The Monster Energy Cup Series will be under the lights at Kansas Speedway this week for the Digital Ally 400. It will be the second night race of the season and the fourth race on a 1.5-mile track. The cream usually rises to the top at this track so expect the drivers at the top f the point standings to be in front of the field this week. The Digital Ally 400 can be seen Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
The MENCS will be back to the 550 HP, 2” splitter and 8” spoiler aero package this week. This rules package was used at Las Vegas, Auto Club and Texas. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch are the only drivers to finish all 3 races in this aero package in the top 10.
Three drivers tested at Chicagoland Speedway this week. They include Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman (All Fords). This test is important because the teams used the same tire that will be used at Kansas and Chicago is the most similar track to Kansas. These 3 drivers should unload with a lot of speed Friday.
Goodyear will use the same right-side tires that were used at Las Vegas and Texas this year. The left-side tire will be the same as what was used last week at Dover. Goodyear Director of Racing, Greg Stucker said, “The tires have not worn as much this season because the 2019 aero package does not promote sliding in the corners. We are hoping for a 1.5 second fall-off through a fuel run to promote 4-tire pit stops.” Each team will receive 3 sets of tires for the two practices, 1 for qualifying and 9 sets for the race (one of the nine will either be from practice or from qualifying).
* NASCAR will inspect the cars Saturday afternoon. The inspection is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. ET. Any car that fails will start in the back and be scored in Fantasy NASCAR from his qualifying position. I will try to post updates of cars who fail on my Twitter account: @MrFantasyNASCAR If I need to change my picks they will be posted before the race.
Chase Elliott: Elliott will have a lot of momentum heading into the Kansas race after his win at Talladega and top-5 finish at Dover. He told MRN radio after the race Monday, “We are not going to say we are back until we prove we can run up front at Kansas. We won the last race at the track so if we can back it up with another solid run Saturday night, then we can say HMS is back.” Elliott made some long runs and said, “It has speed and feels good but it is inconsistent. I run 5 laps and it is all good and then the next 5 is free. The after 10 laps it is OK again. Maybe work on the balance.” After his final run Elliott, “It is better than where we were in practice in October.” (Elliott won that race)
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson has a series-high 3 wins at Kansas but his average finishing position in the last 4 races at the track is 16.5. He has only been mediocre in this aero package too. The No. 48 car finished 19th at Las Vegas, 17th at Auto Club but he was able to finish 5th at Texas. Johnson was fighting a loose racecar. He said, “The back snaps out on the exit.”
Alex Bowman: Bowman has been on fire the last two races. He finished 2nd at Talladega and 2nd at Dover. Kansas is his best 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman has finished 2 of the last 3 races at the track in the top 10. Bowman made some short runs and said, “The car is really bouncy bad.” The team made a shock adjustment. Bowman went back out and said, “The bounciness went away, but still loose. I can hold it wide open by I cannot run the top the way I want.” Bowman got into the wall in final practice but the team said it was cosmetic damage.
William Byron: Byron is starting to improve in the Cup Series. He finished 8th last week at Dover and he finished 6th in his last race at a 1.5-mile track at Texas. It will be hard for him to repeat those numbers Saturday night. Kansas is the worst track for Byron. He finished 38th and 33rd in the two races in the Heartland last year. Byron told Chad Knaus, “It is too loose in the right rear. It feels like that tire is sliding through the corners.” After his final run Byron said, “It starts off loose and builds tight. At the end of the run it is plowing tight.”
Kyle Larson: Was last week’s 3rd place finish a sign that Larson is starting to turn his 2019 season around. He has had speed all season but his luck has been horrible. Hopefully Jeff Gordon’s voodoo is helping Larson. The No. 42 car was one of the best at Kansas in 2018. Larson finished 4th in the spring and 3rd in the fall. He said he likes this track because of the high speed and the bumps. Larson said his car was “lacking rotation through the center of the corner.” He was also having problems seeing his mirrors. The team worked on adjusting his window net so he could see his mirrors. After his final run Larson said, “The balance is excellent.” He was P4 at the time. Larson got into the wall at the end of practice but the team said it was cosmetic damage.
