The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway this weekend for Sunday's STP 400, and when it comes to racing in Kansas, there's a handful of drivers who have figured out the track well enough to make a couple of trips to victory lane there -- Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevy, Greg Biffle in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. They are the only four drivers to claim multiple Sprint Cup wins at Kansas, each with two.
It just so happens that all four of them are in the top-five in the driver rating system calculated by NASCAR heading into Sunday's race. The other driver who has a three-digit driver rating as the Kansas race approaches is Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. It just so happens, Kenseth was victorious when the circuit last visited Kansas Speedway.
“Heading into Kansas, I’ve felt confident every week because (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) and the guys have built me some really fast cars already this season and I think we’ve been competitive every week," Kenseth said. "I really like racing at Kansas and I thought we ran well all weekend there with the new pavement last October with our win."
It just flows for me. It fits well.
"I enjoy the track," Johnson said. "It just flows for me. It fits well. I think the transitions into the corner – I do well at tracks that have abrupt transitions, especially into one. There’s a pretty abrupt introduction to the banking, and that seems to suit me well.”
Johnson maintained his position as the Sprint Cup Series points leader last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway with a sixth-place finish. With his history of success at Kansas, he stands a pretty good chance of adding another week to his time atop the standings, especially if the same suspects run up front at Kansas come Sunday. That is, if he can translate past success from the old Kansas surface to the newer surface from the track's repaving of last year.
“I think tracks with older surfaces have been good for us. It fits my background and driving style and I think Chad’s (Knaus, crew chief) style of setting up a racecar," Johnson said. "That is why we had so much success there, and then, they resurfaced the racetrack, so it’s been different. I did have an issue there. I got turned around and tore the car up in the fall, during the Chase. But, even with a wrecked racecar, we had such a fast racecar, we came back and finished really well." Johnson posted finishes of third and ninth in the two races at Kansas Speedway in 2012
Of the five top Kansas performers, Biffle is the only one of the bunch joining Johnson in the top-10 of the championship points standings. Biffle heads into Kansas fourth in points, 30 behind Johnson. Kenseth is 11th, Gordon 15th and Stewart is mired way back outside the top-20 in 22nd.
“I’m really excited about going to Kansas this week," Biffle said. "We’ve got a few wins there and we tested there a couple weeks back. We feel like we have a pretty strong program and pretty good handle on that race track. Kansas is really smooth, really fast and our cars handle well there. We’re looking for a win this weekend.”
While Johnson stands a good chance of maintaining his points lead if he can match his typical Kansas performance, Sunday's race is the perfect opportunity for Kenseth and Gordon to move toward a spot in the top-10, or at least add a race win to the tally that may be needed should they not be in the top-10 come the end of the regular season at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway this fall.
"It's going to be tough with the new pavement and the new car," Gordon said. "We are going to be challenged. The tires are extremely durable so that makes it very 'edgy.' I think we have made gains, so I'm confident we can make improvements when we get there."
As for Stewart, he needs a strong Kansas performance to move into the top-20 so that race wins will even matter come Chase time.