The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes it games to Kansas City, KS this Sunday for a 12:30 PM ET race on Fox. Last week, Greg Biffle built on the lead he held in the overall standings by winning his first race of the season. “It was good to see him win,” said my brother Bill, the NASCAR junkie and consultant here at TheSportsNotebook. “He’s been very consistent. “ Indeed, with four other Top 10 finishes, and three additional Top 5 finishes to go with last Saturday’s win, Biffle’s steadiness is the story of this Sprint Cup season in its early phase and he holds a 21-point lead in the standings.
Matt Kenseth is running second, having put together three Top 5 finishes since his win at the Daytona 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr., with the rabid fan base Bill called “Junior Nation”, is running third as he seeks his first win of the young season. Perhaps the most noteworthy part about the upper crust of the standings is who is not present—Jimmie Johnson is seventh, Tony Stewart is eighth and Carl Edwards is 11th. While the Top 10 drives quality for the Sprint To The Finish at the end of the season, this is not a pure playoff system where everyone starts from scratch. Points are re-scaled based on how you finish, so being in 7th or 8th place would still be a tough row to hoe. The positive for those chasing Biffle is that there’s plenty of time between now and August to get oneself positioned.
The big names have traditionally won at Kansas City. From 2007-10 there was one race per year held at this track, with Biffle winning twice while Stewart and Johnson grabbed the other two. Last year KC expanded to two races. Johnson won another one, while Brad Kieslowski was able to sneak in and get the second.
“This a track set up like Chicagoland, Las Vegas, Michigan and California,” Bill told TheSportsNotebook. “It’s a faster track.” From our week-to-week conversations about the tracks, it’s apparent that the new tracks are being built to encourage speed and make it easier to pass. The upside is an obviously more exciting race. The downside is that tracks lose their individual character. Indeed, Bill dubs the new tracks “cookie-cutters”, and it’s not a compliment. It’s a spinoff of the phrase used to describe baseball stadiums built in the 1970s that were so similar it seemed a cookie-cutter had stamped each one out of the dough.
Fast track or no, Kansas City has favored the big names, and Biffle is one of them. He’s clearly the man to beat in the overall standings, and someone is going to have to step up and string together a series of good races to catch him. Kansas City is where it needs to start.