NASCAR Driver Capsules, May 7

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: May 07 2014 08:01:13 AM HST
Updated On: May 07 2014 08:47:14 AM HST
Racing generic, winners flag

Caren Firouz/Reuters

Capsules for the top 20 drivers in the Sprint Cup standings, plus five additional drivers of note.

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon remained in first place for the fourth consecutive week after Talladega. He leads second-ranked Matt Kenseth by three points and third-ranked Kyle Busch by four points.

KANSAS RECORD: 16 career starts, 2 wins, 9 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2001 and 2002. Finished 13th in this race last year and was third in the fall Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Even though he had a rough race at Talladega, so did most of his closest challengers. That's why Gordon remains atop the standings. And now he and the rest of the circuit race under the lights for the first time this Saturday at Kansas. Here's Gordon's thoughts on the race: "There's something about Kansas that really suits my driving style - even after the repave a few years ago that created some new challenges. Even with the new surface, the groove has widened out the last few races. It's a smooth track that's very fast, and I love the transitions and how you transfer from the flatter straightaways into those banked corners. I'm really excited about this weekend because this team has been strong on mile-and-a-half tracks this year."

LOOKING BACK: Gordon led just one lap and was involved in a crash with just over 30 laps remaining at Talladega, ultimately leaving him with a 39th-place finish, his worst thus far this season as well as the first time he's finished lower than 13th in the 2014 season.

ETC.: Gordon has completed 99.1 percent (4,180) of the 4,220 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 13.8 and average finish is an impressive 10.6. He has two DNF's there.

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: For the fifth consecutive week, Matt Kenseth remained in second place in the Sprint Cup standings. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by just three points and leads third-ranked Kyle Busch by only one point.

KANSAS RECORD: 16 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2012 and spring 2013. Finished first in this race last year and was 11th in last fall's Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Like points leader Jeff Gordon, Kenseth continues to look for his first win of the season. At this time last season, Kenseth already had three wins. He has an outstanding record at Kansas, which enhances his chances to get that first "W" of the 2014 season.

LOOKING BACK: Like a number of drivers, Kenseth was involved in a late crash at Talladega, relegating him to a disappointing 37th-place finish. Here's his thoughts on what happened: "Really unfortunate - everyone on this team did a great job this week. I thought we had a pretty fast car, but we just couldn't get going there on restarts. Just tried to get that lane moving and Brad (Keselowski, who caused the wreck that knocked out Kenseth) was getting that lane up towards the front. We were trying to get up there and get back to safety and we just didn't make it."

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 94.9 percent (4,006) of the 4,220 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 12.5 and his average finish is 14.6. He has two DNFs there.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After gaining two places and improving from sixth to fourth, Kyle Busch gained yet another position after Talladega, moving into third. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by just four points, is one point behind second-ranked Matt Kenseth and leads Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who are tied for fourth-place, by 15 points.

KANSAS RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 win, 0 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Seventh in 2006. Finished 38th in this race last year and was 34th in the fall Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch has struggled throughout his career at Kansas, and continues to be mystified by the place. Of course, four DNFs in 13 starts hasn't helped. Last Friday (May 4) was Busch's birthday. Does he feel a belated birthday present is in store for him at Kansas? "I think anyone who knows me or has followed me knows that it doesn't matter if it's my birthday or whatever it is. I love to win and love to be able to add to the trophy case. That's what we do, what it's all about, and the focus each week. I think you do learn over the years that you can't win them all, but that sure doesn't stop us from trying. Winning is huge for our sponsors, too. It's what drives all of us to get better each week."

LOOKING BACK: Even though he finished 12th at Talladega, Busch was able to climb one place in the standings because so many other drivers - including Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth - were involved in wrecks that ended their races early.

ETC.: Busch has completed just 85.4 percent (2,921) of the 3,419 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 16.5 and average finish is 23.3. He has four DNFs there.

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards dropped one place in the standings, from third into a tie for fourth with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Talladega. Edwards trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 19 points, is 15 points behind third-ranked Kyle Busch and leads sixth-ranked Joey Logano by 23 points.

