Friday, October 3, 2014

Not in the Cards: Five Questions for Kansas

Credit: Ed Zurga / NASCAR via Getty Images  
And then there were 12. Who knew the brand-spankin’-new Chase would be so ruthless?

Four drivers have been eliminated from championship contention, yet it’s only the beginning. We can finally say what we all have been thinking: “This isn’t going to be a picnic.”

Frankly, if you thought it was easy, you can let yourself out right now.

This weekend’s edition of Five Questions includes analysis of Kansas Speedway’s role in said Chase, Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne and others. Just like the Chase, I’m bringing the heat. Let’s shake it up in the heartland.

Will Kansas pose a silent-yet-deadly obstacle? Ah, Kansas. NASCAR’s visiting the heartland this weekend, yet it’s not one drivers aren’t anticipating. No Chase drivers are thrilled. Why? Kansas Speedway’s spot on the Chase lineup can act as a curve ball. Not only is it an endurance race, but there can be tire issues to deter their efforts. We’ve seen blown tires throw off championship runs before (right, Kevin Harvick?), so some catastrophe may ruin someone’s Chase run.

Does Patrick follow up her impressive run? Speaking of runs, who else remembers Danica Patrick’s awesome showing when we were visiting Kansas in the spring? She spent much of the night in the top 10, impressing many of her fellow racers at the same time. The girl’s getting better every weekend, so is it possible she’ll repeat her results? Anything’s possible, especially with the No. 10 team. They keep making necessary improvements, ones that make long-term differences. I think she can do it if she keeps her eyes on the prize. You go, girl.

After a true nail-biter, can I predict who gets chopped in Round 2? Who expected that battle for the final transfer spot to be so thrilling? The bout between Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch lasted the entire race, and it kept viewers interested as Harvick, Brad Keselowski and eventual winner Jeff Gordon burned it down up front. Those eliminated – Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, and Aric Almirola—have the opportunity to rebound and finish as high as fifth in the final points standings. So, as we start a new chapter, who will get knocked out this time around? My personal picks: Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. Hamlin may have won at Talladega Superspeedway (the cut off race for Round 2), but he and the No. 11 aren’t in the right place to be a serious contender. Although Kenseth is solid on 1.5-mile tracks, he just doesn’t have it this year. He was locked into the Chase on points, yes, but he didn’t collect any wins. That’s what matters, and it’s something he can’t bring to the table. The final Joe Gibbs Race driver, the youngest Busch, is a fickle character this season. I can’t figure him out and decided if I can take him seriously this time around. I can’t picture him gathering himself up and going for gold; with the up and down season he’s had, it’s just not in the cards for him in 2014. Finally, Edwards is in a lame duck situation, a phrase many drivers have used to their advantage. The driver of the No. 99 has done that with two wins. Unfortunately, his Roush-Fenway Racing machine can’t compete with the Hendrick/Penske horsepower. It’s been a great final run for him with that team, but they won’t advance any farther.

Is Gordon now a stronger contender than Harvick? If I remember correctly, Kansas was where Gordon got his first win of the season and kicked off this hot streak. Since then, the eldest Hendrick Motorsports driver has fine-tuned his consistency and made his team even better. His win at Dover International Speedway last Sunday proved that. On the flipside, we have Kevin Harvick. He and the No. 4 team have been hit-and-miss year-round. The tire issue I mentioned before is just one example of miscommunication. His crew chief, Rodney Childers, is bringing the pan. Can the rest of the crew help Harvick bring home the bacon? I don’t think so; Gordon is more collected at this point in time. Nevertheless, these two will be dueling it out at the top.

Can Kahne kick it up a notch? This season should be nicknamed The Curious Case of Kasey Kahne. For one, I don’t know how he slipped into the Chase. The inner-workings of the No. 5 have been every which way: up, down, sideways, inside-out. It’s a miracle they made it into the playoffs. Then, they barely make it into the second round. I don’t know what Kahne has with getting in by the skin of his teeth, but that’s not going to fuel a championship run. If he wants to be a serious contender, he needs to knock out some wins and get going. There’s no doubt he can do that; he’s phenomenal at Kansas and Charlotte Motor Speedway. He can easily hit a hot streak and secure a spot into the third section of the Chase. Go get ‘em, Kahne.


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