I've never been to Kansas. I've driven through every surrounding state: Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri - when I was within a straightaway of Kansas. I can attest to one thing: it's as flat as you imagine it to be.
However, despite the landscape of both the state and the current Chase field (nine drivers are on a relatively-level surface), this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400 should feature some mountain highs and valley lows for the drivers depending on their respective outcomes.
I keep trying to pitch the idea that the upcoming week will help draw a clearer Chase picture. I've finally waived the white flag on that assertion. As my blog post said yesterday, the one thing we do know is that we don't know much about who the top contenders for the Chase will end up being, and that we might never get a full idea until it's over.
However, Tony Stewart's immediate fall from first after a poor Dover finish, despite winning the first two races, proves just how important it is to keep turning in quality finishes to ascend toward the top. We haven't separated the cream from the crop, but the curdles certainly seem to sinking to the bottom.
Each of the first three weeks a driver's poor finish has more or less taken him out of contention. At Chicagoland, it was Denny Hamlin. Here at NHMS, it was Ryan Newman. Last week, the bubble burst for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Those three seemed like some of the long shots entering the Chase. This week, there's no clear candidate for who will fall next. However, that doesn't mean that one of these drivers won't limp home with a high-20s finish and watch the rest of the field race off into the Kansas horizon.
Likewise, it's also getting to that pivotal point where the top drivers need to rise up and prove that they're in it to win it. Here's a look at who will be rising and who will be falling in the flatlands, as you prepare the fantasy league roster.
*In case you're new to this segment, check out my first fantasy post on how the system works.
Strategy: It's a "cookie-cutter" track at 1.5 miles with medium banking, meaning it's like the average intermediate track in NASCAR. The rule is that cookie-cutter tracks often lead to cookie-cutter finishes. Drivers tend to finish consistently from race to race on these tracks.
#16 Greg Biffle - It's not often I'd recommend the only A-List driver not in the Chase, but Biffle has been fantastic at Kansas. In ten starts, he's only finished worse than 12th once (it was due to an accident), has won twice, posted an average finish of 8.3 and tops the field with a 118.8 driver rating.
#24 Jeff Gordon - Gordon's 107.3 driver rating is third best at Kansas and, with nine top-10s in 11 starts, his 8.1 average finish is a series best on this track. He needs to do well to move up from ninth in the Chase standings, so look for him to put together a strong run.
#48 Jimmie Johnson - Johnson's driver rating of 116.5 at Kansas falls between Biffle and Gordon. He jumped back into the Chase picture with a great run at Dover last week and this is the time of season we'll see the No. 48 peak. Most any week is a good week to get him out there!
#18 Kyle Busch - With just one top-10 in eight starts and an average finish of 22.4, this race is expected to do more harm than good for Rowdy's shot at the title.
#2 Brad Keselowski - Keselowski won here in June to announce his contention for the Chase and he always tends to be one of the best B-LIst options these days.
#33 Clint Bowyer - He hasn't finished in the top-10 in the last four starts at his home track of Kansas, but headed home with the expectation he'll have a new contract signed by week's end, he should be able to relax and go for it. I expect a good week.
#43 AJ Allmendinger - Two top-10s in four starts at Kansas make him a viable option this week.
#88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Junior has five top-10s in 11 starts at Kansas and finished second here earlier in the year. However, he was finishing much better then than he is now. I'm not recommending him too highly, but if you were one of those people that saved his starts for the Chase and are now looking for an excuse to use him, this would be a good week to do so.
#39 Ryan Newman - Newman's 63.4 driver rating at Kansas is downright horrible and he's started to fade anyway. This is a good week to leave the No. 39 in the garage.
#56 Martin Truex Jr. - His average finish here of 24.7 is noticeably worse than a career of 19.5. Credit him for becoming somewhat a fantasy option lately, but that's not the case this week.
#6 David Ragan - Ragan's been the best C-List driver recently and is one of the list's few options this week.
#27 Paul Menard - Menard is the only other viable option other than Ragan, but he hasn't been finishing as well of late.
#13 Casey Mears - If you look at track history, you'll notice Mears has two top-fives in nine starts. But, remember the word "history" and keep in mind that he's not in the same equipment he was when he strung together those finishes in 2006 and 2007.
My Preliminary Roster
A - JOHNSON (3), Gordon (6)
B - ALLMENDINGER (6), KESELOWSKI (6), Bowyer (2), Martin (3)
C - RAGAN (2), Menard (3)
*Number in parenthesis are allocations remaining.