KANSAS RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 win, 5 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in 2008. Finished 17th in this race last year and was fifth in last fall's Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: With nine top-10 finishes in 13 starts, Edwards has been one of the most consistent drivers at Kansas, but just hasn't been able to cash in with a win.

LOOKING BACK: Edwards had a good run going at Talladega, including leading six laps, but that all ended six laps from the finish in a multi-car wreck. As a result, instead of a potential top-10 finish, he wound up a mediocre 30th. Here's what happened, according to Edwards: "I lost a tire. I tried my best to get out of the way, but I couldn't hang on to it. I couldn't keep the speed up and hang on to it, but all those guys did a really good job of avoiding me. The car just got too wide and too sideways and Ryan got me, but overall we were having a pretty good day. We didn't get caught up in any wrecks and that got us."

ETC.: Edwards has completed 99.2 percent (3,390) of the 3,419 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 16.5 and his average finish is 10.8. He has one DNF there.

88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Former points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed one position, from fifth to a tie with Carl Edwards for fourth, after Talladega. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 19 points, is 15 points behind third-ranked Kyle Busch and leads sixth-ranked Joey Logano by 23 points.

KANSAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 7 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: Second in spring 2011. Finished 16th in this race last year and was eighth in last fall's Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt is still looking for his second win of the season, after capturing the season-opening Daytona 500 in February. He's hoping Kansas is the winning ticket. Here's his thoughts: "We have had fast cars all season, and we are bringing another new chassis this weekend. We did the Goodyear tire test at Michigan (International Speedway) last month, and we were able to learn some things for this weekend. I'm looking forward to getting on the track and seeing what kind of speed we have."

LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt looked very strong at Talladega, leading 26 laps and appearing possibly headed to his first win there in nearly a decade. Unfortunately, he fell backward in the closing laps and was forced to settle for a 26th-place finish.

ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 98.1 percent (3,876) of the 3,953 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 13.7 and average finish is 15.9. He has two DNFs there.

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano remained in sixth place in the Sprint Cup standings for the second consecutive week. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 42 points, is 23 points behind the fourth-place tie of Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and leads seventh-ranked Jimmie Johnson by one point.

KANSAS RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-5s, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Fourth in fall 2013. Finished 39th in this race last year and was a career-best fourth in last fall's Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano would love to give himself an early 24th birthday present (May 24) with a win Saturday at Kansas. When asked if his two wins make him more confident that he's locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Logano said: "We can't look at that too much, because we know that there are still 16 races to go before the Chase even starts and there are a lot of things that can change before then. But the one thing that shows is how strong our team has been so far this season. We have been strong on short tracks, on intermediates and on bigger speedways. We have been good on restrictor-plate tracks too, but we haven't had the results to show for it. Our team is really hitting on things right now and its showing each weekend at the track. We just need to keep doing what we have been doing. Hopefully we can win a couple of more races and it would be cool to go into the Chase as one of the top seeds."

LOOKING BACK: Logano led 25 laps at Talladega, but like several other drivers, fell victim to a late-race wreck, ultimately finishing 32nd.

ETC.: Logano has completed 92.8 percent (2,234) of the 2,408 total laps contested in 9 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 12.6 and average finish is 23.7. He has one DNF there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After falling three spots to eighth-place after Richmond, Jimmie Johnson regained one of those positions back at Talladega, climbing back to seventh-place. He trails points leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon by 42 points, is one point behind sixth-ranked Joey Logano and leads eighth-ranked Greg Biffle by four points.

KANSAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-5s, 13 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2008 and fall 2011. Finished third in this race last year, and was sixth in the fall Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: It's hard to believe that we've gone 10 races into the season and Johnson still has not reached victory lane. With an outstanding record at Kansas, with just two finishes outside the top-10, Johnson is a prime candidate to finally win on Saturday night. Here's his thoughts on the race: "I feel pretty good about our 1.5-mile program. We led a lot at California. Vegas went well. We still want to be better but we've been in there fighting for wins. So we feel very good about that."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson led two laps at Talladega and, while he wasn't involved in any of the big wrecks, he fell back late in the race and finished 23rd.

