Friday, May 6, 2016

Mixed Bag: Five Questions for Kansas

Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
by Kristen Schneider

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Talladega anymore – thankfully.

We move on from last week’s insanity to dive into the heartland, where the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series prepare to take on Kansas Speedway. Some teams hope to recover from the chaos, and others look to dish out payback. It's a mixed bag.

Kansas poses many questions. This week, I tackle the new schedule, Clint Bowyer and a few other things that are on my mind.

Why aren’t schedule reveals exciting anymore? The 2017 NASCAR schedules were announced Thursday morning, and only a few adjustments were made. The Spring race at Texas Motor Speedway will now be a day race, Dover International Speedway’s first race will run after the Coca-Cola 600 and Kansas Speedway’s Chase slot will now be a cut-off race. The only “exciting” development was the removal of the June off-weekend, which upset many drivers and crew members. Other than that, it was a snoozer. Why? The agreement between NASCAR and the racetracks – which run out in 2020 – basically locks in the number of dates for each facility. Long story short, there aren’t going to be any major additions or removals from the schedule until the contract runs out While it’s possible to add a new track, the process would be difficult with all the other tracks in play. My opinion is that NASCAR needs some serious additions to the schedule such as another road course or putting Iowa Speedway on the Sprint Cup Series roster. Will these changes happen?  I don’t know, but if they do, it won't be for another four years.

After the long break, can Nemechek build upon Martinsville finish? The trucks are back in action this weekend at Kansas. Huzzah! In case you forgot what happened at the last race, Kyle Busch won with John Hunter Nemechek coming in second. The NEMCO Motorsports driver – who won at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this season – is also leading the point standings, so everything is going right for him at the moment. Can he keep the streak going in the heartland? Well, it’s hard to say, especially since the young driver has never raced at Kansas before. However, the track is similar to Chicagoland Speedway, and Nemechek won there last season. Both tracks are 1.5-mile tri-ovals with similar degrees of banking, which means it should have a familiar feel to Nemechek despite no previous experience. I think he'll be near the front Friday night and have speed once again, because the kid is just that good.

Will Bowyer’s Truck run jumpstart his Cup progress? Cup drivers are common in the Truck Series, but this weekend brings a name that’s usually not on the entry list. Clint Bowyer will race Friday night for GMS Racing, making his first series start in two years. At the sport’s top level, Bowyer hasn’t made much progress with HScott Motorsports; aside from his two top 10s, his average finishing position is 29th. It’s been a struggle to get acclimated to the new team, but can his Truck start bring back his competitive edge? It should definitely help this weekend. The reasons so many Cup drivers participate in the lower series are varied, but many agree that some races help their Cup performance. It depends on the track, and Kansas could be a place where running the night before could be beneficial. The other reason this could help Bowyer is the fun factor If Friday night’s Truck event is a fun time, then he may be more likely to do well on Saturday. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what he does in a Truck.

Can’t Logano and Kenseth just get along? Another race, another brick in the wall between Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. The wreck-fest at Talladega Superspeedway wasn’t kind to Kenseth, but the two tangled before his flip late in the race. This seems to be a feud that will never die – and it’s returning to its birthplace. Should we expect some sort of payback? Maybe. Kenseth is mad about how Logano raced him at Dega, and the Team Penske driver isn’t concerned with his grievances. I’m just surprised this has gone on this long. Some rivalries tend to fade out and lose fuel, but this one seems to have a lot of miles left in it. All we know for sure as we head into Kansas is that Kenseth is displeased – and that hasn’t boded well for Logano in the past.

Who needs to step it up at Kansas? We’re 10 races in – but some drivers haven’t gotten the memo yet. A lot of drivers need to get it together, and Kansas might be the place to do it. Among the drivers who haven’t had a great start, a few are decent at this week’s destination. Roush Fenway Racing veteran Greg Biffle has found tons of success there over the years, with two wins, seven top fives, and nine top 10s. RFR has seen a recent spike in performance, so the stars could align for Biffle to do well. Another driver in need of a boost is Kasey Kahne. He was on a short hot streak before Talladega derailed it. Five top fives and eight top 10s point to a decent day for the No. 5 Chevrolet. Ryan Newman, who hasn’t done much lately, is also worth watching with his one victory, three top fives, and six top 10s at Kansas. Richard Childress Racing needs a morale boost, and Rocket Man could be the one to do it. These three drivers are running behind in 2016. However, their Kansas stats provide some hope that they can salvage their 2016 seasons. 

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