Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway will be the fourth race on a 1.5-mile track this season and fifth race using the race package with engines producing only 550 horsepower.
The races at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Fontana, and Texas showed that Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have a substantial edge over all the teams getting two wins each.
However, it was Chevrolet that showed major gains in the last race using this package at Texas on March 31. In the first three races using this package, Kurt Busch was the only Chevrolet to have cracked the top-five doing so at Atlanta (3rd-place) and Las Vegas (5th).
The top-fives were littered with JGR Toyotas and Fords from Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. But at Texas, Jimmie Johnson started from the pole, led 60 laps, and finished fifth. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron led 15 laps and finished sixth.
Maybe Chevrolet has turned the corner and the improvements made from the Fontana race to Texas have been even more enhanced the past six weeks since then. It certainly has been obviously apparent in the last two races using two different packages with Chevrolet getting its first win of 2019 at Talladega with Chase Elliott and his HMS teammate Alex Bowman being runner-up the last two weeks and Elliott finishing fifth at Dover Monday.
Another sign that the guys with bow-ties are showing major progress with any race package is Kyle Larson finish third at Dover. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kurt Busch has been amazing in all packages, but Larson seems to find trouble weekly.
The good finish last week could create some nice momentum at Kansas where he led 101 laps in this race last season before finishing fourth as well as finishing third in the fall during the playoffs. It’s a good track for Larson if he can get some luck going his way.
Johnson is tied with Kevin Harvick for the most wins in track history which spans 26 Cup races dating back to 2001 when Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon won the inaugural race and then did it again the next race there in 2002.
Kansas has been running two races a season there since 2011. Johnson has a track record 17 top-10 finishes in his 25 starts while averaging a 10.5 average finish.
Harvick has the track record with a 9.6 average finish in his 26 starts, one of three drivers along with Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman, to have raced in all 26 Cup races at Kansas. He’s led 751 laps and has sat on the pole four times.
However, he doesn’t have a win yet this season with the new packages after having four wins at the same juncture in 2018. He’s been close to winning in this package, but there was never a feeling that he would hang on for the win.
He was fourth at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Fontana and then eighth at Texas. His 88 laps led at Las Vegas were the most.
His track history and the team’s natural progression to getting better to make this a good spot for SHR to get their first win of the season.
I’ve been discussing the “have-nots” and possibilities this week, but how about the “haves” who have been noticeably better than everyone?
Brad Keselowski won at Atlanta in his Penske Mustang. Then teammate Joey Logano beat him on the final laps in Las Vegas. Kyle Busch led a race-high 134 laps at Fontana, with Logano and Keselowski in toe right behind, while JGR’s Denny Hamlin won at Texas.
Keselowski won at Kansas in 2011 and Logano won back-to-back fall races there in 2014 and 2015. Kyle Busch grabbed his first and only Kansas win in 2016 but is on a run of eight straight top-10 finishes which mimics what he’s doing in 2019 where he’s been in the top-10 of all 11 races so far. Hamlin notched his only Kansas win in 2012 and has been fifth in two of his last three starts there.
Now we get to JGR’s Martin Truex Jr, winner of Monday’s weather-played race at his home track of Dover and who was our pick to win at 8-1. He’s been fifth or better in his last four Kansas starts which include a sweep of the 2017 season.
It was a long time coming for Truex who had some tough luck at Kansas over his career like late pit road mishaps in 2012 when he drove for Michael Waltrip and was runner-up in both races. He’s had the best car at Kansas on at least six occasions but has only two wins.
Truex was runner-up at Atlanta using this package but doesn’t have any top-fives in the three most recent races with it. He’s been much better with the 750 HP package.
So where does that leave us? More Penske or Gibbs? Does Chevrolet step up and get over the hump? Friday’s practices will help find the answer, but for now, I’ll ride early on with Joey Logano.
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