ETC.: Johnson has completed an outstanding 99.3 percent (3,924) of the 3,953 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 10.5 and his average finish is an outstanding 7.5. He also has one DNF there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle climbed two positions, from a tie for 10th to eighth place, after Talladega. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 47 points, is four points behind seventh-ranked Jimmie Johnson and leads ninth-ranked Ryan Newman by one point.

KANSAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 2 wins, 7 top-5s, 9 top-10s, 1 pole. Best career finish: First in 2007 and 2010. Finished 19th in this race last year and was 13th in last fall's Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: After having an outstanding run at Kansas from 2003 through the spring race of 2012 - 11 starts, including two wins, a runner-up, three third-place finish, one fifth-place showing and three other top-12 finishes - Biffle has struggled in his last three starts at Kansas (27th, 19th and 13th). Here's his thoughts on Saturday night's race: "I feel really good about Kansas this weekend. I like Kansas and have a couple of wins there. We've been running well and we have a strong opportunity this Saturday night. Kansas is really smooth, really fast and our cars handle well there. We're looking for a win this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Biffle led the most laps of any driver at Talladega (58 laps), but couldn't hold off a hard-charging Denny Hamlin on the final lap, when a caution froze the field and prevented Biffle from making one last run at Hamlin for the win.

ETC.: Biffle has completed 94.1 percent (3,720) of the 3,953 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 15.7 and his average finish is 10.3. He has one DNF there.

31 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: RICHARD CHILDRESS Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Ryan Newman remained in ninth place in the standings for the third week in a row after Talladega. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 48 points, is one point behind eighth-ranked Greg Biffle and leads 10th-ranked Brian Vickers by two points.

KANSAS RECORD: 16 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-5s, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2003. Finished 14th in this race last season and was 35th in last fall's Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman leads the Richard Childress Racing team with his ninth-place ranking coming into Kansas. He's done rather poorly overall at the 1.5-mile track, especially the last three years, but he's also been knocking on victory's door much of this season already. Can he cash in Saturday? Here's his thoughts: "Everyone enjoys racing under the lights. I certainly do and I think we can return to victory lane there this weekend with the No. 31 Kwikset Chevrolet. It's a different deal now because the track has been repaved and it is so much faster. I think it is going to be an amazing race track with progressive banking once it ages out to the point where we can use the entire track. I really don't know what to expect this weekend after a winter's worth of weather beating up the race track a little bit. I expect our Chevrolet to be competitive."

LOOKING BACK: Newman led just one lap at Talladega and couldn't make progress towards the front in the closing laps, eventually finishing 18th.

ETC.: Newman has completed 92.7 percent (3,912) of the 4,220 total laps contested in 16 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 14.1 and his average finish is 19.2. He has three DNFs there.

55 BRIAN VICKERS, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Brian Vickers remained in 10th place for the second consecutive week after Talladega. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 50 points (down from 85 points behind after Richmond), is two points behind ninth-ranked Ryan Newman and leads 11th-ranked Brad Keselowski by three points.

KANSAS RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 win, 0 top-5s, 1 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Eighth in 2006. Vickers finished 31st in this race last spring, and was 32nd in the fall Chase race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers continues to enjoy a strong performance in his first full season on the Sprint Cup level in three seasons. He's looking to continue the momentum he gained after finishing fourth at Talladega. As for his goals, Vickers said, "They are still the same. We want to win races and win a championship. That's easier said than done, but we have always said we want to go out and try to win multiple races, we want to try to sit on poles and we want to try to win a championship. We've gotten off to a decent start, but we know we can do much better. There's a lot of room for improvement which is a good thing. I like what I see here on the Aaron's Dream Machine team as well as at MWR. We are getting closer each race."

LOOKING BACK: Vickers had a great run Sunday at Talladega. He led six laps, stayed out of trouble and wound up with an excellent fourth-place showing.

ETC.: Vickers has completed 96.1 percent (2,313) of the 2,408 total laps contested in nine career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 12.6 and his average finish is 20.9. He has two DNFs there.

