. All that, coupled with the fact that our intermediate-track program has been pretty good this year, I think we should do well this weekend."

Between running in both the Kansas Lottery 300 and the Hollywood Casino 400, Harvick is definitely a who's hot this weekend for race four of  10 in the Chase for the 2011 championship. 

2. Carl Edwards - Heading home in the heat of the Chase battle - By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 3, Top 10s: 6, Wins: 0 

As the NSCS heads to Kansas Speedway, Carl Edwards is looking forward to racing in his backyard. A native of nearby Columbia, Missouri, Edwards will be racing for his hometown crowd.

“There is absolutely nothing better than racing in front of your family and friends at your hometown track this weekend at Kansas Speedway," said Edwards. "A win there would mean the world to me.  We are going into Kansas tied for the lead with seven races to go and we are coming off a good finish at Dover.  We’d like to build on that lead and Kansas would be the perfect track to do that.”

Looking at the Chase performance of Edwards and the No. 99 Aflac team, Edwards is the only driver who has scored a top-10 finish in each Chase race thus far. He has also scored more points in the Chase over all the other 12 Chase contenders, putting Edwards into position to battle for the Sprint Cup title.

Headed into Kansas, Edwards is winless but in his eight races here he has earned three top-5 and six top-10 finishes. With an average start of 20.5 and an average finish of 11.4, Edwards has a top finish of second at Kansas, which occurred in 2008.

Crew chief Bob Osborne summed up the team's thoughts saying, "I think everyone on this team knows how important this race is to Carl. This is his home track and a win at Kansas would be huge for him. We are tied for the lead in the points now with seven races to go. It would be great to gain points at Kansas and Charlotte in case we need them at Talladega and Martinsville later this month.” 

3. Tony Stewart - Look for a solid performance at Kansas - By LJ Cloud 
Top 5s: 5, Top 10s: 8, Wins: 2 

Thus far in 2011, Tony “Smoke” Stewart won the first two races in the Chase, and has five top 5s, 13 top 10s, leading 15 races for a total of 377 laps with an average finish of 13.7.

After snarling at reporters over “stupid” questions as to whether he’d actually make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Smoke busted out back-to-back wins in the first two races of the Chase before the Monster Mile busted him. Last week at Dover International Speedway Smoke struggled to a 25th-place finish, so he’ll be looking for redemption on Sunday as he fights to become a three-time Sprint Cup champion.

He sits third in points going into the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Chicagoland’s sister track, where he has two wins, five top 5s and eight top 10s. With an average running position of 11.9 in 11 races on the mile-and-a-half oval, Smoke spent 81.8% of those 11 races in the top 15, which is fourth among Chase competitors. If the weather holds and Smoke holds true to form, look for a solid, if not breakout, performance.

If he pulls one out at Kansas, maybe he should try climbing the fence again. 

4. Kurt Busch - In the perfect position headed into Kansas - By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 3, Wins: 0 

Momentum means everything and Kurt Busch has it on his side as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway this weekend for the fourth race in the Chase. Coming off a successful first place finish at Dover and with recent Kansas winner Keselowski as a teammate, the No. 22 is in the perfect position to earn his first Kansas victory.

Busch's best finish at Kansas is a sixth place that came in 2004, the same year he won the Nextel Cup. In 11 starts, the driver of the Shell/Pennzoil Dodge has one pole and three top-10 finishes. In the June race, Busch finished ninth after starting on the pole. Only nine points behind the leader, a win this weekend could put Busch within striking distance for the trophy in Homestead. 

5. Jimmie Johnson - Searching for a second win and the points lead - By Holly Machuga
Top 5s: 3, Top 10s: 8, Wins: 1 

The five-time Sprint Cup champion finds himself sitting fifth in the point standings as the series heads to Kansas, which is unusual for the team.

In addition to the stats you see above, Johnson has three poles, an average start of 9.7, and an average finish of 9.1. The 48 team is searching for their second win of the season. Will this be the week that Johnson reclaims his points-leading status? 

6. Brad Keselowski - Riding momentum from June's win - By Lacy Keyser
Top 5s: 1, Top 10s: 1, Wins: 1 

In three starts at Kansas Speedway, Brad Keselowski has an average finish of 12.3. Keselowski has very high momentum coming from his big win here back in June.

After a 20th-place finish last weekend at Dover, you know Keselowski is going to want to step up his A game. Keselowski dropped to sixth in the points and is looking to gain back points, maybe even take the lead.

With his track record at Kansas, I think Keselowski is a force to be reckoned with, as he did win here last time. Be on the lookout for that Blue Deuce. 

7. Matt Kenseth - Looking for a strong finish at Kansas - By Katy Lindamood
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 5, Wins: 0 

Known for his consistency, Matt Kenseth has been anything but in his 11 starts at Kansas Speedway. Although his average start is 14.4, he's finished outside the top 15 six times and has never been to victory lane at the Midwest track. In June, Kenseth finished solidly in the top 10 but didn't lead any laps. This weekend the No. 17 team needs a good finish to remain in the title hunt.

