Go Bowling 400 Preview
May 9, 2017
By Micah Roberts
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I'm still smiling ear-to-ear with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.'s inaugural Cup win coming at Talladega last week and paying at 50-to-1 odds. He's the eighth different driver to win in the first 10 races and I'm loving the appearance of parity, but the Stenhouse win capped off all the typical drama of Talladega very well.
I want more of it, but we go Kansas Speedway's 1.5-mile cookie-cutter. I'm not terribly excited, but it's Saturday night, the lights are on and I'm hoping for a great night of thrills. Maybe a couple a post-race rifts? Hopefully. The craziest part of this season so far me is Joe Gibbs Racing not winning a race yet, and it's not likely to happen Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, either. These type of 1.5-mile tracks used to be JGR's bread and butter, but they no longer have any speed on them. They're no where near being close to where Team Penske or Kyle Larson is. Kyle Busch, who won this race last season, only has four top-10 finishes this season. Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth also have only four top-10s.
Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano each have a series-leading six top-five finishes.
I'm told the JGR lack of speed is likely to continue through the regular season and that the Toyota guys will have something spicy-fast ready for the playoffs, which if started right now Kenseth wouldn't be eligible to participate.
This is the fourth of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Keselowski won at Atlanta, Martin Truex, Jr. won at Las Vegas and Jimmie Johnson won at Texas. All three of those tracks are banked steeper than Kansas and run much faster. Larson finished second in all three of those races. Logano and Keselowski were each sixth or better in all three and Chase Elliott was fifth, fourth and ninth. Between the four JGR drivers, they combined for just one top-five: Kenseth's third-place at Atlanta.
I think we're going to see much of the same patterns from the first three races on similar tracks, and I think we can also throw Fontana in as great reference tool, a race where the same dominant guys did well with Larson winning and Keselowski, Truex and Logano all in the top-five. Looking at those four races should help you find the winner this weekend, but let's glance over some past Kansas history just to get a feel for who has shown to like how the track runs.
Kenseth has two wins and a track record 774 laps led in 22 starts, but he's a hard look this week with no speed. Kyle Busch has finished in the top-five in his last four Kansas starts, but he's a hard sell as well under current circumstances despite a nice four race run.
"We ran third there in the fall of 2014," Busch said. "I wasn’t there in the spring race of 2015 since that was the last race I was recovering from my injury, but (Erik) Jones ran up front until he ended up wrecking. Last fall, Adam (Stevens) and the M&M’S guys did an awesome job and we ran top-five again. The last few races there, the track really has started to change and the groove is starting to spread out, and it makes me more comfortable when a track gets worn in."
Kevin Harvick is an interesting candidate this week just because of his history which has seen him finish first or second at Kansas in five of his last seven starts. He's got two wins and has led 549 laps. The thing that makes him stand out most as a good bet this week is leading a race-high 292 laps at Atlanta and 77 laps at Texas.
Of course, Jimmie Johnson is going to be in the mix because he always is with. If fact, no one has been better than Johnson at Kansas, ever. His 8.9 average finish in 21 starts is an all-time record and his three wins is tied with Jeff Gordon.
“Kansas is a pretty intense track," Johnson said. "Last fall we were all over that racetrack, driving with some crazy intensity. I don’t think it’s going to change any going back this weekend. I know we have a different downforce package this time but we will use that entire racetrack and hopefully the Lowe’s team will put on a good show for the fans.”
Johnson is also a solid candidate to win Saturday night just because he won at Texas last month which was the last race on a 1.5-mile track.
We're not going to see any long shots hit this week like Stenhouse, but Ryan Blaney looks to be worthy as the top candidate at 30-to-1 or higher. He finished fifth in this race last year, but his Texas performance last month where he won the first two stages and led a race-high 148 laps was an eye-opener for me. They've got something special cooking with the No. 21, which uses Penske equipment.
One other driver to take notice of in final practices on Friday is Clint Bowyer who hails from Emporia, Kansas and is looking for his first top-10 at home since 2013.
“Kansas Speedway this weekend in Kansas, I finally get to go home and I can’t wait to get there,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully, Saturday night I can get my first win at home. That would be huge. We’d have a heck of a party. Everyone would be invited.”
Bowyer has finished 11th or better on all three 1.5-mile tracks this season. Also, his last win came on a 1.5-mile layout at Charlotte in 2012. It's been a while for Bowyer, but a win is coming soon.
The best thing of all about the race being on Saturday night is that no Mother will have to see their child harmed on Sunday brcause of racing. It's a dangerous sport and that's part of the reason Bill France never had races on Mother's Day. Well, that and gate receipts weren't expected to ever be very good on that day. "Momma likes NASCAR too, but on this day she's No. 1 and I'm taking care of her."
Happy Mothers Day to all the wonderful Moms out there. And most of all, thank you all for your unconditional love and sacrifice. We all may not say it enough, but we all mean it and are thinking it every day.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #4 Kevin Harvick (8/1)
2) #42 Kyle Larson (6/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (7/1)
4) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
5) #78 Martin Truex Jr. (8/1)