2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford

Team: Team Penske

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only three points out of the top 10. Lost four spots last week to fall out of the top 10.

KANSAS RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes in eight starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: With one win already in the bank this season, Keselowski isn't worried about his fall out of the top 10. "Wins are what it is all about," said Keselowski. "If we can get a second win like Joey (Logano, his teammate) has, then we are in a really good shape Chase-wise. The more wins you can get before the Chase begins, the better you are going to be when it begins. Kansas has been a good track for us so we feel we have a shot (at a second victory) this week."

LOOKING BACK: Keselowski was involved in two of the eight caution flags including triggering "The Big One" on lap 137. On lap 14, Keselowski had jumped to the outside of leader Danica Patrick when he tried to cut down in front of Patrick. The two touched with Keselowski going on a wide ride during which a water line was snapped. This forced his crew to replace the line as Keselowski lost six laps in the process. Even though he was still six laps down as the race entered its final stages, Keselowski had a fast car and was running up front when he admitted, "I just spun out in front of the whole field" on lap 137 to trigger a 14-car melee. "I don't know why, if I just busted my butt on my own or lost a tire, but I feel bad for everyone that got torn up," added Keselowski, who ended up 38th at Talladega.

ETC.: Keselowski has never been one to hide his feelings or views even though some people in the sport wish he wasn't quite so outspoken. "I'm still gonna be vocal about something I disagree about that there's no progress or no change being made on, but if there's progress or change being made, then why be an (expletive)," said Keselowski.

11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, only five points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: One win and three top-five finishes in 11 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Hamlin looks on Kansas as one of his better race tracks and for that reason he has high hopes of winning a second straight race. "We always seem to run well there," said Hamlin. "It has just been a good track for us. We just want to win races, and we will worry about the Chase when it is time to go for the championship. Now all we are thinking about is winning more races."

LOOKING BACK: Hamlin was the man out front when the final yellow flag of the day came out with just over a half a lap to go, giving him his first points-paying win at a restrictor-plate race. "We knew we were in a good spot to get a victory (being the leader), and it was just a matter of which line was going to get the push - was it going to be the outside or inside," said Hamlin of the restart with two laps to go. "I thought my best chance was to stay on the inside - usually the outside lane gets jumbled up with guys trying to stick it three-wide. I chose the bottom and it was the right decision." The win was Hamlin's first of the season and the 24th of his career and all but guarantees him a spot in his year's Chase for the Championship.

ETC.: When asked if the Talladega win meant he was becoming more of a superspeedway racer, Hamlin replied, "I'm still a short track guy. Those are my roots, that's where I love racing the most, but we've come a long way. We couldn't finish 22nd at a superspeedway for the longest time and now it seems like when we go we know we've got the knowledge and car that can win. It feels good to come to these types of race tracks and know you can win. We really just want to win races - regardless of what implications this means for the Chase, it feels good to be back in victory lane in a points paying event anyway." Hamlin won two non-points paying races at Daytona in February.

42 KYLE LARSON, Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 11 points out of the top 10.

KANSAS RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut.

LOOKING AHEAD: Larson said, "Following a good finish for our Target Chevy last weekend in Talladega, I'm excited to be heading off to Kansas this weekend. I wish I could've helped Harvick (Kevin) get a Chevy into victory lane last Sunday, but still happy to have pulled a top-10 finish in my first Cup race at Talladega. Our team seems to be continuing to improve and grow, so I'm looking forward to racing this weekend at a track-size (1.5-miles) that I really like. I'm also excited for another night race; I think those are always fun for the drivers and fans."

LOOKING BACK: Larson finished ninth at Talladega in his first Cup start at the high-speed track. Larson was fourth on the restart with two laps to go. "I was able to get a decent restart behind Denny (Hamlin) and push him to the lead before we got that last yellow, and just couldn't do the same with Kevin (Harvick)," said Larson. "He got a little bit far out in front of me, and then the 40 (Landon Cassill) pulled out of line down the backstretch and I got stuck in the middle and killed our run for the middle lane and the top lane, and just kind of had to hold on to what we had there. Glad to get a good finish and stay up there in points."

