Picking Kansas Winner Easy As One-Two-Three
Easy to pick the favorites in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. Just check the top of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ standings.
Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin remain one, two and three as NASCAR’s post season rolls into its second half. Hamlin, Johnson and Keselowski are Kansas Speedway’s three most recent race winners. Coincidence? Perhaps; perhaps not.
Sunday’s race marks the first time in the Chase era – and the 21st Century – that the top three in NASCAR Sprint Cup standings go to a track where they’ve won the past three races.
It’s happened seven times, most recently on Sept. 26, 1999 at Dover International Speedway. Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte and Mark Martin were the points leaders/three most recent race winners.
Keselowski saw his Chase lead halved at Charlotte Motor Speedway where a fuel-mileage miscalculation – heretofore the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge team’s strong point – resulted in an 11th-place finish. Not the end of the world for Keselowski’s championship hopes but certainly a misstep, especially after he led the most laps (139) of the Bank of America 500.
Keselowski’s first victory (of eight) for Penske Racing came at Kansas in May 2011. His average finish in five Kansas races is 10.2. Oh – and he won on fuel mileage. He finished 11th in April.
Johnson is among four drivers with two Kansas victories. Last fall’s victory didn’t lead to a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Winning in 2008 did make Johnson the only driver with a Kansas victory and a championship under the Chase format.
While statistics may be a subject measurement with the 1.5-track repaved and reconfigured since May’s STP 400, Johnson’s results can’t be ignored.
His average finish (7.9 in 12 races) is best among active drivers. Johnson’s Driver Rating (120.7) also is best, as is his 373 Fastest Laps Run, Average Green Flag Speed (162.892) and 425 Quality Passes.
Johnson finished third in May’s Kansas stop.
Hamlin’s May victory was solid in every respect: A start of fourth, twice a leader including the final 31 laps and a Driver Rating of 128.6 – fractionally lower than that of second-place Martin Truex Jr., who paced the most laps.
The Virginia native has three top fives at Kansas and an average finish in nine races of 14.4, 11th-best among active drivers. His other Loop Data stats are in the mid-range – none better than seventh (342 Quality Passes).
Toyota’s one-two finish in May was unprecedented. The manufacturer never had won at Kansas Speedway, let alone sweep the top two positions. Hendrick Motorsports’ four victories – two each by Johnson and Jeff Gordon – are the most by a team in Kansas.