Checkered Countdown: Top-Five Kansas Finishes
As the second round of the Chase continues at the Kansas Speedway, so does Checkered Countdown. Here is our top-five of the best finishes ever at this place.
The Kansas Speedway is a relatively new racetrack and the Sprint Cup Series has raced there since its opening in 2001. In 2011 NASCAR has added a second date there in the spring while the other race is held during the Chase. This weekend’s 400-miler will have a huge role in determining who will make it to the round of eight: with five chase drivers facing crashes or mechanical problems in Charlotte, they will be looking to rebound with a win to not risk at Talladega.
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In the spring Kyle Busch was the winner at a track where he had always struggled throughout his career. He will try to do it again and guarantee himself in the next round but will be fighting against tough competitors like Jimmie Johnson, the winner at Charlotte. Johnson also shares the record for the most wins at this track with Jeff Gordon. They have three wins each while Joey Logano has won the fall race in both of the last two years.
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No. 5 Brad Keselowski wins in fuel saving mode (2011).
This was the race in which everybody started to witness Keselowski’s ability of winning races on fuel mileage. He and his rookie crew chief Paul Wolfe had worked a strategy to get to the lead but needed to save a lot of fuel to win the race. Kurt Busch surrendered the lead to him when he pitted with ten laps to go.
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From there on it was just saving for Keselowski, who also had to manage his lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. He started pushing the clutch in on the straightaways and coasting through the corners to save way more gas. Earnhardt Jr was closing but not too much since he was saving too and this helped Keselowski win. It was his second career win and the first one for Wolfe. He ran out of gas during the post-race celebrations.
No. 4 Denny Hamlin holds off Martin Truex Jr for the win (2012).
In the closing laps of the 2012 spring race at Kansas the battle was between Hamlin and Truex. The two cars were mostly equivalent but lapped drivers were slowing Hamlin down. Coming to two laps to go Truex decided to try a surprise move on the inside of turn three. It did not work, he got loose and Hamlin cleared him again. The last two laps were run single-file and smoothly but the driver of the #56 Toyota gave it another try while coming to the checkered flag. He was too far back though and could not complete the pass once again. Hamlin won his second race of the season, while Truex’s winless streak continued.
No. 3 Carl Edwards tries an insane move but can’t beat Jimmie Johnson to the line (2008).
One of the craziest moves I can recall happened at Kansas in 2008. Johnson was leading during the final lap but Edwards had caught him. When the two got to the entrance of turn three Edwards was still a few car lengths away from the leader. Although he knew that would be his only chance to win, and dove to the inside of Johnson. He was carrying too much speed in the corner though, and the car slid up the track in what initially looked to be a perfect slidejob pass. It was not a slidejob though: the car never stopped going up the racing surface and slammed into the wall with the right side. Edwards didn’t give up and kept driving it, but Johnson easily got by him again and won the race.
No. 2 Tony Stewart runs out of gas on the backstretch, coasts all the way to the finish to win (2006).
Stewart is not known for his fuel-saving abilities. But in the 2006 Banquet 400 at Kansas he and his crew chief Greg Zipadelli won the race that way. Having inherited the lead from Johnson after he pitted on lap 263, he just needed to stretch it for four more laps to score the win. Running second was Casey Mears but he was 17 seconds back from Stewart, who could slow his pace way down. Just after the white flag though he ran out of fuel on the back straight and the victory seemed to be in jeopardy. But as he was crawling towards the finish line Mears started slowing down too, allowing Stewart to take the victory. It was such a chaotic finish that Stewart initially asked “where did we finish?” over the radio.
No. 1 Joe Nemechek gets his last Cup win in a close finish (2004).
A perfect weekend was what Nemechek had at Kansas in 2004. He got what would be his last career Busch Series win, and then the next day he did the same in the Cup race, sweeping the weekend. The two victories were both decided by very close finishes: he beat Greg Biffle in a photo finish in the Busch race and won by just 0.81 seconds over Ricky Rudd the next day.
The two had a fierce battle in the final laps. Rudd managed to get alongside of him while taking the white flag, but Nemechek retook the lead in turn one. He appeared to have pulled away on the backstretch but in turns three and four Rudd was stronger and caught him back. The driver of the Wood Brothers’ #21 had a run on the leader but couldn’t quite make it and Nemechek won. It was a magic weekend but “Front Row Joe” would never win another NASCAR race.