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By The Sports Xchange April 17, 2013 7:30 PM
By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore 48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Jimmie Johnson remained in first place for the second straight week after Texas. He leads second-ranked Brad Keselowski by nine points and third-ranked Kyle Busch by 18 points. KANSAS RECORD: 13 career starts, 2 wins, 5 top-5s, 11 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: first in fall 2008 and fall 2011. Finished third in the spring race last year, and was seventh there in the fall. LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson is an almost sure bet to end up with a top-10 finish at Kansas: he's done so in 11 of his 13 career starts there. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I know they all look the same, but Kansas has its own flow for sure. Maybe it is more like a Chicagoland (Speedway) feel the way the track drives. Charlotte (Motor Speedway) is different than any of them we run on. The banking feels more; the asphalt acts differently with the race cars. Texas (Motor Speedway) is an old surface, but the entry and exit of the corners is very narrow. You have to turn a lot sharper, especially on corner exit than you do at the other tracks which is kind of odd because it looks very, very similar. There are differences between them all, but I would put Kansas and Chicago in the same group." LOOKING BACK: Johnson didn't have a car to win at Texas, but he still managed to bring it home with a very good sixth-place finish. ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.2 percent (3,390) of the 3,419 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 10.6 and average finish is 8.0. He has one DNF there. 2 BRAD KESELOWSKI, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Brad Keselowski remained in second place in the standings for the third straight week after Texas. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by nine points and leads third-ranked Kyle Busch by nine points, as well. KANSAS RECORD: 6 career starts, 1 win, 2 top-fives, 3 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: first in spring 2011. Finished 11th in this race last year and eight in the fall race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Keselowski loves 1.5-mile tracks, so it's no wonder he's done so well at Kansas. He's still looking for his first win of the season and Sunday could be the place. Here's crew chief Paul Wolfe's thoughts on Sunday's race: "We continue to come out here each and every week and put ourselves toward the front, if not contend for wins. Obviously, we feel like without some of the issues (at Texas) we probably would have had a shot at that again, so we just have to keep working and doing what we've been doing and we'll get our share of wins." LOOKING BACK: Like a lot of other drivers, Keselowski had a good car at Texas, but it was no match for winning driver Kyle Busch. Still, Keselowski finished a decent ninth in Saturday's race. ETC.: Keselowski has completed 99.9 percent (1,606) of the 1,607 total laps contested in six career starts at Kansas. His average start is 17.0 and average finish is 9.8. He has zero DNFs there. 18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Kyle Busch continued his climb up in the standings, moving up two places after Martinsville and another two places after Texas this past Saturday. That brings to 15 the number of positions he's climbed over the last four races. He trails points leader Jimmie Johnson by 18 points, is nine points behind second-ranked Brad Keselowski and is 12 points ahead of fourth-ranked Greg Biffle. KANSAS RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-five, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: seventh in fall 2006. Finished 10th in last year's spring race, and was a terrible 31st in the fall race after being involved in a wreck. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch doesn't struggle at too many races, but Kansas is one of them, with just two top-10 finishes in 11 starts there. He looks to change that this Sunday: "We've had a good start to the season. It feels amazing to keep this roll going. It's so much fun to race with this group. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and I had a talk a few weeks ago, and things have kind of jelled - we've been doing really, really good. I'm proud of this bunch and couldn't say enough about Joe Gibbs Racing. Everybody back at the shop - all the guys and gals - these cars are amazing to drive, they're fast, they're fun." LOOKING BACK: Busch swept the weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, becoming the first driver in TMS history to win at least one race in all three of NASCAR's professional series. He won Friday night's Nationwide Series race and then won Saturday night's Sprint Cup race. ETC.: Busch has completed 90.8 percent (2,620) of the 2,885 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 17.4 and average finish is a mediocre 21.0. He has two DNFs there. 16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Greg Biffle moved up one spot in the standings to fourth place after Texas. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 30 points, is 12 points behind third-ranked Kyle Busch and leads the fifth-place tie of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards by five points. KANSAS RECORD: 13 career starts, 2 wins, 7 top-fives, 9 top-10s and 1 pole. Best career finish: First in fall 2007 and fall 2010. Finished fifth in the spring race last year and was 27th in the fall race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Biffle has enjoyed good success at Kansas, with nine of his 13 career starts there being top-10 finishes, including a pair of wins. He's still looking for that first victory in 2013. Could Sunday be it? "I'm really excited about going to Kansas this week. We've got a few wins there and we tested there a couple weeks back. We feel like we have a pretty strong program and pretty good handle on that race track. Kansas is really smooth, really fast and our cars handle well there. We're looking for a win this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Biffle had an outstanding run at Texas, finishing fourth, right behind Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards. ETC.: Biffle has completed 93.2 percent (3,186) of the 3,419 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 15.2 and average finish is a much better 9.5. He has one DNF there. 99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Carl Edwards remained tied for fifth place after Texas, only this time he's tied with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Both drivers trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 35 points, are five points behind fourth-ranked Greg Biffle and lead seventh-ranked Kasey Kahne by two points. KANSAS RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 4 top-fives, 8 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2008. Finished ninth in last year's spring race and was 14th in the fall race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards is still in pursuit of his first career Sprint Cup win at his "home" race track, having grown up in nearby Columbia, Mo. