NASCAR Chase For The Cup: A Tighter Race Goes To Kansas

If recent history at the Kansas Speedway is any guide, we should see some type of significant movement in the NASCAR Chase For The Cup. The track that hosts Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (1 PM ET, ESPN) has seen recent winners that include all the current leaders and a few of the longshot contenders.

Brad Keselowski, who won one of the two races run here in 2011, is still the leader with five races to go, but his lead was cut in half by Jimmie Johnson, who now trails him by just seven points. Denny Hamlin moved to within fifteen points—still a ways to go, but he’s got a puncher’s chance. And Clint Bowyer, who won last week in Charlotte is still close enough to dream of a miracle finish at 23 points out.

“It came down to a fuel mileage race,” said TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill. He went on to explain that this is a race where the drivers aren’t in position to make pit stops and victory ends up going to he who manages his remaining fuel better. Keselowski didn’t and allowed other drivers back into the championship picture.

Sunday’s race may come down to something similar. “It should be a fast track,” Bill told TheSportsNotebook. “But it’s a cookie-cutter, so there’s not a lot of unique characteristics.” The bland structure of the track doesn’t lend itself to anything crazy happening, but as we saw last week in Charlotte, that’s not necessary to tighten things up.

Hamlin won an April race held at this same venue and a win on Sunday puts him right back near the top. Johnson joined Keselowski in winning in ’11. Other outlying contenders who have won here in the last five years include Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart, though each would need almost everything to go right for five straight weeks to even have a shot.

But we’ve got a tighter Chase For The Cup than we did a week ago. When the drivers arrived in Charlotte, Johnson was the only one in shouting distance of Keselowski . Now JJ is close, and Hamlin’s moved to shouting distance. We’ll see which driver can recapture their previous winning form at the Kansas Speedway on Sunday.