There will be a battle of home-track bragging rights for Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards on Sunday.
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Bowyer hails from Emporia, Kan., about 100 miles south of Kansas Speedway, while Edwards still lives in Columbia, Mo., about a two-hour drive west.
Neither driver has won a Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series race at Kansas. And Bowyer had never won on a 1.5-mile track — until Saturday‘s Camping World truck race.
As he crossed the finish line, Bowyer exclaimed, “Hell, yeah, boys, got me one at home!”
But what would it mean to Bowyer to pick up a double this weekend in Kansas?
“We’ve gotten close here, we’ve had good runs here, but we have never been able to seal the deal,” Bowyer said. “To finally be able to do a burnout on the front stretch in front of that crowd is big, man. It’s a good feeling.
“This place means a lot to me. I watched this place being built. I dreamed of being able to race here in anything and to be able to roll into victory lane . . . is pretty cool . . . But I want to win a Cup race here bad.”
Bowyer’s win was the first national NASCAR victory by a Kansan at the track. In his previous five Sprint Cup starts, his best finish in front of the hometown fans came in 2007, when he finished second to Greg Biffle, who coasted “at a cautious pace” to the finish.
Overall, Bowyer’s average finish at Kansas is 11.8.
Edwards captured his Kansas truck victory in 2004. In the Sprint Cup Series, Edwards has an average finish of 12.3 at Kansas in seven starts. His best finish at the track was also second place, when he narrowly lost to Jimmie Johnson by 0.280 of a second.
With the success Roush Fenway Racing has enjoyed this season, Edwards, the current NASCAR Cup points leader, said he feels as if this race is his best shot at a breakthrough win at Kansas.
He also acknowledged that a victory this close to home “would mean a lot to me.”
“We have been running really well,” Edwards said. “ . . . Our mile-and-a-half program has been on a tear. This could be a good shot. Practice was good. We weren’t the fastest car, but the balance wasn’t perfect, so now we are going to tune on it in the next couple of days and (crew chief) Bob (Osborne) will do his magic with the computer and come up with a good setup.
“I am really excited to run this race. This is the most excited I have ever been to run this race in my Cup career. I am looking forward to it.”
Bowyer will carry the momentum of the truck victory with him on Sunday. However, he’ll have to come from the 27th starting position. That doesn’t intimidate Bowyer. Nor does the challenge of an aging track combined with steamy temperatures that are expected to peak in the high 90s on Sunday.
“As these tracks age, these 1.5-mile tracks, I feel like they get a lot better,” Bowyer said. “The racing gets better. The groove widens out. It really becomes a multi-groove racetrack, and that’s what excites me about this place. It’s slick, man, I’m telling you.
“Every time I come back here, the track gets slicker and slicker — where they’ve tarred and patched the cracks are really slick. You’ve got to be conscious of those and not get on those; cross them or try to drive on them you run your right sides on them you could bust your butt pretty easy.
“For an old dirt racer, that plays right in my hand. I enjoy that. That’s usually when I perform my best.”
THE CHAMPION’S NEW CLOTHING
Sponsorship makes for strange bedfellows.
Take Affliction Clothing and Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth is a Sprint Cup champion. More important, he’s a great guy and attentive father. But I’ve never seen him sport Affliction clothing.
While Kenseth acknowledged that he’s “thrilled to have Affliction Clothing” on the No. 17 Ford for the next two weekends — and congratulations to Roush Fenway Racing for bringing in new business — when asked about the clothing line, he replied, “I don’t know. I don’t think I have any.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, however, could be the NASCAR poster boy for Affliction, which has ties with Mixed Martial Arts. Although Montoya said he doesn’t have a favorite MMA athlete, he watches “some of the fights” and appreciates “a lot of the really good Brazilian jujitsu fighters. It‘s a lot wilder than boxing.”
So where’s Montoya’s Affliction sponsorship?
“I don’t know,” Montoya said. “It’s kind of insane. They must have a good marketing person.”
When a driver lifts during practice, it’s called “sandbagging.”
With qualifying order being set by practice times, it’s not surprising drivers aren’t looking at topping the speed chart.
Kyle Busch did not mince words about drivers slacking in practice to get an early qualifying start — when the track was cooler and conducive to faster lap times.
“Teams are getting smarter now and they’re figuring out ways to utilize lap times a little bit differently, so we’ll probably see that in effect here the next few weeks,” Busch said. “Like next week, I guess it’s just the first practice that counts and it’s Saturday qualifying. Guys are going to get smart and they are going to start manipulating the times — sandbagging is what we call it — in order to get an early draw.
“From rumors that I heard, at least they changed Indy’s qualifying for us. Maybe we need to do that everywhere, but then our other races would start late. It’s going to be interesting.”
2 consecutive poles for Penske Racing — Brad Keselowski at Charlotte, followed by Kurt Busch at Kansas.
3 wins for Clint Bowyer in 11 Camping World Truck starts.
6 top-10 qualifying efforts for Kyle Busch in 2011.
13 career Sprint Cup poles for Kurt Busch.
31 is the spot on the grid from where Jimmie Johnson will start Sunday.