NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Saturday at Kansas Speedway: 10 drivers to watch

05/09/2014 6:06 PM

05/09/2014 8:07 PM

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet

Johnson, the defending series champion and six-time Sprint Cup champion, has yet to win in 12 races dating to last November at Texas. But Johnson, 38, is approaching the sweet spot of the schedule for the No. 48 team: intermediate tracks such as Kansas (two wins), Charlotte (six) and Dover (eight), where he can extend his record of qualifying for every Chase since the format began in 2005.

Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford

The switch to Team Penske from Joe Gibbs Racing has been a career-changer for Logano, who turns 24 on May 24. He’s already won twice this year and three times in 46 starts for Penske after winning twice in 145 starts for Joe Gibbs Racing. And he’s led more laps in 46 starts for Penske than he did in four full years with Gibbs.

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota

Kansas Speedway has been Busch’s personal house of horrors, and an argument can be made that poor showings in the fall races cost him chances at contending for at least two Sprint Cup championships. Busch, 29, is already assured of a spot in the Chase by virtue of his win at California, so he’ll use Saturday’s race to figure out Kansas Speedway in preparation for returning here for the Chase event in October.

Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota

Kenseth, who won this race from the pole last year, has won two of his last three Sprint Cup Series starts at Kansas since the track was repaved in 2012. Though Kenseth, 41, has yet to win in 2014, he has been his usual consistent self, posting seven top-10 finishes in 10 races and is second in the points standings. Kenseth, who finished second in the Chase last year in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, is battling the runner-up jinx. Five of the last six runners-up in the Chase failed to win a race the following year.

Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet

Gordon is off to a great start and leads the points race based on seven top-10 finishes, including two second-place finishes, but he desperately wants a win to clinch a spot in the Chase. Gordon, 42, won the first two races at Kansas Speedway in 2001-02 long before the track was resurfaced and reconfigured in 2012. But he finished third last fall.

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford

Keselowski’s on everyone’s bad list right now for unnecessarily creating two multicar wrecks last week at Talladega, which took out drivers like Kenseth and Gordon. Keselowski, 30, already has a win, and he’s comfortable at Kansas, where he won in 2011 and led 52 laps in the fall race. He also won on the first 1.5-mile track this season at Las Vegas.

Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet

Harvick, 38, has made the move to Stewart-Haas seamlessly and joins Logano as the only two-time winner this season. So he can use this race to prepare for the Chase race in the fall. Harvick, the pole-sitter, won last fall’s race at Kansas Speedway from the pole. Though it was his first win at Kansas in 15 attempts — the longest span of any of the 11 winners at the track — he has two top-five finishes and seven top 10s.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet

Junior loves the barbecue at Oklahoma Joe’s, but he hasn’t been very good at Kansas Speedway. In 15 career starts at Kansas, he’s yet to win, though Earnhardt finished second in 2011, the first spring race at the track, and has seven top 10s. Earnhardt, 39, hasn’t won since the Daytona 500 but has three second-place finishes this season — at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Darlington.

Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota

What a week it’s been for Bowyer, the pride of Emporia, Kan. He signed a contract extension with Michael Waltrip Racing on Monday and learned he and wife Lorra are expecting a son. Bowyer, 32, hasn’t won a race since 2012, but he looked strong in finishing third last week at Talladega, a restrictor plate track. He’s had just two top-five finishes at Kansas, including a fifth in the 2013 spring race.

Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford

Edwards, of Columbia, has a win and is fifth in the points, so he’s all but in the Chase, which means he can go for broke in trying to capture that elusive win at Kansas Speedway. Remember the dive-bomb move in 2008? Look for more derring-do from Edwards, 32, who has been frustrated with five top-five finishes at Kansas without a win.

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