KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Nearly all who rolled into Kansas Speedway this weekend still in contention for the Sprint Cup championship should feel good about their chances.
Brad Keselowski won at the track a few years ago. Matt Kenseth has two victories in the past five races there. Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick — the pole-sitter for today's Hollywood Casino 400 — have all won at the fast, 11/2-mile oval that kicks off the latest round in the Chase for the Championship.
Even Kasey Kahne, who barely squeezed into the 12-driver field for this round of NASCAR's postseason, posted back-to-back top-five finishes at Kansas.
"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."
Yep, optimism abounds up and down pit road at Kansas.
Until you get to Kyle Busch.
If anybody should feel a bit nervous about the three-race stretch that will pare the field to eight, it's the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He crashed out of the Chase race the past two years at Kansas, and three of the past four races there overall.
"We'll see how this time goes," Busch said. "There have been some times where we felt like we should have been faster some places this year and haven't quite been, so no reason to think that Kansas being one of our worst tracks we can't go there and try to run well."
Kansas hasn't always been Busch's house of horrors. He has been strong in practice and qualified seventh on Friday.
But Busch's best Sprint Cup finish at Kansas is seventh, in 2006. His average the past four races is 30th, and that result Sunday would put him in plenty of trouble with stops at Charlotte and the lottery known as Talladega looming.
Under the new Chase format, if one of the contenders wins today he guarantees himself a spot in the eliminator round, and takes the pressure off the next couple of weeks. That no small thing considering the high-speed potholes that can pop up at Talladega, where the slightest bobble at the restrictor-plate track can wipe away half of the field — and a slew of championship contenders.
That's why the last race in the current three-race portion of the Chase is the one that fills most drivers — not named Kyle Busch — with the greatest amount of dread.
"If you have two solid weeks here, a crash at Talladega might not hurt you so bad, especially if all the guys you're racing wreck as well," said six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who starts 32nd today after spinning out in his first qualifying run.
"Two people, or maybe one, will have that opportunity," Johnson said, "but the other 10 Chasers will show up there with a lot of pressure to get to the checkered flag."