ETC.: Larson admitted he was "really nervous" before the start of the Talladega race. "I spent most of the day - well, pretty much all day just trying not to make any spectacular moves to put myself in a bad spot to get in a wreck because the 42 hasn't had much luck on superspeedways with Juan (Pablo Montoya, who drove the car for the seven previous seasons) and myself at Daytona. Just wanted to stay out of trouble. We've been making up a lot of points throughout the year after Daytona (where he finished 38th after being involved in a wreck) and to come back to another superspeedway, I was really nervous. I was really hoping for a top 20 and just stay out of trouble, and to get a top 10 is really nice."

2 AUSTIN DILLON, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 16 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished 26th in his lone Cup start last October. Does have two top-six finishes in the Nationwide Series. Won the pole for the Nationwide Series race last fall.

LOOKING AHEAD: Dillon said, "At the beginning of the year, we sat down as a team and talked about goals and expectations for the year. Kansas Speedway is one of the tracks I circled as a place I think this 3 team can win. I've always loved the track. Mile-and-a-halves have been my strong suit in the past. We were able to test at Kansas a few weeks ago and I learned a lot. Restarts will be important during the race."

LOOKING BACK: Despite incurring damage during a multi-car accident with 14 laps to go, Dillon was able to finish 15th at Talladega. "What a race," said Dillon. "We were two and three-wide the entire time. I thought we would be able to make more of a charge for it at the end, but it was hard after we were collected in the wreck. It was hard to get going in some of those lines today. It was a fun day, that's for sure."

ETC.: Dillon, the 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion, will be making one of his rare starts in the series on Friday night. He ran one truck race last year at Eldora Speedway and won that race. "It is going to be fun to get back in the trucks," said Dillon. "Hope we can do as well as we did at Eldora last year."

47 A J ALLMENDINGER, Chevrolet

Team: JTG Daugherty Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 18 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in eight starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Allmendinger said, "Anybody that likes speed should go see the race (this weekend at Kansas) because it will be interesting to watch. You will get to see how the race plays out for the first time at night and whether track conditions change or not. It's going to be a fun race for the fans to watch, and hopefully a good time for us with the 47 Kingsford Chevrolet SS."

LOOKING BACK: Allmendinger was all smiles after finishing a season-best fifth at Talladega. "First, I have to thank everybody at the 47 shop for preparing this car so well and also thank RCR (Richard Childress Racing) and ECR engine because there was just so much speed in that race car," said a beaming Allmendinger. "I really thought I messed us up there on that last restart. I have got to thank Paul Menard. He just kept shoving me all the way up through the inside line of guys. I am just so proud to be on this team right now."

ETC.: Allmendinger feels his single-car team is "slowly getting there. Everybody wants to keep jumping because we are close enough to the Chase that people keep talking about it. I don't worry about the Chase. If we are good enough by the point of race 20 I'll start worrying about it. Right now (after 10 races), it's a week to week thing. We're going to have our ups and downs. There's light at the end of the tunnel and we're getting closer (to contending for a win)."

9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 29 points out of the top 10.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished ninth in the fall race for his second ninth-place finish in nine starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose said, "Kansas is a great track. It's racy, and you see good racing there. We need to get a little better there. Hopefully, we can have a good race because we want to stay up front in points. We didn't lose anything in Talladega, so we are still in position to get into the top 15 after this weekend. That would be nice going into the All-Star weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Ambrose was one of the 23 drivers who led at least one lap as he led once for three laps before ending up 19th at Talladega. "It's disappointing to finish 19th today because this car led the race," said Ambrose. "We needed some help (at the end) and the final restart (with two laps to go) was hectic. I didn't have anyone behind me and couldn't get a push. It could have been worse, but we really played this smart and just wanted more to show for it."

ETC.: After a number of his fans wanted to help pay his $25,000 fine for punching Casey Mears after the Richmond race, Ambrose came up with the idea of giving $25,000 to the Victory Junction Camp if his fans vote him into the Sprint All-Star Race on May 17. "I had a tremendous outpouring of support after Richmond from so many fans," said Ambrose. "But, that situation was between myself and another driver. I had to pay the consequences from that. But they (his fans) have been so supportive of me in NASCAR, that maybe there was something we could do so they could make a difference. If they want to support me, they can vote for me and we'll take the total of the fine and pay it forward to Victory Junction. We'll do this together and hopefully do something special."

