Hollywood Casino 400 Preview
October 1, 2013
By Micah Roberts
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We've got three Chase races in the books with seven more to go and things are tightening up following Jimmie Johnson's win at Dover last week. Matt Kenseth still has the points lead, but it's only by eight points over Johnson and 12 over Kyle Busch. Johnson and Busch have finished in the top-5 of each Chase race while Kenseth slipped to a seventh-place finish last week after winning the first two races. But chances are, Kenseth will gain some more ground this week at Kansas.
There have been seven races run on 1.5-mile tracks this season, including the first Kansas race run in April. Kenseth won that race as well as three others at Las Vegas, Kentucky and Chicago to kick off the Chase. Kyle Busch has wins at Texas and Atlanta meaning that the only non-Joe Gibbs Racing driver to win on the cookie-cutter tracks was Kevin Harvick at Charlotte in late May. Kenseth and Busch are a notch above everyone else on these type of tracks and there is no reason to indicate that anything will change this week.
Johnson has never been shut out of a season on the big horsepower 1.5- and 2-mile tracks, but he's on the verge this year as none of his five wins this season have come on the type of track it takes to win a championship, and the type that four of the remaining seven races will be on. Of the 10 races between 1.5- and 2-mile tracks this season, Johnson has only two top-5 finishes.
However, one of those came at Kansas and the other came at Chicago. Johnson has always been good at Kansas. He's a two-time winner and has a track best 7.6 average finish in 14 starts. His fifth-place finish at Chicago might be the most encouraging if looking to support Johnson this week at the bet windows, because it was the last race run on these type of tracks. It's been a uphill climb for the No. 48 team all season on these tracks, but they might finally be ready to navigate themselves to the winners circle on one. Kansas would be their best opportunity of the bunch, but the Gibbs dup will be tough to beat.
Kasey Kahne's Chase couldn't have started worse, but he should find himself competing for the win this week. He's currently last in points among the 13 Chase drivers, 78 points behind Kenseth, and 12 behind Joey Logano in 12th-place, but he's been strong all season on the type of tracks. He hasn't won on one yet this year, but he has been runner-up three times, including Kansas. He's finished eighth or better over his last four starts at Kansas.
Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick are having great Chase runs, and currently sit tied at fourth in the standings, 39 points behind Kenseth. Gordon is still looking for his first win of the season, and Kansas might be a place he can make a move in points. He won the first two races ever held at at Kansas in 2001-02 and has an 11.1 average finish in 15 career starts there.
Harvick has never won at Kansas, but should be considered a candidate not only because he won at Charlotte, but because of how well he performed in the last 1.5-mile race at Chicago where he finished third, just behind Kenseth and Busch.
Nobody is talking about Greg Biffle and he's quietly sitting sixth in points, 41 points from the leader, but Kansas has always been one of his better tracks. He's two-time winner there, the last in 2010, and has the third best average finish (10.1) behind Johnson and Brad Keselowski (9.3).
Kurt Busch has never had a top-5 finish at Kansas in 15 career starts, and doesn't have a win on the season, but he should fare well this week based on what he's done recently on these type of tracks. Beginning with a third-place finish at Charlotte in May, he finished sixth or better in his past four starts on 1.5-mile tracks.
Martin Truex, Jr. also shown some punch on these types of tracks over the past two seasons. He finished fourth in the April Kansas race and was runner-up there twice last season.
In Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s last two races at New Hampshire and Dover, he actually looked like he was part of the Hendrick Motorsports program. He was fast and competed for the win in each. He hasn't done much of anything on 1.5-mile tracks this season, but there is a noticeable change with his team, which should make it interesting to see how things unfold for him Sunday.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #20 Matt Kenseth 5/1
2) #48 Jimmie Johnson 6/1
3) #18 Kyle Busch 6/1
4) #24 Jeff Gordon 12/1
5) #5 Kasey Kahne 8/1