Kansas NASCAR Weekend Preview

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 13: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 13, 2017 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Harvick essentially told his fellow Monster Energy NASCAR Cup season dominator Kyle Busch – I’ll take your three race victories and raise you one.  And after taking his fourth win last week at Dover, Harvick can expect that Busch will be ready to try and match the effort this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Harvick and Busch have won seven of the season’s first 11 races and the two former Cup champions have another four runner-up finishes between them too, dominating the 2018 season start in a way like no other in recent memory.

This week’s KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway (May 12 at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) presents an exceptionally good challenge for both Harvick and Busch, however, judging by their historical work on the 1.5-miler.

Harvick has a pair of wins (2013 and 2016) and has won three pole positions (2013-14) and is ranked second-best in terms of overall driver rating (106.4). Busch won at Kansas in 2016 – his 17th try.  And while his average finish at the track is uncharacteristic 17.1 – he has vastly improved that number with five top-fives in the last six races.

Last year Martin Truex Jr. swept both Kansas race victories en route to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

“Before three years ago, I’ve not had many opportunities to win at Kansas and hopefully we can get into Victory Lane there again this weekend with our M&Ms Carmel Toyota,’’ Busch said. “As you’ve seen so far this year, there are certain circumstances that can go against you and you just have to persevere and keep fighting until the checkered flag falls. We’ve won some races even though we hadn’t had the dominant car in a few of those.’’

“I think we’re pretty equal, honestly,’’ Busch said. “I think I’ve got to give them the notch a little bit. I think they’re a little bit better than we are.

“… A lot of it all comes down to execution when things are this tight with the 4 (Harvick) and us. They were able to execute better at the start of the year on their streak and also last week And we’ve been able to execute in order to get our wins.

“We haven’t been dominant each week, but we’ve been able to execute as a team – myself as a driver – to be able to get those wins.”

Up for grabs

The 37 Kind Days 250 (May 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) has historically been one of the most unpredictable events on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule.

With 15 different winners in 17 races and only three former winners – Kyle Busch, Matt Crafton and championship leader Johnny Sauter – in the field this weekend, it may again prove too tough to call. And that’s always a good thing.

Toyota-powered trucks have won the last five races with Busch and Crafton responsible for two trophies each during that span at Kansas.

Now steering a Ford, Crafton may well be in line to break that Toyota streak. He’s won twice and finished runner-up twice in the last five Kansas races.

A victory would certainly be a big boost to the two-time former series champion who is ranked sixth in the points standings. The championship chase is tight entering Friday night’s race – only 35 points separate Sauter from fifth-place Noah Gragson, a 19-year old who won the pole position last week at Dover, Del. and was runner-up at Atlanta earlier in the season.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: KC Masterpiece 400
The Place:  Kansas Speedway (Kansas City, Kan.)
The Date: Saturday, May 12
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 400 miles (400 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160), Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)
What to Watch For:  Jimmie Johnson boasts the best driver rating (107.7) at Kansas and is tied with Jeff Gordon for most wins (three). …Four of the sport’s biggest stars made their first Cup start at his 1.5-miler – Erik Jones (2015), Ryan Blaney (2014), Austin Dillon (2011) and Denny Hamlin (2005). …. No driver has ever earned his first Cup victory at Kansas. ….Ryan Blaney won his first career pole position here last May becoming the youngest driver (23) to start on pole. …The top-five starting positions have produced the most wins (46 percent). Five times in 24 races, the polesitter has won – the last being Martin Truex in Fall, 2017. …Brad Keselowski holds the record for victory from the farthest spot on the starting grid (25th in 2011). … Five drivers have two runner-up finishes at Kansas: Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards. … Four drivers have started all 24 Kansas races – Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman. … Truex swept the 2017 races at Kansas. He, Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to win consecutive races.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: 37 Kind Days 250
The Place: Kansas Speedway (Kansas City, Kan.)
The Date: Friday, May 11
The Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 250 miles (167 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 40),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 80), Final Stage (Ends on lap 167)
What to Watch For:  Kansas Speedway has proven to be a hard venue to predict victory. There have been 15 different race winners in 17 races and 13 different pole winners. …Matt Crafton and Kyle Busch have each won twice and both are entered in Friday night’s race. …Crafton has a series best eight top-10 finishes. … The top-five drivers in the championships standings are separated by only 35 points. Johnny Sauter holds a 29-point lead over second place Grant Enfinger. Fifth place Noah Gragson is 35 behind Sauter. …Six drivers among the top-10 are 25 years old or younger – ranging from 25-year old Brett Moffitt who is third in the points to 19-year old Gragson who is fifth in the standings. …The race has been won from the pole position only twice. Busch won from pole in 2014 and Ron Hornaday did in 2008. … Front row starters, however, have won eight of the 17 races. … There are three former winners entered this weekend – Busch, Crafton and series points leader Johnny Sauter, who won at Kansas in 2010. …Brandon Jones will be making his first truck series start of 2018. …The late Ricky Hendrick won the inaugural truck race here in 2001.

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.