27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 32 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Will be shooting for his fourth straight top-10 finish.

LOOKING AHEAD: Menard said he is "looking forward to racing in Kansas on Saturday. Kansas is a fun track to race on with the new pavement. I think it's one of the fastest tracks we race on all year. It'll be interesting to see what the winter has done to the surface and what it will be like at night. Our 27 team is ready for anything, so it will be a good weekend."

LOOKING BACK: After starting second, Menard led three times for 10 laps before ending up sixth at Talladega despite being involved in an accident on lap 137 of the 188-lap event. "We had a really strong run going, but our momentum broke when we were caught up in a wreck, but that's Talladega," said Menard. "The boys worked hard on pit road and did a great job keeping us up front. The Richmond/Menards Chevy was fast all day, so we knew it was possible to still have a strong finish. I'm proud of the team for bringing it home sixth. 'Never give up' is what we're standing by this season."

ETC.: Menard will be racing a new car this week. "It's a new addition to our stable and one we are looking forward to running," said Menard. "We think it is going to be a real good car for us. We have high hopes for this car."

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 36 points out of the top 10. Gained three spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished fifth in the spring race a year ago for his fifth top-10 finish in 11 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer will be making the 300th start of his Cup career Saturday night at Kansas Speedway. "Very fortunate to be a part of this sport for 300 races," said Bowyer. "Love this sport, love being a part of it, and hopefully we're a part of it for a long time. All of that coming down to Kansas, my home track, is even more special to be able to celebrate my 300th race right here in my own backyard at Kansas Speedway. Can't wait to get on the track. Hopefully, my 5-Hour Energy Toyota is going to be strong."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer finished third at Talladega, but he thought he was in the perfect spot to win the race if the yellow flag hadn't come out with just over a half a lap to go. "Bummer situation because I just liked what I saw with (Greg) Biffle (who was running second behind Denny Hamlin) - you knew he was going to pull out and make a move," said Bowyer. "I had my teammate (Brian Vickers) right behind me and I was really looking forward to that opportunity when Biffle did pull out and make a move. I thought that was a chance for me to get a good push from my teammate and try to pounce on those guys while they were side-by-side and stalled out. It just didn't happen. They (NASCAR) did the right thing."

ETC.: Monday was a big day for Bowyer as he signed a new three-year contract with Michael Waltrip Racing and announced he and wife Lorra are expecting their first child, a boy, later this year. Crew chief Brian Patti also agreed to a contract extension as did sponsor 5-Hour Energy. "This is big news for all of us," said Bowyer. "It creates great stability and excitement about what the next few years can bring. MWR is my racing home and continuing this relationship with 5-Hour Energy was a high priority. It's time to put the paperwork in a drawer and focus on winning."

4 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 39 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Won the pole and race last October after leading 138 of the 267 laps.

LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick believes "a lot has changed there (Kansas Speedway)" since his win in October. "Speeds will definitely be up compared to what they were last year," adds Harvick. "There will be totally new concepts with the cars and tires, so we'll have to take all of our notes and throw them out the window and create new ones as we go back. You never know what the situation's going to be with tires and cars and all the different things (rules) we have, so you have to be very open-minded."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick and Denny Hamlin swapped the lead four times between laps 180 and 184, but Harvick's hopes for his third win of the young season came to end on the final restart with two laps to go. Harvick started on the outside and his line "just never got formed up. We needed that caution before that (with four laps to go) not to have come out so we could have kept going," said Harvick, who ended up seventh. "The bottom (lane, headed by Hamlin) stayed together (on the final restart). I felt like I got a good restart with our Jimmy John's Chevrolet, but our line just never formed up. I don't think it would have made a difference if the caution hadn't come out on the last lap."