Kurt Busch: Busch has been one of the best drivers in the 550 HP Engine, high down-force aero package. He finished 3rd at Atlanta, 5th at Las Vegas, 6th at Auto Club and 9th at Texas. He has a 9.2 average finishing position in his last 3 races at Kansas so he should be fast this week. Busch was not happy at the start of practice. He said, “It feels like a pogo stick…bouncing terrible and spinning loose on exit.” Mid-way through final practice Busch said, “Whatever you did, give me more of that. It helped tremendously.” Busch went to P1 on the Speed chart.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick is still looking for his 1st win of the season. It could come Saturday night. Harvick has a series-high 123.1 Driver Ranking and a series-high 4.3 average running position in the last 4 races at Kansas. He has a 5.3 average finishing position while using the 550 HP engine, high down-force aero package this season. Harvick made some long runs and said, “The bottom is good, the middle is good… just need to figure out how to run the top because it is going to be fricken hard to pass and that should be the passing line.” Rodney Childers told Harvick, “The 42 is making real good time at the top.” Harvick responded, “Yeah… that is not something we need to mess with right now. The car is too good to risk getting into the wall.”
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is always excited to win at his home track. This year will be the best chance he has ever had. Bowyer has run well in the current aero package. Bowyer finished 2nd in the last race on a 1.5-mile track at Texas. Bowyer only has 1 finish in the top 10 at Kansas in his last 11 races at the track so lower your expectations this week.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez has been one of the surprise drivers of the 2019 season. Suarez has a 12.5 average finishing position through the first 11 races of the season. Suarez finished 3rd in the last race at a 1.5-mile track so he could be good again Saturday night. Suarez told his team, “I can run it wide open but it needs more drivability.”
Aric Almirola: Almirola has been one of the most consistent drivers on the intermediate tracks. Almriola has finished every race at the intermediate tracks in the top 10 since the start of the playoff last year (8 races). Almirola has finished the last 3 races at Kansas in the top 10. Almirola was happy with his car. He said, “It is pretty neutral on both ends. A little more free off of 3 and 4 but that may be the wind more than the car.”
Brad Keselowski: Keselowski could be a great pick to win Saturday night. He has been awesome on the intermediate tracks this season. Keselowski won at Atlanta, finished 2nd at Las Vegas and 3rd at Auto Club. Keselowski tested at Chicagoland Speedway this week (very similar track to Kansas) so he should have a good idea of how this tire will wear this week. Keselowski had the same comments as most drivers in practice. He said, “It is really fast by myself but it is evil in traffic.”
Joey Logano: Logano has been very good at Kansas if you eliminate the 2017 season (Logano was in a slump that season). Logano has a 7.4 average finishing position at Kansas since 2013, including 2 trips to Victory Lane when you take out the 2017 season. Logano also won at Ls Vegas this season. That track is similar to Kansas. The No. 22 team told Logano, “You are the best at the top of the track. No one is even close.”
Ryan Blaney: Kansas is the best 1.5-mile track for Blaney. He has finished 3 of the last 4 races at the track in the top 10. Blaney has also score Stage points in every Stage at Kansas since NASCAR began to use the rule in 2017. Blaney started out practice too free. They brought in the No. 12 car and made some adjustments and Blaney said, “Much better.”
Paul Menard: Menard finished 6th in this race last year. It was his first top-10 finish at Kansas since 2014. Menard tested at Chicagoland Speedway this week so that should help him with his setup for the race Saturday night. Menard has a 17th-place average finishing position in the 550 HP engine, high down-force aero package this season.
Kyle Busch: Busch has finished every race this season in the top 10. He will have a good chance to extend that streak Saturday night because the last time Busch finished outside the top 10 at Kansas was in 2014 (10 races ago). Busch has a 5h-place average finishing position on the intermediate tracks this season. That includes a win at Auto Club Speedway. Busch was not happy (but do not read too much into it). He said, “I can run fast by myself but it sucks in traffic. You just cannot pass with these cars. F—ing sucks!”
