The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visits the Midwest for the first time this year, with Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway (7 p.m. ET, FS1).
The Go Bowling 400 will be the 11th points race of the year, with Kyle Larson leading the driver standings ahead of Martin Truex Jr. (-54), Brad Keselowski (-61) and Chase Elliott (-75).
Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this event, while Kevin Harvick won here last fall in the most recent Cup race at the 1.5-mile track. Here’s what 12 of the top drivers are saying about this weekend’s race.
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The Cup points leader has cooled off a bit lately. In the first five races of the season, Larson had one victory, three runner-up finishes and an average finish of 3.8 in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. In the last five races, Larson has one runner-up finish, two top 10s and 10.2 finishing average.
“After a few short tracks and a superspeedway, the last few weeks, I’m looking forward to getting back on an intermediate track this weekend at Kansas,” said Larson. “Our Chevys have handled really good at the mile-and-a-half tracks, and we’ve shown some good speed at those places too.”
Martin Truex Jr.
At Kansas, Truex is The Heartbreak Kid. In this race a year ago, he had the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota out front for 173 of 267 laps before a brake-caliper bolt broke off and shredded a tire. A year earlier, he led a race-high 95 laps but got beat on pit strategy, while in April 2012, Truex led 172 laps only to finish second.
“No matter how many heartbreaks we had at Kansas I have all the confidence that our team will provide me with another fast race car and we will once again be competing for the win,” said Truex, who comes into the race second in points.
Since Kansas was repaved between the spring and fall races of 2012, Harvick has been lights out here, winning twice and finishing second three times in that period. His most recent victory came last fall in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing entry.
“Once the repave happened, we were able to really hit on some things and, for whatever reason, it kind of fits my driving style and we have gotten some good results out of it,” Harvick said. “It has been a really good-performing racetrack for us.”
Kansas is an interesting track for the 2015 champion and driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. In his first 14 races at Kansas, Busch had just two top-10 finishes and a best finish of seventh. But his last four races here have produced one victory, four top fives and an average finish of 3.5.
“Even the last few times before we won here last year, that we’ve had some really strong runs here,” Busch said. “… We’ve seem to have gotten a setup or a hold of this place I’d say and hopefully we don’t screw that up this time around.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With rotten racing luck so far this season, NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver may have to win to make it into the playoffs in this, his final season. The good news is Earnhardt and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet are pretty good at Kansas, where he finished third in this race two years ago and fifth in 2014.
“Kansas is a great racetrack for me,” said Earnhardt. “That place has widened out pretty good and you can run against the fence there, which is a line that I like to run. It’s a very fast racetrack and very smooth – a lot of fun, so we should have a good time.”
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The Florida native nearly won here in 2012, when he led 69 laps, only to have a cut tire ruin his chances of victory. Last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, Almirola matched his best finish of the year with a fourth-place run. But afterward, his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford failed inspection and he was docked 35 points.
“We're definitely on a good run here,” said Almirola. “The last two weeks have been really good for us. This team has worked hard all season, and we're finally getting the results to show for it. We hope the momentum continues this weekend at Kansas.”
In recent weeks, Blaney’s cars have been fast, but his finishes haven’t been good. Since Martinsville, Blaney has finished in the top 20 only once and he’s fallen from seventh in points to 13th. A pair of DNFs the last two weeks definitely haven’t helped.
“The last three races have had rough endings, especially when you consider we had fast cars at Bristol, Richmond and Talladega,” said Blaney, who drives the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. “I'm excited to get to Kansas and hope we can get it rolling and have a positive result there. I always like going to Kansas. I feel like it’s a track that suits this team well. It’s always been a decent track for me.”
The Prodigal Son returns this weekend to his home state of Kansas and he’s a solid ninth in points, with only one finish outside the top 15 so far in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
“Kansas Speedway this weekend in Kansas, I finally get to go home and I can’t wait to get there,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully, Saturday night I can get my first win at home. That would be huge. We’d have a heck of a party. Everyone would be invited.”
The seven-time Cup champion has been kind of all over the board so far this year, winning at Bristol and Texas, but struggling at some other tracks. Johnson expects a wild affair under the lights on Saturday night.
“Kansas is a pretty intense track,” Johnson said. “Last fall we were all over that racetrack, driving with some crazy intensity. I don’t think it’s going to change any going back this weekend. I know we have a different downforce package this time but we will use that entire racetrack and hopefully the Lowe’s team will put on a good show for the fans.”
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Interestingly, Logano’s Kansas experience is similar to that of Kyle Busch. Logano failed to finish better than 15th in his first eight Kansas starts, but has finished in the top five in six of his last seven starts here, winning twice in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
“I think we’ve cleaned up the mistakes that we had earlier in the year to where now we’re running as well as we should during the event, which is gonna help us score stage points because we all know how big that is right now and it will be forever,” said Logano.
Another driver in a bit of a recent slump is Elliott, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Elliott had three top fives in the first six races, but none since, and he finished 24th and 30th in the last two races.
“I feel like over the past few weeks we really haven’t performed up to our potential,” said Elliott, who is now fourth in points. “As a group, I think anybody in our group would feel the same way. We’ve had some fast cars at times. But, we definitely need to execute races; even on the days that your car is not driving like you want it to. That execution and doing everything correctly on pit road, restarts, giving the right information, can turn a bad day into a pretty good day. So, that’s what we need to do.”
Kansas is a great track for the 2003 Cup champion, who leads all active drivers with 774 laps led here. Kenseth is also tied for the most poles at the 1.5-mile track in the series with three, and most top-five (seven) and top-10 finishes (13) among active drivers at Kansas.
“I can’t tell you specifically why it’s become that way for our team,” said Kenseth. “There are just some places that you go to where it seems like our Camrys run better than others, and overall, Kansas has been a decent track for us.”