ETC.: Harvick believes Kansas is different than the other mile-and-a-half tracks on the circuit. "It's definitely a bit different just for the fact the (corner) entries are a little different than at most places," said Harvick. "Turns three and four remind me or turns three and four at Chicagoland Speedway, but there's a lot more grip and a lot fresher asphalt than what Chicagoland has nowadays. It's a very high-speed race track. You run the middle to the bottom of the race track. It's very fast and very sensitive to your line and, with all the speed and how tricky the entrance is into turn one; you can miss your line easily. So you have to be very specific about where you put your car and pay attention to what you're doing."

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 47 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Four top-eight finishes in the last five races including two runner-up finishes.

LOOKING AHEAD: Crew chief Kenny Francis was fined $25,000 for a rules infraction during qualifying last week at Talladega. Kahne said he hopes to win the race this weekend at Kansas to help Francis pay the fine. "We've come really close (to a victory) there a couple of times the last couple of years, so hopefully this will be the year we finally get one," said Kahne. "It has been a real good track for us."

LOOKING BACK: Kahne finished eighth at Talladega. "We had a really good car," said Kahne. "We just didn't get to the front when I needed to there with like 30 (laps) to go. From that point on, we were in the back. We just had to wait for wrecks to happen. You either charge through or move people a little bit and aggressively do it or else you just wait. I chose to wait and we ended up eighth. I wish the race would have went to the line though because I think we had good momentum (on the last lap) with me, Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) and Paul (Menard)." A yellow flag was waved for debris on the track with just over a half a lap to go.

ETC.: The year has not gone as well as Kahne had envisioned and he believes "all of us (on the team) looked at things in the wrong way in my opinion. We're doing a better job of that now and gaining more speed because of that as well as adjusting to the new rules. The cars are a little bit different. We just haven't been able to put it all together yet. I know we're not far off. I know when we do; we're going to be right there." Kahne won two races last year and finished 12th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 21st, 53 points out of the top 10. Lost six spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Two wins and nine top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 15 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart expects Kansas to be a little different this year "just due to weather. It was so smooth when it was first paved - even the transitions were smooth. We knew going in that it would have a ton of grip and a ton of speed, but it was smoother than most highways you go down. The key is getting more rubber on the race track. The more rubber that gets transferred, the better the racing surface. It will keep getting better the more laps we run."

LOOKING BACK: Despite a sterling record at Talladega including one win, Stewart is a not a big fan of restrictor-plate racing. He knows "The Big One" is a real likelihood, and he does not enjoy "camping out at the back" to try and miss it. But that was his strategy for most of the race. Yet Stewart was unable to avoid the 14-car melee on lap 137. He ducked low to try and miss all of the spinning cars in front of him. But several cars collected Stewart as they came off the banking to end his day in 43rd and last place.

ETC.: Stewart admits adding a fourth team this year has been challenging, but feels a bigger challenge for Stewart-Haas Racing is the fact "all of the cars are running a totally different package this year with set-ups with the no-ride-height rule and all that. Everything that we did last year is kind of out the window, and now you're doing things that are totally different. You're doing it for all four cars. So, there have been a lot of changes, but they go beyond the fourth team."

43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford

Team: Richard Petty Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 55 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished in the top 10 in both races in 2013.

LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola pointed out "We just did a Goodyear tire test at Kansas a couple weeks ago. I feel like the track has aged well. It's slicked up a little bit and lost a little bit of grip which allowed Goodyear to bring a little softer tire. Two years ago, I had probably the best race car I've ever had in my life at Kansas Speedway. This year, I think we will have a really fast Farmland car, and we should be really good."

LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished 13th at Talladega. "I expected a few of the big wrecks and tried to avoid those and did exactly that," said Almirola. "At the end with so few laps, it is really tough to go anywhere because they fan out three and four-wide. But, all in all, it was a solid day."

ETC.: The 20th anniversary of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America began last Saturday in Carlsbad, Calif., and will end Saturday, May 10 in Daytona Beach, Fl. The Ride raises funds and awareness for Victory Junction, a camp created to enrich the lives of children with chronic or life threatening illness. Car owner Richard Petty is one of the more than 175 riders that will travel more than 2,800 miles. "It's amazing to see how one tragedy (Adam Petty's death) can turn into something so incredible like Victory Junction," said Richard. Adam was Richard's grandson.

