NASCAR Kansas 2013: STP 400 viewer's guide

Jerry Markland

An in-depth preview for Sunday’s NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway.

Here is a look at the storylines, notes and drivers you need to know for Sunday's NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway:

Storylines

The defending champ is out to send a message

With the news that his crew chief, car chief and lead engineer are all to be suspended six races (pending appeal), the team of the defending Cup champion will be severely depleted. But few drivers respond to adversity better than Brad Keselowski and that resiliency will be on full display in the next few months.

Eternally adamant that Penske Racing is up to the task of overcoming the hefty sanctions imposed by NASCAR, Keselowski is resolved to prove to the garage that what happened at Texas was merely a blip and will in no way affect his team's performance going forward.

However, while it may be a mere coincidence, both Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano have struggled at Kansas to find speed in practice. And this carried over to qualifying where Keselowski posted just the 32nd-quickest lap, by far his worst starting position of the season.

Gibbs vs. Roush

The 2013 season thus far has been defined by the dominance of two teams. Through seven races Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing have combined to win six of seven events and have five drivers ranked 10th or better in points.

Early indications show that Kansas will not be another duel between the two organizations. The Hendrick cars have been collectively off the pace and a rare "off" weekend appears in the works.

But devoid of its rival don't expect JGR to roll to its fourth victory of the year, as another team has risen up to offer a challenge.

Usually at its best on the intermediate tracks, Roush Fenway Racing lagged earlier in the year at Las Vegas and Fontana. But the team has found its mojo at Kansas in practice and then in qualifying had its cars near the top of the speed chart.

And with Carl Edwards leading the way, Greg Biffle, a two-time Kansas winner, and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. showing promise, Roush looks more than formidable this afternoon.

Track position is the name of the game

When the Sprint Cup Series last took to the Kansas oval, it featured numerous crumpled fenders, a rash of yellow flags -- a track record 14 for 66 laps -- and resembled more of a race at Martinsville than anywhere else.

The key difference from October's race compared to previous editions on the 1.5-mile oval was a new surface which increased speeds, limited tire wear and made passing difficult. And while the surface has aged some, speeds are still up -- evident by Matt Kenseth breaking the track record in qualifying -- and there is question whether drivers can race side-by-side.

Like in the fall, the STP 400 will likely come down to who can avoid trouble and best use strategy and track position to put their driver up front in the closing laps, and not necessarily who has the fastest car.

Worth Noting
  • After crashing in practice, Jeff Gordon was forced to use a provisional to make the field. Consequently, he lines up 43rd on the grid -- officially the worst starting position for the former champion in what will be his 697th career start.
  • For every lap that one of his Roush Fenway cars leads today, owner Jack Roush will donate $100 to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. And for any laps that they lead, team drivers Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will match the donation.
  • Following his victory at Texas, Kyle Busch has now won at 17 of the 23 circuits on the Cup schedule. Kansas, however, is not one of those tracks.
  • Martin Truex Jr., who was runner-up to Busch at Texas, also finished second in both Kansas races a year ago.
Favorites

1. Carl Edwards

This is Edwards' home track and he says he wants to win here more than anywhere else -- including the Daytona 500. Lining up on the outside of the front row, determined, and with a Ford that has been steadily quick, he has an excellent chance of getting that maiden Kansas victory.

2. Matt Kenseth

Starting on the pole and fastest in final practice, the October Kansas winner is poised to go back-to-back. One thing to keep an eye on though, is the 20 has had a habit this year of sliding down the running order late in races.

3. Kyle Busch

Ignore that Busch is in a backup car after hitting the wall in practice, as he still was able to post the fifth-fastest speed in qualifying. Also know that in the last five races he has two wins and three other finishes inside the top five.

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