NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Double Take: Past Kansas Winners’ Chances Come 2016

Sort of an interesting stat: In recent memory, Kansas Speedway has been dominated by drivers still driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase.

Save for Jeff Gordon’s win in the 2014 spring race, current Chase drivers can lay claim to all checkered flags at the 1.5-mile track since 2011. That’s right, all but Gordon are still statistically eligible to win the 2016 title and could grow one step closer to accomplishing that goal with a win this weekend.

That’s an enticing prospect for drivers like Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and the like, of course. Meanwhile, folks such as Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott are either sweating bullets or figuring they’re next on the docket.

Today, we’re going to look at all of said former winning drivers and analyze their statistics heading into this weekend’s race.

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski’s spring of 2011 win at Kansas might be the most important of his career. His surprise Talladega Superspeedway win in 2009 opened the door for him to compete on the Cup level full-time, but after a terrible 2010 campaign in the No. 12 car, some were wondering if he was just going to be another fluke winner.

Enter 2011. Keselowski moved to the iconic No. 2 and had a breakout season. His 14 top 10s were a great improvement on his two in 2010, and he had 10 top 5s compared to none the previous year. But arguably most important were his three wins, which solidified the young Michigan driver as a rising star on the Sprint Cup circuit. And it all started with his win at Kansas.

Before winning at Kansas thanks to fuel strategy, Keselowski had performed mediocre to terrible in the early season (save for a third at Darlington Speedway). Think about this: he was 25th in points heading into the race. That’s almost unthinkable today. But he ended up fifth in points by the end of the season before following up with a championship winning year in 2012.

Jimmie Johnson

One of two drivers on this list with multiple wins in this five-year time period, Jimmie Johnson’s two wins were two completely different stories. His first in fall of 2011 was a typical dominant Johnson win, leading 197 of 272 laps and hanging on in overtime.

His second in the spring race of 2015 was a little harder. Kevin Harvick dominated much of the late race before pitting with 10 laps to go while under caution. Johnson inherited the lead and held off Harvick on the ensuring 10-lap shootout. They were the only laps Johnson led all day.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin’s 2012 win was one of a now-long list of Martin Truex, Jr. heartbreakers. Truex led 173 laps but fell short to Hamlin, who took the lead with 31 laps to go and stayed there. Truex didn’t finish second easy, however- the New Jersey driver made a valiant effort in a banzai move in the last turn of the race but couldn’t complete the pass. It was one of five wins for Hamlin in 2012, but after a stumble in the Chase, he ended up sixth in points.

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth cruised to his final win for Roush Fenway Racing in fall 2012, then came back in the spring of 2013 with his then-new team at Joe Gibbs Racing and won. Kenseth dominated the 2013 race, leading 163 of 267 laps. This was also one of the Kenseth-Kasey Kahne duels of the season, where Kenseth would typically barely outrun Kahne late in races and Kahne would have to settle for second. This race was no different, as Kenseth beat Kahne by just .150 of a second.

Kevin Harvick

Kansas was the site of Harvick’s second-to-last win for Richard Childress Racing in the fall of 2013, on his way to third in points following the season. Although Harvick has long found success at Kansas’ sister track Chicagoland Speedway, this 2013 win remains Happy’s lone Kansas win on the Sprint Cup level.

Joey Logano

Joey Logano has won the fall race at Kansas the last two seasons, but like Johnson, both wins had completely different stories. In 2014, Logano beat Kyle Larson in a late-race duel after leading a comfortable 122 laps on the day. But 2015 now stands as the start of one of the more infamous sagas in NASCAR Chase history.

Late in the race, Matt Kenseth raced Logano hard late in the race, blocking him into the wall. Logano responded by dumping Kenseth. Instead of winning the race and going into Talladega locked into the next round of the Chase, Kenseth finished 14th and ended up not advancing the next weekend at Talladega. Kenseth showed his displeasure at Martinsville Speedway in the next round, earning himself a two-race suspension by dumping Logano and effectively taking away a win that would have guaranteed Logano entry into the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Moral of the story: what goes around, comes around. And don’t make Matt Kenseth mad.

Kyle Busch

Busch followed up his amazing championship performance in 2015 by winning at Kansas earlier this season. A comfortable one second margin separated him from Kevin Harvick in his third win of the season and first at Kansas. This win and his Martinsville win the month before also left only Pocono and Charlotte left as tracks Busch has not won yet at the Sprint Cup level.

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