What impact will the new surface at Kansas Speedway have on Sunday?
That's the question that you'll hear more times than you can count over the course of this week, as Sunday's race is the first Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas since the track repaved. Gone is the consistent 15 degrees of banking throughout the track's four corners, replaced by variable banking of 17 degrees near the white line and 20 degrees near the wall.
So, we ask again, what impact will the new surface have? Since racing can be such a finicky beast, it's probably impossible to figure out the exact significance of past performance at a remodeled racetrack. You certainly can't look back to the last few races on the old surface for a reliable indicator, but can you throw out the results completely?
The result is probably somewhere in the middle. What we do know, however, is that Jimmie Johnson (surprise!) and Greg Biffle were the two best drivers at Kansas before the repave. And it wouldn't be stunning if they were two of the best drivers at Kansas after the repave. But how much of it is the driver and the car instead of the track?
Johnson: Vader has two wins and 10 top 10 finishes at Kansas Speedway for an average finish of 7.9. He won last year's fall race here and was in the thick of the Chase mix until the following week at Charlotte. He was also third in the spring.
Biffle: Biffle is just fractionally worse than Johnson at Kansas with an average finish of 8.0, and that can be traced back to his only nine top 10s in 12 starts. Biffle also has two wins at Kansas; in the near darkness in 2007, and in the fall race in 2010.
Brad Keselowski: Jetski's first Sprint Cup Series win for Roger Penske came in the 2011 spring race at Kansas, when he conserved enough fuel over the final laps to pull away from the field. Back then, it was a surprising win. Now? No, not at all, and we're surprised when Keselowski and Paul Wolfe don't make their fuel supply last longer than everyone else's. His average finish is 10.2.
Jeff Gordon: The winner of the first two races at Kansas hasn't won since, but has nine top 10s in 13 starts at the track. His average finish is 11.1, but his last two Kansas finishes have been 34th thanks to an engine failure, and 21st.
Tony Stewart: Stewart showed Keselowski how to win a fuel mileage race at Kansas in 2006, when he coasted more than a half of a lap without fuel to the win. In 2009, he won without the benefit of fuel mileage, outrunning Gordon to the finish over the race's final green flag segment. His average finish is 12.2.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick's average finish isn't too far behind Stewart's at 13.0, but he hasn't been to victory lane at Kansas. Harvick has six top 10s in 13 Kansas starts, and with the way that RCR is going this year, it wouldn't be surprising if Harvick made it seven in 14 without sniffing the lead.
Denny Hamlin: The Hamster is going for a rare sweep of two wins in the same season at the same track that really isn't the same track. He ran down and passed Martin Truex Jr. in the spring after the sun came out late at Kansas in the spring for his only win and just his third top 10 at the track. His average finish is 14.1, thanks in part to Hamlin completing all but four laps in his Kansas races.
Clint Bowyer: Saturday night's winner hasn't had the best luck at the track that's just an hour and change from his hometown of Emporia, KS. Since finishing second in his second Kansas start, Bowyer has only finished higher than 12th once. His average finish is 15.0. (Did you know that Bowyer's win at Charlotte was his first at a 1.5 mile track?)
Kasey Kahne: Kahne, who has an average finish of 16.1, has started on the pole twice at Kansas, but in those two starts, he's finished 33rd and 37th. Kasey, you may not want to lead the field to green on Sunday. He was second in this race last year for Red Bull Racing, and was 8th in the spring.
Matt Kenseth: Kind of surprising to see Kenseth so far down the list, no? His average finis is 16.9, and that's after finishes of seventh, sixth, fourth and fourth in the last four Kansas races. Four finishes of 32nd or worse will do that to you.
Martin Truex, Jr.: This would be a different paragraph if Truex would have been able to hold on in the spring. He dominated the race, leading 173 of 267 laps on his way to a second place finish. And that second place finish? That was his first notable finish at Kansas; his previous high finish was 11th, and that came in his first start at the track. Hence the average finish of 23.2.