The start of the second half in the 10- race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship takes place this weekend on the newly repaved Kansas Speedway. The Nationwide Series will also be at Kansas.
Sprint Cup Series
Hollywood Casino 400 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, Kan.
After winning last Saturday night's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Clint Bowyer is riding high into his home race this weekend at Kansas Speedway, which has recently been repaved.
Bowyer, who hails from nearby Emporia, Kan., gave his championship hopes a huge boost by winning at Charlotte -- the fifth round in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup. The first-year Michael Waltrip Racing driver moved to within 28 points of leader Brad Keselowski in the Chase standings.
He has scored a career-best three wins, eight top-five finishes and 19 top-10s this season.
"Coming off of the win obviously rolling into your hometown is a lot of fun, a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum and everything that comes off of a win," Bowyer said.
Bowyer has posted three top-10 finishes, including a second-place run (Sept. 2007), in eight Sprint Cup Series races at Kansas. This time, Bowyer returns to his home track with a whole lot of momentum, and a win there on Sunday could be the biggest one of his career.
"If we could possibly pull this off again in Kansas, it would be, that's my, do you dare say Daytona 500?" he said. "But it truly is. That's the biggest race you can possibly win in front of your hometown."
After suffering engine failure and finishing 36th in the spring race at Kansas earlier this year, Bowyer is hoping for a much better result in the first event to be contested on the new pavement there.
This 1.5-mile track has also been reconfigured. The turns were banked 15 degrees, but variable banking from 17 degrees to 20, which is very similar to the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway, should create multiple racing grooves.
A Goodyear Tire test was conducted at Kansas the last week in August. But NASCAR has granted Sprint Cup teams additional practice time this week for them to get familiar with the new surface and the reconfiguration.
"There's definitely a lot more practice on the racetrack, but it's because it's a repave, and nobody has seen it before," Bowyer said. "More importantly, the track needs to get rubber burnt into it and get cleaned off."
With the exception of a few drivers who participated in the tire test, most competitors got their first look at the new Kansas track on Wednesday. The first day of testing, though, was shortened from four hours to two due to rain. Testing will continue on Thursday morning, and teams will practice again on Friday and Saturday.
Of the 47 cars that were on the track on Wednesday, 30 of them posted speeds faster than the current track qualifying record of 180.856 mph, set by Matt Kenseth in 2005. Greg Biffle, who is Kenseth's teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, turned the fastest lap in the session at 184.900 mph.
"This track went from being pretty abrasive and wearing the tires out to now it's smooth and just super fast," said Chase driver Jeff Gordon, who won the first two Cup races at Kansas from 2001-02. "The times don't fall off. If anything, they get faster. It's basically like going to a whole new racetrack."
Among the 47 cars that tested, four were the redesigned 2013 models. The teams testing the future cars were Michael Waltrip Racing, Penske Racing, Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and Wood Brothers Racing.
Kansas is the third track to receive a new coat of asphalt this year, joining Pocono Raceway and Michigan International Speedway. NASCAR officials believe the racing grooves at Kansas will multiply as more rubber accumulates on the track, which was the case earlier this season at Pocono and Michigan.
"Eventually, the groove will move up naturally, and I think the second or third groove very well could be one of the fastest ways around," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said after Wednesday's test had concluded.
Teams and race officials are hopeful the upcoming weekend at Kansas will not feature the same issues that occurred in the June event at Michigan. Several teams experienced tire blistering in the first two days of practice there. NASCAR and Goodyear were forced to use a tougher left-side tire for that race, which prompted an extra practice session the evening before the event.
"We don't need to go into a racetrack and have an issue," said title contender Jimmie Johnson. "I know there was a tire test, but it's always different when the entire field is there pushing one another. We seem to have other things surface from a tire standpoint or even the asphalt itself. There's always that risk of it pulling up, so it's nice that we go there.
"We all get acclimated with the new surface and re-design. I guess there are some small little changes and things; and validate the tire and validate the track and get everything right, so that when we show up Friday, we can put on the show that we need to."
Johnson, who won last year's fall race at Kansas, is presently seven points behind Keselowski. Denny Hamlin is 15 points out of the lead. Hamlin won at this track in April.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Hollywood Casino 400.
Kansas Lottery 300 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, Kan.
Saturday's race at Kansas Speedway begins the final four for the Nationwide Series.
Elliott Sadler comes to Kansas with a 13-point lead over defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Sadler's third-place finish in last Friday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway allowed him to gain four points on Stenhouse, who placed seventh.
Nationwide teams will arrive at Kansas one day earlier than normal to get familiar with the track's new pavement and configuration. NASCAR has scheduled a four-hour practice session for teams on Thursday afternoon, shortly after Sprint Cup Series practice has concluded.
The 1.5-mile racetrack underwent a repaving project following the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races there in April.
"This is definitely the wild card left on our schedule," Sadler said. "No one really knows what to expect after Kansas Speedway was repaved, so the practice sessions on Thursday and Friday are very important."
Sadler finished third, while Stenhouse placed fifth in last year's Nationwide race at Kansas. Stenhouse posted a sixth-place finish there in 2010.
"We need to have a strong top-five run this weekend," Stenhouse said. "I'm confident in my team going into the final four races. We are only 13 points out of the championship lead. We will keep chipping away at that deficit each week to regain the points lead."
Rookie Austin Dillon enters this race 29 points behind Sadler, who is his teammate at Richard Childress Racing. Dillon will compete in a Nationwide event at Kansas for the first time. The 22-year-old driver has been impressive on the mile and a halfs this season, recording an average finish of 5.1 on them, which is better than any other driver currently ranked in the top-five in points. He won both races at Kentucky this year.
"The No. 3 team has performed very well on 1.5-mile tracks in the past, and I expect this weekend will be no different," Dillon said. "Our goal is to gain maximum points, and the way you do that is by winning races. I'm excited to go to Kansas Speedway, and I definitely have high expectations."
Sam Hornish Jr. is presently fourth in the point standings (-93) and Michael Annett is fifth (-146).
Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Paul Menard are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race. Logano claimed his eighth Nationwide win of the season at Charlotte. He won the Nationwide event at Kansas in 2009 and '10.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kansas Lottery 300.