NASCAR will make its annual trip to Clint Bowyer's home state of Kansas for the third race in the Chase, the Price Chopper 400.
Kansas' 1.5 mile oval, opened in 2001, the first of four similar intermediate tracks, often called “cookie cutter tracks”, left on the 2009 schedule. This fact allows teams a little more of a head start on setting up their cars than only making a single trip there might suggest, crucial for both the team's preparations and early signals of possible victors.
“They're not brand new race tracks,” explains Brian Vickers about the venues the series only visits every 12 months. “We have some notes. You can take stuff you've learnt at other race tracks that are similar and apply them.”
“Everybody's in the same boat. It's not like half the field got to race there and half the field didn't.”
Kurt Busch, who will arrive in Kansas fourth in the points disagrees. “[You don't] really [have] a notebook to look at from the Spring,” he says. “You gotta go all the way back to last October. Lot of things have happened since last October set-up wise,” he adds, also mentioning that Homestead, which will again host the series finale is a similar scenario.
However, for many drivers the similarities between Kansas and other tracks, especially Chicagoland – Juan Montoya describes how “sometimes you go through a tunnel and you don't know where you are”, describing Kansas as a “photocopy” of the Illinois facility.
Looking at statistics the best placed driver (once again) is Dover winner Jimmie Johnson, ahead of a raft of Roush drivers and Jeff Gordon. But with Roush struggling to find any sort of form this year it looks likely that Sunday will be another Hendrick Motorsports battle.
“I think out mile and a half program has picked up dramatically this year,” says Gordon, whose sole win this year came at the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway. The third Hendrick driver who is likely to figure is points leader Mark Martin, who won at Kansas' “photocopy” earlier this year, while other Chase contenders Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Brian Vickers have also found some success on intermediate track this year.
Both Kahne and Vickers, at 189 and 151 points respectively behind Martin are among those drivers already needing a comeback if they are to challenge for the title. Newman on the other hand at only 110 points behind sits in seventh, with Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Juan Montoya between him and leading Hendrick duo.
Qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is scheduled to start at 3:40pm (local time) with the race at 1:00 (local time) on Sunday.