Don’t call it humdrum. The new Kansas Speedway, repaved following the 2012 spring race, went from milquetoast rom-com to grind-house flick with the addition of fresh asphalt.
In last year’s Chase stop at Kansas, a whopping 24.7 percent of the race was run under caution (the highest percentage of the 2012 Chase), thanks to 14 caution flags for a slew of chippy, ill-advised moves on a tire compound that manufactured such slam-bang action. In this year’s race, Goodyear brings a multi-compound tire similar to the one that drivers used Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, which allowed drivers to lane-hop with more ease.
Crazy track, plus a tire that allows a driver to move from groove to groove untethered? Expect the unexpected.
In a two-race sample size at Kansas, there isn’t much on which anyone can reliably bank. One driver, who fancies this particular 1.5-mile track type, stands a head above the rest. He happens to be leading the standings with seven races remaining in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
3 for 3 Matt Kenseth is undefeated in races at soft intermediate tracks — Kansas, Kentucky and Chicagoland — this season, going three-for-three.
Dating back to this race last year, he has won the last four out of five races (Homestead 2012 is the outlier) on soft intermediates, which are 1.5-mile tracks slower than the Bruton Smith-signature quad-ovals at Charlotte, Atlanta, Texas and Las Vegas. In other words, he’s a titan on this specific track type.
So how well does his team hold up?
In three soft intermediate races driving the No. 20 entry for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth’s car ranked first, second and second in single-race average green-flag speed. He’s had the outright fastest car just once (Kansas), but was aided in a Jason Ratcliff call to forego pitting in the final laps of the Kentucky race. There isn’t any reason to think that the team won’t supply Kenseth with a competitive race car and smart strategy on Sunday.
+8 Kenseth retained position 100 percent of the time in nine restarts in the Kansas spring race, gaining a total of eight positions in the first two laps after the green flag.
The amazing thing about Kenseth’s plus-8 is that those positions were all gained from the treacherous non-preferred groove, where it is about 30 percent more difficult for a driver to merely retain the position. He didn’t gain in the running order from the preferred groove, but that’s only because he started P1 on all five of those restarts. There is plenty to love about Kenseth’s driving ability, but his prowess on restart position retainment might be his best attribute. To other drivers, he is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a fire suit.
0.750 Kevin Harvick is a replacement-level driver in the two races on Kansas’s new surface, with a 0.750 Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER).
Don’t toss aside his chances at a point-padding finish, though; two races is an awfully small sample size and he could have scored a top-10 finish in the spring race at Kansas had he not lost two positions from the non-preferred groove on the race’s final restart (he ultimately finished 12th). He finished 10th at Kentucky and a sprightly third at Chicagoland.
-15 Since the repaving of Kansas Speedway, Greg Biffle’s average finish there is 15 positions worse.
Prior to Kansas becoming a 1.5-mile version of Darlington, Biffle was a reliable racer, averaging an eighth-place finish and scoring two wins. In the CoT era, he never finished worse than 10th. In the two races on the current surface, he averaged a 23rd-place finish (scores of 27th and 19th), suggesting he and crew chief Matt Puccia haven’t yet cracked the code of how to navigate around the new pavement. Because of his past accolades at the facility, he’ll pop up as a favorite for this weekend, but the reality is that in the two-race sample size we have for “New Kansas” suggests he’s more likely to be stymied on Sunday.
8 out of 10 Out of Kyle Busch’s 10 NASCAR Nationwide Series victories this season, eight of them rank among the 10 most dominant victories in the series.
The No. 54 team, with Busch as its driver, holds the top four percentage-of-laps led totals this season. While the Penske Racing No. 22 has scored more victories — 11, with four different drivers — the No. 54 has been the most dominant in its victorious showings. The most dominant outing? A romp at Chicagoland — a track shaped similarly to Kansas — where Busch led 97.5 percent of the laps. Busch finished sixth in the Cup Series companion event at Kansas last season, driving for his own race team. Now with JGR firepower and a penchant for passing out woodshed whippings, he returns as the driver to beat on Saturday.
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidSmithMA.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.