Even though Kansas Speedway is hosting its inaugural spring fling this weekend, the race already has a retro feeling, having been branded the STP 400.
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And with temperatures expected in the mid-90s this weekend, it’s already much steamier compared to the cooler weather that generally accompanies the fall event.
Matt Kenseth holds the track qualifying record of 180.856 mph (29.858 seconds) that dates to October 2005. And that mark likely is safe Saturday, considering practice speeds just barely reached the 170-mph range Friday.
The critical challenge will be finding a basic race setup for Sunday.
“Nobody has been here this time of year, really. We will start off with the things we have learned this year and apply that to last year’s setup when Greg (Biffle) won last fall,” Kenseth said of his Roush Fenway teammate. “That should give us a good starting point, and we will adjust around that.”
As an organization, Roush Fenway Racing has been dominant this season on 1.5-mile tracks like Kansas Speedway.
Carl Edwards won the Las Vegas race and took home the million dollars in the all-star race at Charlotte.
Kenseth was victorious at Texas Motor Speedway and led the most laps (103) last week in the Coca-Cola 600.
Biffle, who won last year’s race at Kansas Speedway and was in a position to win at Charlotte before a late-race caution, was fast off the truck on Friday. Biffle topped the speed chart in the first practice with a first lap of 169.189 mph in qualifying trim. But he preferred the feeling of the No. 16 Ford in race trim.
“The track is hot and slick,” said Biffle, who was only 15th fastest in the second practice session. “It is 92 degrees outside, and the track temperature is probably in the mid 140s. This place has gotten a little bumpier every year. It has lost a little grip. Naturally that is what racetracks do. It is hot, slick and hard to get a hold of.”
Biffle believes the conditions will produce “pretty good racing.”
“Everyone is kind of complaining, but you look at your lap time and it isn’t that bad,” he said. “It feels slow inside the car though. You feel like you are going turtle pace, and that gives you the sensation — especially coming off last week where it was pretty fast — that you are a lot slower.”
Edwards, who brought his personal trainer, Dean Golich, with him this weekend, feels his conditioning will help him survive the heat this weekend.
While Kansas’ 400 miles won’t be as grueling as the 600 miles the drivers put in last week, Edwards said Sunday will “be a tough race not only for the drivers but for the guys on pit road, the spotters, everyone.
“You start to get uncomfortable, and it is easy to make mistakes.”
That would suit Tony Stewart just fine.
He said Friday that the Ford engines “had an advantage right now over the rest of the field.”
Stewart said the Chevrolets are laboring through a 6-year-old model and the Hendrick engines have been fighting just to maintain.
“I think you’re bringing a knife to a gunfight right now,” said Stewart, who was hoping NASCAR would test the engines to see where the manufacturers stacked up.
Stewart will be happy to know NASCAR did take engines to the dynamometer after Dover on May 16. According to NASCAR representatives, the engines of Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Edwards were all tested and found to be within 3 percent horsepower of each other.
Edwards insists the teams are even.
“We can go out and look at the dyno stuff NASCAR has, if you like, but I can see it on the racetrack,” Edwards said. “(Roush Racing’s Ford engines) are not head and shoulders above other people — we have caught up. I feel like before we were behind and worked on our cars quite a bit, and now that we have caught up, it looks really good.”
But then he threw out a caution flag.
“We can’t lay off of our engine program. We have to keep moving forward,” Edwards said. “There are engines I raced against last weekend — and we were a little conservative in our package — that was making a lot more power off the corners.
“I am just going to have to disagree with Tony and say that we don’t have a huge advantage. That is what he is supposed to be doing. He is supposed to be kicking and screaming and looking for an advantage of his own.”
IN THE FIELD
The new point system created a lot of speculation about what it would take to make the Chase for the Cup field.
Certainly, the best scenario for any driver is to qualify in the top 10 in the point standings. But, failing that, drivers are wondering what the magic number of wins might be to ensure one of the two wild-card positions.
Don’t ask Kyle Busch. Though he’s currently fifth in the point standings and has two wins this season, he doesn’t feel as if he’s a lock — yet.
“There’s an awful lot of good guys that are scattered through 11th to 20th,” Busch said. “There’s a few good teams that are there and . . . can rattle off some wins right in a row. Ffor instance, I think Juan (Pablo Montoya) is one of those guys. He can win Sonoma and win Watkins Glen and — boom! — there’s a guy that’s already seated himself.”
Currently, only two drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings who are running for the Sprint Cup have posted wins — Jeff Gordon and Regan Smith. To be eligible for the Chase, however, a driver would have to win and be in the top 10 in points. Gordon is currently 16th in the standings, Smith 29th.
THE RACER’S EDGE RETURNS
In 1969, Mario Andretti carried the STP colors on his No. 2 Hawk/Ford owned by Andy Granatelli as he cruised to his only Indy 500 title. Andretti also was the National Driving Champion that year.
Three years later, STP signed on with Richard Petty and the iconic No. 43 car, a partnership that remained in effect through 1999 and four of the King’s seven championships.
Last Sunday, Andretti’s nephew John carried the STP colors in the Indy 500. It was the third consecutive season that John Andretti piloted the No. 43 with Petty as the owner. When Andretti drove the No. 43 for Petty in NASCAR, STP was the sponsor for the first two years of the five-year partnership.
On Friday, Petty unveiled the STP sponsorship with the No. 43 Ford on the Sprint Cup car driven by AJ Allmendinger. He said he felt honored to drive the Petty blue Ford in this weekend’s STP 400.
“I wake up every day, and I feel very fortunate to be able to get in the 43 and to have such a huge fan base when it comes to the number and the history of NASCAR,” Allmendinger said. “I think it just comes full circle now, to be driving the iconic 43 and now to have the paint scheme that, especially all the old-school fans, looked at and loved as they grew up and watched the King.”
Last week’s Coca-Cola 600 winner Kevin Harvick has led only 108 laps all season but has three victories to his credit.
“It’s been 10 years and we don’t lead a lot of laps,” said Harvick, who traditionally does not lead a lot of laps — just the ones that count. “We’re the same team we’ve always been. We race, we put ourselves in position and we see what happens in the end.”