Here's a closer look at today's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race from Kansas Speedway:
A Caution Shortage
Cautions are down 35 percent so far this season, and one of the direct impacts is there are far fewer opportunities for drivers and crew chiefs to dial in their cars during the course of a race.
Another consequence is with their cars not handling to their liking, drivers are less hesitant to race a competitor hard, which means less side-by-side action and more fields quickly getting strung-out.
Don't expect this trend to change this afternoon, as Kansas Speedway is a track notorious for producing long runs of green-flag racing. Something else to keep in mind: The races here often are decided on fuel mileage, which was the case last year when Brad Keselowski went 57 laps on a tank of fuel to score the unexpected victory.
Back-to-back on the mile-and-a-half tracks
Last week, the Sprint Cup Series raced on a 1.5-mile oval in Texas; this weekend the series races on a 1.5-mile oval in Kansas. It's there, however, where the similarities end.
Texas is a higher banked track, whereas Kansas features less banking and therefore slower speeds. Also, the grip levels are different, with Kansas being the slicker of the two.
Hendrick's continued quest for 200
If any of the four Hendrick cars were to win today, it would mark the 200th time a Hendrick car has gone to Victory Lane. Coincidently, the last time a Hendrick driver picked up a checkered flag it was here last fall when Jimmie Johnson cruised to the victory. With that in mind, know that both Johnson and Jeff Gordon have won here previously and enter today confident that they have one of the cars to beat.
Can Roush continue to roll?
As demonstrated by 52 of its 127 victories having come on a track that could be classified as of the intermediate variety –including last week in Texas – logic dictates that Roush Fenway Racing should factor into the outcome this afternoon. Although the RFR Fords didn't qualify particularly well – Greg Biffle starts 16th, Matt Kenseth 18th and Carl Edwards 21st – don't give their slowness in qualifying a second thought, as all three showed speed in practice while in race trim.
Hometown boys looking for a win
Three guys in today's race – Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray – refer to Kansas Speedway as their home track and each desperately want nothing more than to win in front of the partisan crowd. Something none of them have yet to accomplish.
• Ten drivers – Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart – have started all 12 Cup races held at Kansas and each will be taking the green flag today.
• This marks the second time AJ Allmendinger has started a Sprint Cup race from the pole. The last time was Phoenix 2010, and on that day ‘Dinger led the opening 17 laps before sliding back to finish 15th.
• Don't expect much out of Kyle Busch today. In nine Kansas starts he has a just one top-10 finish and his average finish is 21.1.
1. Greg Biffle
Thanks to a victory last week which upped his point lead to 19 in the driver standings, momentum will be riding shotgun this afternoon with Greg Biffle. And with the knowledge that Kansas is one of his stronger tracks – he has two wins, six top-fives and eight top-10s in 11 starts – Biffle and his track-best average finish of 8.3 is the easy choice as the favorite.
2. Jimmie Johnson
As good as Biffle may be here, Jimmie Johnson is just as good. The five-time series champ also has two Kansas wins next to his name and his Kansas average finish of 8.4 is just a smidge behind Biffle's. Even though the tracks are diverse, it can't be ignored that in the previous two races this year on 1.5-mile ovals, Johnson finished in the runner-up position.
3. Carl Edwards
Call me sentimental if you wish, but the fact is the man who grew up two hours from here in Columbia, Mo. has been consistently among the quicker cars on the track – his effort in qualifying aside. Although I'm not certain Carl Edwards' Ford is as strong as the 16 and 48 over a long run, if I were Biffle or Johnson I don't know if I would want Edwards anywhere near the lead in the closing laps due to his desire – some would say borderline desperation – to win on his home track.
There is a dearth of viable sleeper candidates for today's race, so essentially picking a name out of a hat, let's go with Paul Menard, who has finished 12th or better in two of his last three starts on the Kansas mile-and-a-half.