1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates

WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 56 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished seventh in the spring race a year ago for his third top-eight finish in 14 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray said, "Kansas is special for me because I grew up around there and I like going back to that part of the country. It feels like going home (Joplin, Mo.). Both of our cars ran good there last year, so I feel good about going back to Kansas Speedway. I think our mile-and-a-half program has been strong and I think we have a good baseline. Our teammate, Kyle Larson, did a tire test there a couple weeks ago and had a good test, so I look forward to having a strong weekend."

LOOKING BACK: McMurray's hopes of a second straight win at Talladega ended only 14 laps into Sunday's Aaron 499 when he tried to avoid the spinning car of Brad Keselowski. McMurray was able to miss Keselowski, but he ended up driving through the infield grass and sustained considerable damage to the left front of the car. By the time McMurray returned to the race he was seven laps down. "We were able to make up six laps with the benefit of cautions and just came up short of a lead-lap finish," said McMurray, who finished 29th. "This team never gave up today and we were able to make up a lot of positions."

ETC.: McMurray said this weekend will be a little unusual since "my mom is going to fly down and back with me. I think she's going to hang out with her friends a little bit in Joplin and then come back up to the race in Kansas. It will be nice to spend some extra time with her since this is Mother's Day weekend."

17 RICKY STENHOUSE JR., Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 79 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished 11th in his Sprint Cup debut in the spring race a year ago.

LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse is another driver "looking forward to racing at Kansas this weekend. We tested there a few weeks ago, and I feel like we are making gains on our 1.5-mile track program. Kansas is a fast, smooth track, which I like. We led there last spring so hopefully we can get our Zest Ford back up front this weekend."

LOOKING BACK: Despite suffering damage to his right-front fender during the caution with 14 laps to go, Stenhouse was able to finish 10th at Talladega. "We got a really good restart on that last restart and were able to come home with a decent finish," said Stenhouse. "I would have liked to get up there and helped (teammate Greg) Biffle (who was running second). He was kind of stuck out there as the only Ford. We will get one of these speedway races soon if we keep running up front. Our Fords are fast. The horsepower was good and I look forward to working on this car and getting ready for Daytona (in July)."

ETC.: The team announced last week that it and Stenhouse have teamed up with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to support the organization's continuing effort to build "smart homes" for injured military heroes. "It's a great cause and I am proud to carry their colors on our race car," said Stenhouse. The partnership will help raise awareness to build a smart home for Tom McRae, a Marine Gunnery Sgt., who served three tours of duty in Iraq before suffering life altering injuries while on his second deployment in Afghanistan.

41 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 27th, 101 points out of the top 10. Lost two spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished second in the fall race last year.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said he is "expecting high speeds" this weekend in Kansas. "The track will be fast. Cars will definitely be on edge. This will definitely be one of the tougher challenges of this whole Indy/NASCAR back and forth. The car on edge at Kansas is very different than the car on edge at Talladega. Now we have a night race, so it'll be interesting to see how the race track wants to make the cars handle after moving from day to night."

LOOKING BACK: Busch got caught up in a multi-car melee with only 14 laps to go and finished the day in 33rd place. "It looked like to me that the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) just got loose, and we didn't have anywhere to go, so our day was done," said Busch. "It's just so frustrating. We had a good Haas Automation Chevy and were in the mix all day. I don't know if we could have gotten up front in the final laps, but I would have liked to have had that chance at the end of the race. We were just looking for the right lane to move to the front, and we had a couple of our teammates up there with us, so who knows what could have happened."

ETC.: Busch spent Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he continues to get ready to run the Indianapolis 500 and the Coke-Cola 600 on the same day later this month. Busch, who has never run an Indy car race, logged 114 laps in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda with his fastest lap being 222.289 miles per hour. Busch also got in some pit stop practice with the Andretti crew. "The more seat time I get the better off I'm going to be," said Busch.

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