Fantasy Auto Racing Kansas Speedway 5 Hour Energy 400 Preview
MAY 08, 2014 4:46p ET
After last week’s nail-biting Aaron’s 499 the drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series head to a more predictable type of racing at Kansas Speedway, a place where the Cup cars have competed since 2001. The traditional 1.5-mile oval features progressive banking in the turns (17-20 degrees) and this will be the first Cup race under the lights at the track.
Track position and qualifying will return to the front of everyone’s mind this week after being minimized at Talladega Superspeedway. Four past Kansas winners have started from the pole position, including Kevin Harvick’s 2013 victory. Eight of the 16 races at the track have been won from the top-5 starting positions, and more than 60% of the winners have started inside the top 10. Like Talladega, Chevrolet has picked up most of those wins at eight, with Ford and Toyota much further behind with four and 2 wins respectively.
While there may not be too much for fantasy players to take from last week’s performances, track history at Kansas can give plenty of insight to this week’s contenders.
Jimmie Johnson – There is no better active driver at Kansas Speedway than Johnson. His 15 career races at the track have produced two wins, six top-5s, and just two finishes outside of the top 10. All of those results combine to give him an average result of 7.5. Johnson didn’t come away from Talladega with the result he and the team had been hoping for, and he continues to search for his elusive first victory of 2014. That wait may come to an end shortly if his past Kansas results are to be trusted. Johnson should make a great fantasy play this week, and you might want to think about nominating him as team captain as well.
Matt Kenseth – Looking back at the last 12 Kansas races, second in active drivers to Johnson is Kenseth. The driver has a rating of 109.6 in that time, and is one of just three drivers eclipsing the 100 mark in the period. Kenseth’s average finish in that 12-race span is 11.8, and his average running position during those races is 9.6. The former champion also has a stout qualifying record at the Kansas oval, averaging a start of 9.0. Last week’s Aaron’s 499 was Kenseth’s worst finish of the season so far after being caught in an accident, but considering that his five finishes leading up to that were all top-10s we’re not too worried about a hangover this week in Kansas.
Brad Keselowski – Though Keselowski doesn’t have as much Kansas experience under his belt as some of the veterans, the No. 2 is amassing quite an impressive career at the oval. He already snagged a win at the track in 2011, and scored two top-10 finishes in his last three races there. His average result from eight races is 10.3. Keselowski was criticized at Talladega for his hard racing while being a number of laps down to the leaders. Some drivers may wilt under that kind of pressure but Keselowski said prior to Sunday’s race that his major error in 2013 was a lack of aggressiveness. While that hard-charging attitude may not pay off at a restrictor-plate track, it could pay dividends this week on the 1.5-mile oval.
Greg Biffle – Biffle has to have been waiting to come to Kansas, a track where he excels. After a strong performance at Talladega, the No. 16 will be looking to build on that success and deliver a win to help lock him into the running for a Chase position. Biffle’s two wins, seven top-5s, and nine top-10s at the Kansas oval help him generate an average finish of 10.3. He only failed to finish off of the lead lap there once, making him a very safe option this week as well. Scoring three top-10 finishes in the last four races show Biffle is currently on form, and he could be peaking just in time to outperform at one of his best tracks.
Tony Stewart – On the fantasy selection bubble this week is Stewart. The owner/driver has a great Kansas record with two wins, six top-5s, and nine top-10s from 15 career tries. His average finish in that span is 12.3 and includes just three races where he finished outside of the lead lap. However, this season Stewart has yet to hit his stride. He failed to finish inside the top 20 in both of the last two races, and has only four top-10 finishes from 10 races so far this season. The summer is drawing near, and Stewart has a tendency to perform much better midseason than at the start. Fantasy players will have to consider Stewart this weekend, but need to remain aware of his recent trends.
Kyle Busch – Busch and Kansas Speedway have been at odds with one another in more recent history. The driver has just two top-10 finishes at the track in 13 career starts, along with an average finish of 23.3. He recorded four DNFs in that span, and hasn’t produced an awful lot from his six lead-lap finishes. To make the picture even clearer for fantasy players, the No. 18 has crashed out of every single one of the last three Kansas races. While Busch is never a driver that should be overlooked, this week at Kansas may present more risk than some fantasy players are willing to accept. That said, Busch always has the potential to buck the trends, but fantasy players have to consider the drawbacks too.
Brian Vickers – Fresh off of his second top-5 result of the season, Vickers is turning heads this year. After being out of the series for too long, the driver is back and ready to compete. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the Kansas pedigree that would back up another top-5 finish this coming week. His average finish from nine starts at the track is 20.9 and includes only one top-10 finish. His driver rating from the last 12 Kansas races is 70.1, which is unimpressive considering there are three fantasy options with values greater than 100. Resting Vickers this week comes with relatively little downside as he hasn’t looked the most likely snag the next win, but we do expect Vickers to continue his charge through the rest of the season.
Joey Logano – It may be hard to hit the brakes on Logano with his impressive results so far this season. His two wins have virtually guaranteed him a spot in the Chase, and he has been on song at most racetracks so far this season. However, at Kansas he has only tallied two finishes better than 15th in the span of his nine-race career. His single top-5 Kansas finish came in the fall of 2013, which makes it difficult for fantasy players to completely disregard the Penske Racing driver, but the predominantly disappointing performances prior to that run leave lingering question marks. Logano has been strong in 2014 and picked up his first Kansas top-5 in his last visit there, but questions remain.
Reed Sorenson – Of active drivers with three or more Kansas starts, Sorenson has one of the worst finishing averages at 31.2. That average comes from nine starts and just one lead-lap finish. Sorenson’s best finish season-to-date was 16th in the Daytona 500, but he has failed to finish inside the top 20 since then. Tommy Baldwin Racing is certainly a smaller team without the resources of the heavyweights of the series, and their performances are going to be impacted by that. Fantasy players may consider the No. 36 from time to time as a long-shot play, but this week at Kansas may not be the most opportune moment to pull that trigger.
Paul Menard – Each season Menard seems to start strongly, and the fizzle out as the season wears on. We thought that slow ramp downward was rearing its head in Richmond where Menard turned a top-10 starting position into a 24th-place finish. That was the second of a two-race slump that started in Darlington, but last week at Talladega the Richard Childress Racing driver banked his fifth top-10 finish of the season. At Kansas Menard has four top-10 finishes from 10 races. His average finish there is 16.1, and if fantasy players are looking for a bargain play this week, it might be the No. 27. The only question is just how much of a bargain will he be come race day.