Intensity kicks up as Chase hits Kansas Speedway

Drew Davison
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The NASCAR circuit is headed to Kansas City this weekend. Unfortunately, most of the city's attention will be elsewhere.

The Royals are in the playoffs for the first time in 29 years. And they're playing at home Sunday, same day as the Hollywood Casino 400.

Sorry about that, NASCAR.

For racing fans, though, Kansas Speedway is where the new format for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship gets interesting.

The field has been whittled to 12 and the points have been reset so everybody is on a level-playing field. Four more drivers will be dropped this round, known as the "Contender Round."

It starts at Kansas on Sunday, then heads to Charlotte and ends at Talladega, a track where anything can and usually does happen. This round has drama written all over it.

Winning, therefore, is the only real way for a driver to guarantee himself a spot in the next round. Equally important, as multiple drivers have said this week, is building as much of a points cushion as possible the first two races to avoid a Talladega nightmare.

"A really tough round, especially going to Talladega for the last race of that round," contender and last season's Kansas winner Matt Kenseth said. "It's going to be really weird and interesting because whoever is in it, I think you're going to see people riding in the back because they think there's going to be a wreck, but you have to go eventually. There's going to be a lot going on there. That will be an interesting one to narrow it down from 12 to eight."

No track compares to Talladega, of course, but Kansas is unpredictable in its own right. It was repaved two years ago and the drivers are still getting used to it.

As Brad Keselowski of Rochester Hills said, "Two of the three races are as much of a wild card as you can get in NASCAR racing these days."

It should be an entertaining race and start to what has the makings of an intense round. It's just too bad it's happening in a city where it'll be overshadowed.

Sweep on the mind

Jeff Gordon won at Kansas in May and would love nothing more than to become the first driver to pull a season sweep at a 1.5-mile tri-oval.

"A great track for us historically," Gordon said. "We've got a great team, having a lot of fun. Our confidence is high and we go to a track that was very good to us earlier."

It won't be easy, though, as six other contenders have wins at the track as well.

Underdog story

Kasey Kahne sneaked into the Chase late with a win at Atlanta, and was the last driver to make the Contender Round.

Luck, it seems, is on his side and nobody should be surprised if he fares well at Kansas. He doesn't have a win there, but has three poles and four top-five runs in his career.

"I feel like we have a shot," Kahne said. "We've had really fast cars, but things haven't gone our way the last few races. But I think our cars have been pretty quick, so looking forward to Kansas."