NASCAR Barometer: Kansas
Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway broke records for the longest periods of green-flag racing at the track. The result of those long stretches of green was that teams needed to react quickly to changing track conditions, making fast adjustments while on pit road.
The team that reacted the best was Greg Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing. The No. 16 Ford was competitive the entire distance, and even while saving equipment, he powered by a very fast Jimmie Johnson. Also notable in their efforts were the veteran Mark Martin who, with Michael Waltrip Racing, produced a top-5 finish, and a second MWR car, Martin Truex Jr., who started from pole and rolled home in sixth position.
This week will feature yet another 1.5-mile oval, Kansas Speedway, where Biffle and other front-running teams have proved to be stout competitors.
Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-HAAS Racing and Roush all tend to be instant favorites on 1.5-mile ovals. Those three teams have performed well at similar tracks this season, such as Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas last weekend. Each of these teams has tasted success already this season, but it will be Roush that carries the momentum forward from last week.
Greg Biffle - Biffle can claim one of the best recent records at Kansas Speedway. He owns a win, three top-5s and has finished in the top 10 each of the last five races. His average result is 5.0, and has actually scored more championship points than Jimmie Johnson through those five events. Quietly this season, he turned in top finishes to claim the points lead, and then cruised to victory in Texas while seemingly not having to use all of his car in the process. Now that he made the breakthrough to victory, it will be hard to contain him. He would have been a top fantasy play this week even if he hadn't win, now he could be a must-play.
A.J. Allmendinger - Allmendinger has a new lease on life with Penske Racing and is rewarding the Captain's faith with solid runs this season. Allmendinger may have another opportunity in Texas to impress in the early season. Two top-10s in the last five Kansas races show that with the stronger team and car, A.J. might be able to seize opportunity. In Texas he wasn't quite as competitive as some earlier races this year, but he held his own and finished 15th, while his teammate suffered serious problems. Allmendinger has talent and is learning how to leverage his new team. Fantasy owners can confidently look for more reliable points from him this week.
Clint Bowyer - Bowyer has helped give Michael Waltrip Racing a shot in the arm this season with solid results, and Martin Truex Jr. rode the team's momentum to pole at Texas. An average finish of 14.6 in the last five Kansas races indicates Bowyer can find the fast line around the oval, and might be able to push his MWR chassis forward again this week. Bowyer has failed to finish inside the top 20 in just one race this season to date, squeaking out a 17th-place finish in Texas last week. The team's sister car of Mark Martin raced in the top 5 for much of the night, finishing third. Bowyer will expect more of himself this week.
Jimmie Johnson - Johnson narrowly missed victory last weekend in Texas, but just didn't have the equipment that could keep pace with Biffle. Last week's second-place result was Johnson's third top-5 of the season so far and moves him into eighth in the point standings. Similarly, this week presents a racetrack on which Johnson has met with success. The best average Kansas finish through the last five races at the track belongs to Johnson. With two victories, three top-5s and five top-10s in those races, the No. 48 looks like the best on paper again this week. Just two of his 11 career starts at the track have ended with finishes outside top 10. With his current form, and a strong history at this track, Johnson is a safe play.
Kasey Kahne - It is definitely a small victory for the team, but Kahne didn't encounter devastating race trouble last week, like he has in many races this season. He overcame a small mishap on pit road, where he was blocked into his box and rode home to a seventh-place finish. It was his first top-10 of the season. The team is playing conservatively now, after encountering anything that could go wrong in the early races, but the effort has paid off with a top finish. With a pole, a top-5 and two top-10 finishes in the last five Kansas races, Kahne will be hungry for more this week, especially after winning the weekend truck race. Kahne's average finish at the track in that time is 16.0, and if he can bring home another top-10, the results might come more often and more consistently.
Brad Keselowski - Keselowski had a horrific night in Texas. Just after the halfway mark, he was sent to the garage for not maintaining race pace. The hiccup that he experienced Saturday might not necessarily imply a rough race this week, but his consistency makes fantasy owners question playing him. Keselowski won at Kansas once last season, and finished third in the second race. The year before, however, produced a best Kansas finish of 13th, with the other at 31st. His average finish from four starts at the track is 10.0. He already claimed a victory this year, but the team's consistency has been suspect with three finishes worse than 30th, so consider carefully before resting hopes on the No. 2.
Joey Logano - Logano had an anonymous evening at Texas Motor Speedway. He finished the race a lap down in 19th position, never making his presence felt among the competition. After back-to-back top-10s to open the 2012 season, Logano slipped into mediocrity with best finishes of 16th (twice) in the five following races. He is lacking something that teammate Denny Hamlin has with the team, and it isn't just victories. It is the knowledge of how to turn a mediocre car into something that earns points. With an average result of just 27.2 in the last five Kansas races, Logano is not the driver to whom fantasy owners should flock. His lead-lap finishes in that span total just one, making him one of the riskiest fantasy selections this week.
Kyle Busch - Busch hasn't scored any top-10s in the last five Kansas races. He also failed to finish on the lead lap two of those times, giving him an average finish of just 16.8. He finished Saturday night's race in 11th position, which is decent considering he spent about a third of the race distance outside of top-15 runners. Busch couldn't get his car working the way he wanted at Texas but worked hard to get something out of the effort. One of the most talented drivers on the circuit, the No. 18 is expected by fantasy owners to win. While that may not come this weekend in Kansas, Busch will find his way forward again, eventually.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Earnhardt is having a much better season so far in 2012 than he has in the last few years since joining Hendrick Motorsports. His 10th-place finish Saturday night in Texas brought his season total to five top-10 finishes from seven starts so far in 2012. Unfortunately, he does not claim the best recent Kansas record. His lead lap finishes total three in the last five tries, include one top-5, but also average a finish of only 17.4. Earnhardt is clearly finding his way at Hendrick now, and a win can't be too far away. Unfortunately, statistics indicate something of a stretch for him to win or even add another top-5 to his season total in Kansas this week.
Ryan Newman - Stewart-Haas Racing may be on a great streak of momentum early in 2012, but Kansas has been a tough spot for Newman recently. The team as a whole struggled in Texas with neither Newman nor Tony Stewart able to find the setup that would allow their cars to handle on the quick track. Newman's average finish in the last five races at the Kansas oval is 16.0, and only includes one top-10 result despite finishing on the lead lap four of those five times. The team will work hard this week to figure out what it missed last weekend, but fantasy owners probably shouldn't expect the No. 39 to hop right back into Victory Lane again this week.
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