When Kansas Speedway held its inaugural race in 2001, the racing was bad. There was only one lane of racing and passing was minimal. Now, Kansas displays some of the most competitive races on the circuit. This weekend should be no different. But who are the favorites?
As practice winds down this afternoon, teams will fine-tune their qualifying setups and will make their attempts at the Coors Light pole during qualifying, which commences at 4:30 ET on Friday on the SPEED Network.
In the first practice session held on Friday afternoon, the No. 99 of Carl Edwards sat atop the leaderboard with a speed just over 192 mph, which would break the current track record of 191.360 that was set by Kasey Kahne in 2012. Sam Hornish Jr., Greg Biffle, Juan Pablo Montoya and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. round out the top five.
As it sits, Edwards should be considered a favorite for the pole as his potential record-breaking lap was almost one mph faster than anyone else in the practice field.
But that's just qualifying. As we all know, the race is a completely different beast, especially at Kansas.
The track has four repeat winners in Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson. However, since Kansas is considered a "cookie-cutter" track (meaning it is generic and not too difficult on a driver), this weekend's race is anyone's game.
In all reality, the race will come down to team momentum and overall car setup. Here are a few obvious, and a few surprising, potential winners this weekend.
Johnson won at Kansas in 2008 and 2011 and is usually a force at 1.5 mile ovals. At Las Vegas, a track the Cup series has already visited this season, he finished sixth while showing significant speed.
In thirteen races at the Kansas, Johnson has 11 Top-10 finishes and an average finish of eighth. Pretty impressive. As usual, the No. 48 will be one to watch at the finish on Sunday.
Kansas is easily the Biff's best track, as his average finish at the track is 9.5, two places higher than his second-best track, Michigan.
The No. 16 car showed speed in the first practice and will be a threat for the pole, and Biffle has run well all season with four Top-10 finishes thus far.
If he and crew chief Matt Puccia can make the correct adjustments throughout the race, the No. 16 car will be near the front early and often.
Martin Truex Jr.
While he does not yet have a victory at Kansas, it is one of Truex's best tracks as far as speed. He may not have the finishes to back up his performances (which, oddly, is how his whole career has gone), but running up front is common for the veteran from Trenton, N.J.
Pair that with a stellar run last week at Texas and Truex may just have enough momentum to pull off a win this weekend.
Almirola opened last year's fall race at Kansas setting a torrid pace, pulling away after restarts and leading the first third of the race before succumbing to a blown tire. He was the class of the field.
His speed in the first practice was best for fifth overall with a 28.229 second lap, and if the No. 43 team can back that speed up and qualify well and stay near the front, they may be in contention late in the race to nab a win away from the big boys.