Here are five drivers to watch as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the KC Masterpiece 400.
The NASCAR Cup Series is headed to Kansas Speedway for the first of two trips to the 1.5-mile speedway. The second trip is the cutoff race for the Round of 12, making the first trip to Kansas Speedway very important for playoff eligible drivers.
Four of the five drivers from last week’s edition of who to watch finished inside the top-12 at Dover. One driver who hasn’t been on any of these weekly lists so far this season is Matt Kenseth, who will be making his return to Roush Fenway Racing this weekend.
All eyes will be on Kenseth this weekend, has he takes over the No. 6 Ford for the next six weekends until relinquishing the ride back to Trevor Bayne for a series of races.
How will Matt Kenseth perform in his return to NASCAR competition after sitting out the first 10 races? Will Kevin Harvick win for a third time on a 1.5-mile track this season? Can Aric Almirola find victory lane one year after his devastating crash at Kansas Speedway?
Here are five drivers to keep any eye on this weekend to see how they perform at Kansas Speedway.
Kenseth was shuffled out of a ride at the conclusion of the 2017 season. Now Kenseth finds himself back in the Cup Series for the team he started his career with.
Trevor Bayne has been behind the wheel of the No. 6 Ford that Kenseth will take over this weekend for the first 10 races. Bayne has a best finish of 12th at Texas but sits 29th in points. His teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sits in 17th.
Making a switch to a veteran driver like Kenseth will provide Roush Fenway Racing with an opportunity to evaluate the car and team performance.
“My goal is to help the team improve, so the first thing I need to do is understand where we’re at currently,” said Kenseth in his pre-race release.
“I really won’t know that until we start turning some laps and working together, and for me, that starts Friday morning. Kansas has been a good track for me over the years. We’ve won there before with RFR. But, right now, I’m just looking forward to getting back to the track and getting to work.”
A finish for Kenseth on the lead lap inside the top-20 wouldn’t come as a surprise but anything inside the top-10 would be a real shocker.
Harvick picked up his fourth win of the year at Dover last weekend and is poised to find victory lane at Kansas Speedway again this weekend.
“Our intermediates have been really good, and we’ve been good everywhere as a company,” said Harvick in his pre-race release. “As you look at Kansas, in general, it’s been one of my best racetracks through the years. And since I’ve come to SHR, it’s probably been one of our top-two racetracks.”
In the last three races at Kansas, Harvick has a series-best 4.0 average finish with one win, three top-ten finishes and 121 laps led.
“It’s been a fun place to go to. I feel like we should’ve won more races there than we have, but I think you can say that at a lot of places, and sometimes the circumstances dictate that.”
Harvick’s biggest competition on intermediate ovals this year has been Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
Ryan Blaney has been impressive at Kansas Speedway in his last three races. He has posted two top-five finishes and leading a total of 86 laps.
Last spring, Blaney started on the pole and finished fourth. He led 83 laps, second best to Martin Truex Jr.’s 104 laps led.
Blaney is still in search of his second career win. With the strong start to the season for Team Penske, he could pick up that second victory this weekend.
It’s been one year since Aric Almirola missed seven races after breaking his back in an accident last May at Kansas Speedway.
“That was just an unfortunate event that took place,”aid Almriola in his pre-race release. T”he circumstances just happened perfectly and I was in a crash and broke my back, but I can’t think about that and worry about that. I’m looking forward to going to Kansas and putting ourselves in position to go win.”
This season, Almirola has been off to a great start with his new team Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola sits 11th in points with four top-ten finishes. Returning to Kansas Speedway for the second time since his accident, has Almirola ready for another strong finish.
“I went back there in October last year, a few months after my injury, and actually got a top-10. So that was kind of sweet revenge of going back to that track and having a good run and kind of putting the accident behind me.”
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. swept both races at Kansas Speedway last year, so it would be foolish to leave him off of this list. Truex led a combined 195 laps in his two wins and has an average finish of 4.3 in his last three races at the 1.5-mile speedway.
“Winning three straight at Kansas would be pretty special,” Truex said in his pre-race release. “We’ve been so good there the past three or four years but also had some heartbreakers after having the best car and not winning. Getting those two last year meant a lot. It was gratifying to get the job done but still feel the track owes us a few more.”
If Kansas Speedway does indeed owe Truex Jr., then the rest of the field could be in for a long night.
Follow Matt on Twitter @mattlovisa.