The Banquet 400 is the 29th race on the 36-race NASCAR Nextel Cup Series schedule and the third in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. The Cup Series visits the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway for the only time in 2006. Kansas has hosted the Nextel Cup Series since 2001, and Jeff Gordon was the first driver to win in Cup competition at the speedway. The track is a flat tri-oval track with 15 degrees of banking in the corners. Drivers will race 267 laps for the checkered flag. The field will include 2005 polesitter Matt Kenseth and race winner Mark Martin.
47 teams will compete for 43 starting spots for Sunday, with the Top 35 in car owner points guaranteed a starting position. Beginning after the season’s first five races, 2006 owner points will determine who is in this group for qualifying purposes. Qualifying runs consist of two laps, with the fastest lap setting a team’s time. The Nextel Cup Series qualifying record at Kansas is 180.856 mph, set by Kenseth in 2005.
To the Point
The Nextel Cup championship battle will be settled in eight short weeks. Jeff Burton took over the points lead with his Dover win last week, but he has the quietly consistent Gordon just six points back. Kenseth hangs on to third spot while rookie Denny Hamlin slipped two spots to fourth and Kevin Harvick‘s blown engine also blew his point lead all the way to fifth place. Martin holds sixth spot, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is seventh, and Jimmie Johnson moves into eighth. Kasey Kahne slipped to ninth after an early crash at Dover, and Kyle Busch‘s bad luck continued at DIS, miring him deeper in 10th place.
What to Expect
Expect typical flat-track racing. While there will be some exciting passing and close calls, there will also be some longer runs with one or two cars stretching out a big lead. Several recent races have been decided on fuel mileage, and Kansas could be decided the same way if there’s a long green-flag run in the late laps.
Not to say there won’t be some caution laps to tighten things up. The fewest caution periods Kansas has ever seen is seven. At 400 miles, the race may not be as tough on motors as some other tracks, but the track sees its share of other mishaps. Also, with the Chase in full swing look for drivers who need points to be aggressive and go hard all day, and that can breed engine trouble and mistakes, so it won’t be boring.
Who to Watch
Gordon has two Kansas wins in five tries and an average finish of sixth. Gordon and Ryan Newman are the only drivers with three top-five finishes at the track. Kansas and Martinsville are Gordon’s best Chase tracks, so it’s probable he’ll make the most of the opportunity. Next best among the Chasers at Kansas is Gordon’s teammate Johnson. While Johnson has never claimed a top five at Kansas, he has always run well there, save an engine failure two years ago. Coupled with Johnson’s desire to make up ground in the Chase before it’s too late, he and his average finish of just under 14th should be a threat.
The Roush Racing cars pose a quintuple threat for qualifying, leading laps and winning with five cars that have excelled on flat tracks all year. With extra Chase incentive, Martin will be looking to become the second repeat winner in Kansas history, and Kenseth will be looking to move into the top spot that many say is his to lose this year. Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray will all be out to show that they can win races despite being left out of the Chase.
Finally, rookie Hamlin has been outstanding at flat tracks in the second half. He could take the veterans as well as his fellow rookies to school this week.
Did You Know?
- That Joe Nemechek won at Kansas in 2004, making he and Biffle (Homestead) the only non-Chasers to go to victory lane during the inaugural Chase?
- That every race at Kansas has been won from a start of 19th or better? Two of five races have been won from the front row.
- That 16 cars failed to finish this race in 2002?
You Don’t Say…
“Our goal this weekend is to win practice, win the pole and win the race. Not necessarily in that order.” – Jimmie Johnson on his goals for Dover
“If all of a sudden we’re going to go out and win five races because we changed our program around, then we weren’t doing the right things during the first 26 races. We’ll probably be a little more risky with fuel mileage. We’ll probably be a little more risky in taking tires at some places where we wouldn’t have if we had a top-five or a top-10 run going. There is a possibility of us being a little more aggressive with new parts and pieces that we’ve been working on to do a little R&D. If something happens and we have a bad day, it’s not going to kill us like it would’ve if we were in the Chase. But that’s about all. It’s business as usual. The biggest thing is everybody just keeping their heads up and going out and running like we have the past two weeks. My goal, personally, is to get on a tear like we did last year and have eight or nine top-five, top-10 finishes and let everyone know if we were there in the Chase, things might be different. That’s all you can do.” – Greg Zipadelli, crew chief for Tony Stewart, on the No. 20 team’s approach to the final eight races of 2006
“Past stats don’t mean anything just because of the way we have run this year. To be able to have the runs we have had this year including our finishes it should be a good weekend. Kansas is like Chicagoland except for where the bumps are located. We have done well on the mile-and-a-half tracks. We should be as good or better this weekend.” – Kevin Harvick on his past accomplishments at Kansas (best finish of sixth)