Fantasy NASCAR race preview: STP 400

by Eric McClung on June 1, 2011 @ 10:54:57 PDT

 


One of the newer venues in NASCAR, Kansas Speedway will hold two Sprint Cup Series events per season starting this year. While the track is 1.5 miles in length, like many others on the circuit, Kansas features the least amount of corner banking. Those looking for the best comparison should turn to Chicagoland Speedway, which will open the Chase in mid-September.

Owners can also study trends from the three races already held this season on 1.5-mile tracks: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Once again, owners facing prequalifying deadlines will get the benefit of two Friday practice sessions prior to qualifying on Saturday. Checking these results is a huge benefit in order to see what drivers have unloaded with an early edge and are most likely to score a prime starting position.

Location: Kansas City, Kan.
Shape: Tri-Oval
Length: 1.5 miles
Laps: 267
Turns: 15 degrees
Front stretch: 10.4 degrees
Back stretch: 5 degrees

Drivers to keep an eye on

Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

While Earnhardt was a non-factor a year ago at Kansas, he led 41 laps in the 2009 event prior to blowing an engine. From 2006-08, Earnhardt finished 13th or better, including two top-10s, with an average running position of at least 10th in all three starts. This season, Earnhardt is one of only three drivers to record a top-10 finish in each race held on a 1.5-mile track. While last week's fuel mileage gamble came up short, Earnhardt is only two top-10s away from matching last year's total and should inch one step closer in Kansas.

Tony Stewart | No. 14 The Glades/Office Depot Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing

Tony Stewart driver Stewart-Haas Racing

In addition to a pair of wins, Stewart owns three other top-fives at Kansas over the last eight years. In addition, heís led at least one lap in five of the last six, but the last two starts have been particularly impressive. Stewart won the 2009 event with an average running position of third. Last year, he led twice as many laps while finishing fourth. Combined, Smoke spent 99.4 percent of the laps running in the top 15. Stewart's best race of this season came at Las Vegas, another 1.5-mile track, where he led 163 of 267 laps and finished as the runner-up.

Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M/Walgreens Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

With an average finish of 8.1 in nine career starts, Kansas is a track where Biffle is at his most consistent. Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Biffle's average running position has never dipped below 10th. In addition to winning last year's event, he registered another victory in 2007 with a pair of third-place results sandwiched in between. While The Biff isn't always the safest play, low ownership in most format's figures make him a great value.

Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

After only one top-10 in the first eight races of the season, Hamlin has started to turn things around with three such results over the last four. On 1.5-mile tracks this season, Hamlin has finished 15th or better in all three, including two top-10s. At Kansas, he's finished 12th or better over the last three and is another driver coming at a nice value because of early season struggles.

A.J. Allmendinger | No. 43 STP Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

With team owner and legendary driver Richard Petty serving as the grand marshal this week, Allmendinger will be sporting the King's iconic blue and red paint STP scheme. In addition to an average finish of 12th in three career starts at Kansas, Dinger is coming off a season-high fifth-place finish at Charlotte and has qualified on the outside pole in two straight attempts. While getting Petty's No. 43 back into Victory Lane would be a fitting tribute, fantasy owners will settle for another consistent run by Allmendinger in the nationís heartland.

Marcos Ambrose | No. 9 Stanley Ford | Richard Petty Motorsports

Owners no longer have to wait for the summer road course races to get Ambrose in their lineups. Once considered, at best, a mediocre option on intermediate tracks, Ambrose has finished sixth or better in all three 1.5-mile races held thus far. Indeed, the Australian's average finish of 5.3 in those events is currently the best among the field. Despite an average finish of 28th in three career starts at Kansas, Ambrose finished 14th in 2009 and is primed to best that result.

David Ragan | No. 6 UPS Ford | Roush Fenway Racing

After going two full seasons without a top-five finish, Ragan has two such results over the last four starts, highlighted by a runner-up performance last week at Charlotte. Prior to that, he finished seventh a few weeks ago at Texas. At Kansas, he's finished 16th or better in three of his four career starts. With his Roush teammates owning their own impressive resumes at Kansas, the march to Ragan's first Cup win could end very soon.

David Reutimann | No. 00 Tums Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing

After scoring a win earlier last year at Chicagoland, the most similar track to Kansas, Reutimann never had much of a chance to prove his worth at Kansas. After running as high as ninth, contact with Kyle Busch on Lap 52 sent Reutimann spinning and ultimately several laps down. In 2009, he finished eighth at Kansas with an average running position of ninth and 99.3 percent of laps spent running in the top 15. Coming off their first top-10 of this season, the double zero crew heads to another 1.5-mile track, their specialty, after capturing some much needed momentum.

Temper your expectations

Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports

The career numbers say start Gordon at Kansas. The recent performance on 1.5-mile tracks says be careful. After winning the first two races ever held at Kansas, Gordon has added five more top-fives, including four straight. Over the last three, he's held an average running position of at least seventh while spending more than 98 percent of the race in the top 15. However, Gordon has not finished on the lead lap in a 1.5-mile race this season. Unless he lights up the practice speed charts, you may want to pass until Gordon finds his mojo again.

Joey Logano | No. 20 Home Depot Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing

While Logano has won each of the last two Nationwide races at Kansas, he's yet to get it going on the Cup level. Despite qualifying fourth a year ago, Logano finished 17th after spending just 39.3 percent of the race in the top 15. After he posted some very impressive performances in last year's Chase, Logano has become nearly invisible. Even though he managed to finish third last week at Charlotte, Logano did so with an average running position of just 23rd. This isn't the turnaround we've been waiting for.

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About Eric McClung

Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.

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