Night race creates uncertainty
Kansas Speedway traditionally stages races in the afternoon, but the installation of lights means the 5-Hour Energy 400 is a night race for the first time. The great unknown is how that will affect racing on the 1.5-mile track, especially factoring in a newly repaved surface, a hard tire compound and modified Generation-6 car.
Jimmie Johnson expects there to be an increased level of grip. That's a significant change considering previous Kansas races often appeared as if the cars were circling on ice with minimal passing.
Meanwhile, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick doesn't think there will be as many accidents as last fall, when 15 cautions slowed the pace for 71 laps. Tire and pit strategy will again be the overriding determinations in the outcome.
"There is not going to be a lot of falloff in the tires," said Harvick who won here from the pole last fall. "There are going to (be) some tire strategy games, but there is just no way around that when you repave these race tracks.
"I don't think it's going to be like it was when they dropped the green flag last fall here, but I think that the cars are not going to handle like they have been by themselves in a single file line. The handling is going to be different ... I don't think anybody really knows exactly where that is going to go and what the speeds are going to be and how much it's going to fall off. It's going to fall off some, but it's not going to be much."
Because of minimal tire wear, if the race does come down to tire strategy the prevailing wisdom is no tires would be the call at the end of the race. And with passing difficult and track position all important, the onus falls on crew chiefs to get their drivers in front by any means possible Saturday night.
"I see us pitting with two stops to go for tires and then that last stop will probably just be for fuel only," Kurt Busch said, "so we'll have heat in the tires on that last pit stop."
A still winless Jimmie Johnson
Although it's only been 13 races since he last paid a visit to Victory Lane, for Jimmie Johnson that seems like an eternity. Only twice in his career has the six-time champion gone this far into a season without recording a victory, and in a year where winning is so important, doubt has arisen that something may be amiss with the No. 48 team.
Not so says Johnson, who is unbothered by the notion that he's mired in some kind of slump -- real or imagined. The defending Sprint Cup champion points to near wins at Daytona, Las Vegas, Fontana, Martinsville and Darlington as evidence that his team is close to breaking through.
"Of course we want to win; we want to win every race we go to," Johnson said. "We have been in the ballpark and have been very close to victory a couple of times and it got away. Yes, there have been some poor performances. We are trying to raise that. I don't think that we are where we want to be as a team right now, but we have had a few looks at wins and I know we will get a few more. We just need to capitalize on that."
A two-time Kansas winner, Johnson was among the fastest in practice and should be considered a contender Saturday.
Kyle Busch just trying to escape Kansas unscathed
Typically strong anywhere and everywhere, big or small, road course or short, asphalt or concrete, Kyle Busch has long been perplexed by the Kansas oval. It's to the point now that the track has turned into a house of horrors for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who has crashed out of the last three races and has never finished better than seventh.
A changed mindset has Busch believing his past Kansas troubles are behind him. He proved as much by dominating and winning Friday's Camping World Truck Series race, an event plagued with a rash of cautions, and he plans to execute a similar game plan of patience Saturday.
"I had one of my best practice sessions (Friday) since they repaved this place, so I'm hoping we're a little bit better in race trim and we have a shot to get a decent finish tomorrow night, said Busch, who qualified 24th. "Just to bring the car home in one piece here would be a good start the way things have gone here the last three races."
1. Kevin Harvick
The clear-cut favorite for a number of reasons. He won here last fall from the pole, he's driving the same car he dominated with at Phoenix and he sped to the pole in Friday qualifying.
2. Joey Logano/Brad Keselowski
Team Penske has owned mile-and-a-half tracks this season, with Logano winning at Texas and Keselowski at Las Vegas. The two qualified second and third, respectively, and every indication points to each being players Saturday.
3. Jimmie Johnson
It's only a matter of time before Johnson gets his maiden victory of 2014. And why not at Kansas? A place where he's won twice previously and hasn't finished outside the top 10 since 2006, a stretch of 10 consecutive races.