According to Kenseth, the key to Kansas is ensuring that the car is good for the long run and keeping up the excellent work on pit road. This week Kenseth said, "The thing about Kansas that makes it a little different is the pavement, and how the surface has started to wear out, which is a good thing for us when we’re racing. It’s important to have good balance on new tires in order for our Crown Royal Ford to still be good at the end of a run. We work hard to make sure that our car drives well throughout the entire run at Kansas, and if we can do that and continue our great work on pit road, we should have a strong finish Sunday."

Kenseth is seventh in the series standings heading into race four. 

8. Kyle Busch - By Genevieve Cadorette
Top 5s: 0, Top 10s: 1, Wins: 0 

Kyle Busch hasn't had any measurable success at Kansas, with only one top 10 in his eight starts at Kansas and that happened in 2006.

This season, however, Busch has set many records, including 100 victories across NASCAR's top three series and 50 Nationwide wins, the most in series history. Busch has four Cup wins this season, tied with Kevin Harvick for the most of all drivers, so it wouldn't be beneath him to have a successful run and a victory this weekend. A first-time victory has been the theme of the season, so a first victory at this track would be fitting for Busch. 

9. Jeff Gordon - A lot of work ahead of him in the Chase - By Genevieve Cadorette
Top 5s: 8, Top 10s: 9, Wins: 2 

Jeff Gordon returns to Kansas, a racetrack he likes and has succeed at several times. Finishing in the 12th spot in Dover last weekend, he dropped to ninth position in the points standings. Going into the Chase, Gordon was a fan favorite; he's also in the top 10 for NASCAR's Most Popular Award. To be able to contend for the Cup title this season, Gordon has a lot of work ahead of him.

"I guess we are somewhat fortunate," Gordon said. "We've had only one good race out of three (in the Chase), but we're down only 19 points. That doesn't have to be made up in one event. Seven races is a lot of races. But every race is important. It doesn't matter what track you are going to and what your past experience or stats are there. It's all about what you do these next seven weeks. That's all it boils down to." 

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Time to sink or swim - By Amanda Ebersole
Top 5s: 1, Top 10s: 5, Wins: 0 

Making the Chase is a huge accomplishment for any driver, but at the end of the season only the top 10 drivers make it to the end of season banquet in Las Vegas. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in that 10th position and as the saying goes, "It's time to sink or swim." For Earnhardt Jr., he needs to swim like his life depends upon it.

Winless since June 15, 2008, Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte have made great strides this season. With five top 10s at Kansas, Earnhardt said what he likes about Kansas. "It's a relatively new track. It's a lot fun to race around. It's real wide with a lot of room to run high or run low."

Headed into Kansas, crew chief Letarte expects the racing to be reflective of Chicagoland. "You need to look at Chicago and that is going to be a sign of how this Kansas race will turn out. The first Kansas race was a fuel-mileage race and so was Chicago. I would expect nothing different when we go to this race. It's a little different than Chicago as far as the bumps go, but it will be the same setup and the same cars should be fast there. I look for the cars that were fast at Chicago to be fast at Kansas." 

11. Ryan Newman - In need of a strong performance - By Lindi Bess
Top 5s: 3, Top 10s: 4, Wins: 1 

Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, won the July race in Loudon and then started from pole this past Sunday at Dover International Raceway. After having led 62 laps, with the possibility of a top-10 finish, the No. 39 lost track position when a tire went down.

Entering this week’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Newman, crew chief Tony Gibson and the rest of the Haas Automation team know they must exit the 1.5-mile oval with a great finish if they are to have any chance at winning the championship. 

12. Denny Hamlin - All but out of title contention, but not out of chances to win - By Rebecca Kivak
Top 5s: 2, Top 10s: 2, Wins: 0  

Denny Hamlin sits in the last spot in the Chase standings, 68 points behind co-leaders Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards. With a deficit equivalent to nearly one and a half races back, the driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota is all but out of title contention this year. Hamlin has an average finish of 26th in the first three Chase races, disappointing for last year's runner-up to the title. But it also puts Hamlin in the position to go all out for wins. His next shot comes this weekend at Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400, the fourth event in the 10-race Chase.

After a strong performance at Kansas in the spring, Hamlin must be eager to return. According to his stats, he has steadily shown improvement at the 1.5-mile intermediate track. In seven starts, Hamlin has an average finish of 15.7. But in his last three starts, Hamlin has finished twice in the top 5. This includes his career-best finish of third in the spring, where Hamlin led three times for 34 laps. Before the June race, he had led for only two laps at Kansas in his Cup career.

Hamlin and the No. 11 team also played the gas mileage game to their benefit here in the spring, which may come in handy this weekend as two of the three Chase races have come down to fuel strategy. 

Check back with Skirts and Scuffs on Monday for our Kansas recap of the 12 Chase drivers.
Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: The Chase heads into Kansas Skirts and Scuffs Takes on The Chase: The Chase heads into Kansas Reviewed by Admin on Friday, October 07, 2011 Rating: 5