5-hour ENERGY 400 Preview
May 6, 2014
By Micah Roberts
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The 11th race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season takes us to Kansas Speedway for the third of 11 tracks with a 1.5-mile layout. We’ve already seen Las Vegas and Texas this season, and although the banking is much steeper at those two, we can apply what we saw there to this weeks event. For good measure, you can also take a quick glance at what happened at Fontana’s 2-mile layout on Mar. 23.
The chances are pretty good that best drivers from Las Vegas and Texas will find their way to the front quickly at Kansas. Last season it was Matt Kenseth winning at Las Vegas and then taking the Kansas checkers six weeks later and he would go on to win twice more on 1.5-mile tracks before the year was up. It was clear that both he and his teammates, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, were a notch above everyone else combining to win in seven of the 11 races I like to group together. Busch also won at Fontana two weeks after Vegas.
From what we have so far this season, it appears that the team with a slight edge over everyone else is the Penske Racing duo of Joey Logano, who won at Texas, and Brad Keselowski who won at Las Vegas. And then we have Busch who won at Fontana again, which should give us a great starting point to figure out who has the best chances of winning Saturday night. However, Busch does not have a top-5 Kansas finish in 13 career starts.
Somehow, Busch has been able to obtain great speeds on these type of track while his Joe Gibbs teammates haven’t fared so well. The drop-off with Kenseth compared to last season is quite significant, and while Hamlin -- last week’s Talladega winner -- has fought hard for respectable finishes, he hasn’t had a car capable of winning on these tracks. The good news for Kenseth is that he always runs well at Kansas, whether with Roush Racing who he won with in 2012, or with Joe Gibbs.
Just like Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson is still searching for his first win of 2014. He’s the all-time leader at Kansas with a 7.5 average finish in 15 starts. No one else has averaged a finish better than 10th. He’s finished in the top-10 over his last 10 starts there, including wins in 2008 and 2011. The bad news for Johnson and his team is that they haven’t found their rhythm yet. No top-5s at Las Vegas, Texas or Fontana.
Surprisingly, for the first time since Jeff Gordon brought Johnson in to drive the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports in 2002, Gordon actually looks to have the better and more consistent car. Gordon has yet to win this season, but does lead the series in points and is tied with Kenseth for the most top-10 finishes (7). Gordon won the first two Kansas races held (2001-02) and he finished third last fall. If we're using the April Texas race as a barometer, Gordon probably had the best car that day.
Then you have that goofy wild card of Kevin Harvick, winner of the Kansas race last fall. It’s all or nothing with Harvick who has won twice already this season, and it makes him tough to wager on. You know he’s going to be fast because of Las Vegas testing where he dazzled everyone, and if he keeps his car on the track, he has as good a chance anyone to win. But then, the ‘keeping his car on the track’ part looms large. Best advice is to keep a close eye on him during practice. If he’s super-fast on Friday, like he should be, then you’ll have to weigh out your betting options.
The one driver at high odds that has a legitimate shot at winning is Kyle Larson at around 25/1 odds (Bet $100 to win $2,500). He’s been so close already with two top-5 finishes (Texas and Fontana) and if he does win this season, it will be on this type of track.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #24 Jeff Gordon (10/1)
2) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
3) #22 Joey Logano (7/1)
4) #48 Jimmie Johnson (7/1)
5) #20 Matt Kenseth (10/1)