Kansas Weekend Preview: Earnhardt, Kenseth head to Kansas in need of win

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 24:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Insurance Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, VA – APRIL 24: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Insurance Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 24, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth have to be thankful for the simple formula that embodies the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format – “win and you’re in.”

Earnhardt, 11th on the Chase Grid, sits 19 points behind Brad Keselowski on the cutoff line for advancement into the Eliminator 8 Round of NASCAR’s playoffs. Kenseth, 12th on the Chase Grid, is 32 points below the cutoff line.

Both drivers essentially need wins in the next two races to transfer from the Contender Round to the Eliminator 8 Round. They get their first opportunity in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:15 p.m. ET on NBC).

“We’ve been taking these races one week at a time, and obviously we had a tough race at Charlotte but we just move on from that and focus on this weekend at Kansas,” Kenseth said. “You want to go out there and get the best starting spot and finish that you can each and every week.”

Kenseth, who leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with five wins this season, has performed well in his career at Kansas. In 19 starts at the 1.5-mile track, he has two wins, six top fives and 11 top 10s.

Earnhardt has been solid but not spectacular at Kansas. In 18 career starts there, he owns nine top-10 finishes, but no wins. In fact, the No. 88 driver hasn’t won at a 1.5-mile track since July 10, 2005 at Chicagoland – over a decade ago.

Earnhardt should not be counted out in the Jayhawk State, but his best shot to advance in the Chase is by winning next Sunday’s race at Talladega. He has visited Victory Lane at two of the three restrictor-plate races this season and ranks tied with Jeff Gordon for the second-most Talladega wins with six.

“You’d like to go in and get a win as soon as you can in this format, and get yourself locked in to take the pressure off,” Earnhardt said. “Our guys have been bringing some great cars to the race track. We’ve run good at these next few tracks that we’re going to. I’m just going to take it one corner at a time and try to do the best I can on the track, and hopefully we have smooth stops and don’t have any issues with the car.”

Suarez closing in on first win

Learning curve? What learning curve?

Daniel Saurez stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.

Daniel Saurez stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.

Daniel Suarez has made the transition to racing in NASCAR’s national series look easy in his first full-time NASCAR XFINITY Series season. The 23-year-old Mexico native ranks seventh in the XFINITY Series standings on the strength of seven top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 29 starts. He also leads Darrell Wallace Jr. – the next-closest competitor in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Standings – by 29 points.

The only accomplishment missing on Suarez’ rookie resume is a victory. He will attempt to notch his first NASCAR XFINITY Series win in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“We have to work a little harder, but I feel like we’re getting close (to finding Victory Lane),” said Suarez after finishing fourth last weekend at Charlotte. “We’re competing with the big guys, which is great, but we have to be a little bit better and we’re going to get that win.”

Suarez has never raced at Kansas in the XFINITY Series, but started 10th and finished sixth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race there in May. He has placed in the top five in three of his last four starts at intermediate tracks.

“We’re at another 1.5-mile track this weekend and I think everyone on the team is excited for it,” Suarez said. “We’ve had some success at those tracks this year, and coming off a good race in Charlotte where we finished in the top five only raises our expectations higher for this weekend.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Hollywood Casino 400
Track: Kansas Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, Oct. 18 at 2:15 p.m. ET
Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)
What to Watch For: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, 11th and 12th on the Chase Grid respectively, essentially need a win to advance to the Eliminator 8 Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. … Jeff Gordon attempts to add to his track-record three wins at Kansas Speedway. Already assured a spot in the Eliminator 8 Round, Joey Logano tries to defend his fall Kansas win and visit Victory Lane for the second straight week. … If Harvick can finish within the top five in the final six races, he will tie Jeff Gordon’s record for most top fives in a modern era season – 26 in 1998. … Carl Edwards (Columbia, Mo), Clint Bowyer (Emporia, Kansas) and Jamie McMurray (Joplin, Mo.) all get to return to their roots this weekend by racing at their “hometrack.”

NASCAR XFINITY Series
Race: Kansas Lottery 300
Place: Kansas Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: If standings leader Chris Buescher finishes second in each of the next four races, he’ll win the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship no matter what any other driver does. … Defending XFINITY Series title-winner Chase Elliott attempts to close the 26-point deficit between him and Chris Buescher. … Five former Kansas winners are on the entry list for Saturday – Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Jeff Green, Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick. … One week after getting married in Kansas City, Kansas native Jennifer Jo Cobb will make her second XFINITY Series start of the season.

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