Erik Jones: The No. 20 car has had a lot of speed this season but they kept having bad luck. Maybe their luck is turning around after Jones finished 6th at Dover. Jones has more experience at Kansas than any other track on the circuit since he filled in for Kyle Busch at Kansas in 2015. He finished 7 in the spring and 4th in the fall in the Heartland last year.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin got sick after the race at Dover when carbon monoxide got into the car. He said he will be fine for the race at Kansas. Hamlin has been good in the 550 HP engine, high down-force aero package this season. Hamlin finished Hamlin told his team after 2 runs, “It is darty loose. Free on entry and exit.” After his final run Hamlin said, “It is better. Definitely derivable. I have F—ing tape on the hood and it is F—ing distracting.”
Martin Truex Jr.: Truex will have a great chance to win Saturday night. He won the last 2 races on non-Superspeedway tracks (Dover and Richmond). Truex has been the best driver at Kansas over the last 2 seasons. He finished 1st, 1st, 2nd and 5th in his last 4 races at the track. Truex liked his car but hated the aero package. He said, “Every time I run up on another car it gets killed. It is like hitting a wall. That is what your race is going to be like.” The No. 19 team was working on their “Night time setup.” Truex always post slow practice times in night races but his car usually comes alive when the lights come on.
Matt DiBenedetto: The owner of the No. 95 car (Bob Leavine) made headlines this week when he said he does not like the aero package NASCAR is using this season. DiBenedetto has not had much success so that is probably the reason for the frustration. DiBenedetto has a 22.7 average finishing position on the intermediate tracks this season.
Daniel Hemric: Hemric will be making his first start in the MENCS at Kansas. This is one of his best tracks when Hemric drove in the Xfinity Series. Hemric won the pole, lead a race-high 128 laps and finished 2nd at Kansas in the Xfinity Series last season. Hemric made some long runs and said, “The balance is not bad. Just a tick loose in the center.” After his final run Hemric said, “Just a tick free but not horrible.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon has been decent at Kansas in his career. He has a 11.6 average finishing position at the track over the last 6 races. The No. 3 team has been good at qualifying at the intermediate tracks but their race results are between 10th and 20th. Dillon made a long run and said, “The drivability is really good. It is good at the top and bottom. How is my time?” The team responded, “You are P6.”
Ty Dillon: After a slow start to the season, Dillon started to pick up momentum when NASCAR started to compete at the smaller tracks. No the series will be back to the 550 HP engines with higher down-force. How will this affect Dillon? His team did move to Welcome, North Carolina to be closer to Richard Childress Racing so Dillon should be better than he was earlier in the season. Dillon said his car is “too loose. It is too front sensitive.” After some adjustments Dillon said, “The front is better but the back is still too loose.”
Ryan Preece: Preece will be making his first start in the MENCS at Kansas this week. The No. 47 car has not been very good on the intermediate tracks this season. His average finishing position is 26.2 in these 4 races. Preece was happy with his car. He said, “This is by far the best car we have ever unloaded with.” He was 9th fastest at the time.
Chris Buescher: Buescher has run well at the intermediate tracks this season but bad luck has caused him to finish outside the top 20. His luck has to change sooner or later and I think it will be at Kansas. Buescher has an 18.5 average finishing position at Kansas while driving for JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished 6th at Kansas in 2017. Buescher told his team, “When I miss the bumps it is not bad, but the bumps really free it up in the corners.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has competed in 12 races at Kansas and he has never finished in the top 10. It probably will not happen this week either. Stenhouse has a 14th-place average finishing position in the 4 intermediate track races this season. Stenhouse made some runs in the pack. He said, “The front is still tight and the rear is edgy. I had a run on the No. 9 (Chase Elliott) but as soon as I got to him the car stalled out.”
Ryan Newman: Newman had his streak of 3 consecutive top-10 finishes broken last week at Dover. Kansas is one of his worst tracks. Newman has a 26th-place average finishing position in the last 5 races at Kansas. He did test at Chicagoland Speedway this week so maybe that will help his performance Saturday night. Newman was complaining his car was “Too loose and hitting the splitter” on the track.
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson (Do not forget Martin Turex. Jr. His car was setup for night racing so his lap speeds were down).
Good Sleeper Picks: Aric Alimirola, Ryan Blaney, Erik JonesAlex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric, Ryan Preece and Tyle Reddick
MENCSl Practice Speeds
Best 10-Lap Avg. Speed
Best 15-Lap / 20-Lap Average Speed
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