The storylines and drivers to watch for during the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Kansas will be a test of survival
It may not have the reputation of Bristol, Martinsville or Talladega, but Kansas has quickly developed into a track that chews up cars.
The treachery at the 1.5-mile oval stems from a freshly repaved surface which lacks grip and on every lap has drivers teetering on the edge of losing control. This race last year -- the first on the new surface -- produced a track-record 14 cautions, and the spring visit to Kansas in April wasn't much different. And the early returns through three sessions of practice suggest more carnage awaits Sunday.
On Friday, Jimmie Johnson lost control of his car off of Turn 4 and spun down pit road. He escaped without damage, though the same couldn't be said of Kyle Busch, who was involved in an incident Saturday. Just minutes into the first of two practices, his No. 18 Toyota slid up the track and made hard contact with the Turn 1 wall. As a result, Busch will start the Hollywood Casino 400 in a backup car at the rear of the field.
Also dropping to the back in a backup machine is Busch's older brother, Kurt Busch, who moments after Kyle's accident in practice was involved in his own crash.
All the mayhem has created the impression that Sunday won't be about speed and who has the fastest car, but who can survive 400 miles with their car one piece.
Goodyear's new tire is the great unknown
For just the second time this season Goodyear is using its new "zone tread" tire concept, which is constructed to be both durable and allow some drop-off in performance. Two-thirds of the tire has a softer compound that will increase grip, while the remaining inside third is harder and not susceptible to excessive wear.
One of the reasons behind the development of this tire was to increase the amount of passing on intermediate-sized tracks. Thus far, the results are decidedly mixed.
When this tire was used last month at Atlanta it received favorable reviews and the race itself featured plenty of passing. But Atlanta is an older multi-groove track and unlike Kansas, which has a fresh surface that is slick, lacks grip and has generally allowed drivers opportunities to pass.
"I really give Goodyear a lot of credit for bringing this tire here and trying to give us something to lean on these smooth race tracks like this where they have to build a very durable tire," Gordon said Friday. "We build a lot of shoulder heat in the tire because of the high speeds. When we say durable we mainly mean really rock hard.
"So to put some softer compound in there to try to give the car a little bit more forgiveness and grip I love it. It worked really well at Atlanta."
But not everyone is as enthused as Gordon about the new tire this weekend. Matt Kenseth, who won the last two Kansas events and four races this season on 1.5-mile tracks, has openly stated he preferred the old tire compound. And that displeasure has been reflected on the time sheet.
During an open test Thursday, Kenseth was 13th quickest out of 38 drivers. And while the series points leader has slowly picked up speed throughout the weekend, he's still not satisfied with his prospects for Sunday.
An old feud rekindled
A feud that had seemingly simmered dramatically came to a boil during Saturday's Nationwide Series race when Kyle Busch intentionally spun out Brad Keselowski. Afterward, Keselowski declared vengeance on Busch, who is third in points and in the thick of the championship fight, saying he would seek retribution.
"I have raced him really cool over the last year to be respectful to him and try to repair our relationship," Keselowski said, who did not qualify for the Chase. "I've watched him wreck my trucks and cost him from winning race. He put me in the fence in Chicago in the truck race and the Nationwide races he has been pulling this crap. It is not gonna last I can tell you that.
"I feel bad for the guys next to me that are going to have to fix his stuff. That is going to be part of racing and they are going to have to deal with it."
1. Jimmie Johnson
The cars of Joe Gibbs Racing have won all but one race this season on mile-and-a-half tracks. However, with Kenseth uncomfortable with the new tire and Busch in a backup car, Johnson, who has been quick all weekend, assumes the role of the favorite.
2. Matt Kenseth
After a wobbly start to the weekend Kenseth has made steady gains throughout, posting the fourth-fastest time in final practice. And his dominance on mile-and-a-half tracks is simply too much to think he won't be a factor again on Sunday.
3. Carl Edwards
A mechanical failure a week ago at Dover virtually eliminated Edwards from title contention. He says his focus now is pursuing a win; in particular a victory at Kansas, his home track where he's still winless. That could come today, as Edwards was fast here in April and has brought that same speed setting the fastest time in final practice.