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "We're definitely in the dart throwing phase. I think we might even have a blindfold on while we're doing it. We're in a little bit of trouble, honestly. We have to be better. I think we just have some work to do. We did test at Kansas and I felt pretty good about our test there." LOOKING BACK: Even though Edwards says his team is still in the dart throwing phase, they almost hit the bulls-eye at Texas, finishing third, right ahead of teammate Greg Biffle. ETC.: Edwards has completed 99.0 percent (2,856) of the 2,885 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 18.5 and average finish is 10.8. He has one DNF there. 88 DALE EARNHARDT JR., Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. has now fallen four spots in the last two weeks, including two spots after Texas and into a fifth place tie with Carl Edwards. Earnhardt and Edwards trail points leader Jimmie Johnson by 35 points, are five points behind fourth-ranked Greg Biffle and lead seventh-ranked Kasey Kahne by two points. KANSAS RECORD: 13 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 6 top-10s and 1 pole. Best career finish: second in spring 2011. Finished seventh in spring race there last year, but did not race in the fall after suffering a concussion at Talladega. He also suffered a concussion at Kansas last August during testing, but never revealed that he had suffered the malady until after the second concussion two months later at 'Dega. LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt, who made his 600th career Sprint Cup start at Texas, begins his quest towards 700 on Sunday at Kansas, a track that he's been up-and-down performance-wise. Here's his thoughts on the race: "I'm really anxious to get out there and see how quickly I can get ahold of the racetrack. The guys that I'm going to be racing against have a race on me there. I feel a little bit behind the eight ball with that deal, but I'm looking forward to getting there and seeing what kind of speed we have. I think we tested really well before we had the crash (in August 2012). I thought we had good speed." LOOKING BACK: Earnhardt had the worst run finish of his season, finishing 29th at Texas, finishing four laps off the winning pace of race champ Kyle Busch. ETC.: Earnhardt has completed 97.7 percent (3,342) of the 3,419 total laps contested in 13 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 13.5 and average finish is 16.5. He has two DNFs there. 5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: Kasey Kahne fell two spots in the standings after Texas to seventh place. He trails series leader Jimmie Johnson by 37 points, is two points behind the fifth-place tie of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards and leads eighth-ranked Clint Bowyer by a whopping 24 points. KANSAS RECORD: 11 career starts, 0 wins, 2 top-five, 5 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2011. Finished eighth in last year's spring race, and improved to fourth in the fall race there (including winning the pole). LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne has done rather well in his last three starts at Kansas (second, eighth and fourth). Prior to that, he had his struggles on the 1.5-mile track. But since its resurfacing, Kahne has really done well on the improved racetrack. His thoughts about Sunday's race: "It's our second year at Hendrick Motorsports, and Kenny (crew chief Kenny Francis) and the No. 5 team continue to work hard. We can be consistent, and we've already proven that we can win races and if you make the Chase (for the Sprint Cup) and play it right in those final 10, you definitely have a shot to win the championship. I think the way Hendrick Motorsports operates as a team, and the way our engines run, the No. 5 Chevy will continue to be strong all season long." LOOKING BACK: Kahne had a decent run at Texas, finishing 11th. ETC.: Kahne has completed 98.2 percent (2,832) of the 2,885 total laps contested in 11 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 11.0 and average finish is 15.0. He has one DNF there. 15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Clint Bowyer remained in eighth place after Texas. He is 61 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, trails seventh-ranked Kasey Kahne by 24 points and leads ninth-ranked Joey Logano by just one point. KANSAS RECORD: 9 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 4 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Second in fall 2007. Finished 36th (engine failure) in last year's spring race and was sixth in the fall race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Just like Carl Edwards, Kansas Speedway is Bowyer's "home track," but neither driver has had much success to write home on the 1.5-mile track. Bowyer is hoping to change that Sunday: "It means the world to me to race at Kansas Speedway. It's always a big weekend for me to come home and race in front of family and friends. I'm proud to be from Kansas and any chance I get to come back and spend time there I take it. My parents still live in Emporia. I just bought the Clint Bowyer Autoplex in Emporia. We have the Bowyer Community Building. I love coming back and visiting friends, hunting and just spending time where I grew up. To win at Kansas - man, there'd be one heck of a party! We'd invite the whole grandstand down!" LOOKING BACK: Bowyer had a marginal finish at Texas this past Saturday, ending up 15th. ETC.: Bowyer has completed 93.9 percent (2,207) of the 2,351 total laps contested in nine career starts at Kansas. His average start is 15.2 and average finish is 14.0. He has one DNF there. 22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford Team: Penske Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Joey Logano climbed two spots and into ninth place after Texas. He is 62 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, trails eighth-ranked Clint Bowyer by one point and leads 10th-ranked Paul Menard by one point. KANSAS RECORD: 7 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 0 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: 15th in spring 2012. Finished 12th in last year's spring race and was 19th in the fall race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Logano has had nothing but trouble at Kansas. While he typically qualifies well there (including fourth, fifth, third and eighth in four of the last five races), his finishes have been mediocre at best. He's looking to turn things around with his first effort with Ford power at Kansas on Sunday. LOOKING BACK: Logano had a very strong car at Texas and was part of a three-driver Ford effort that finished third (Carl Edwards), fourth (Greg Biffle) and fifth (Logano). That he finished so high is almost a miracle, given that his car failed pre-race inspection twice before finally being approved. Logano really credits his team for his strong comeback: "These guys dug really, really hard all day to get this Shell-Pennzoil Ford on the race track. (Crew Chief) Todd Gordon did a great job keeping everyone under control and not getting overwhelmed by everything. He focused in and made his adjustments and got our car a lot better than what it was. If you would have told me I'd finish fifth today, I'd have given you a hug." ETC.: Logano has completed 99.5 percent (1,865) of the 1,874 total laps contested in seven career starts at Kansas. His average start is 12.3 and average finish is a poor 24.3. He has zero DNFs there. 27 PAUL MENARD, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: Paul Menard dropped two places in the standings after Texas to 10th place, meaning he's dropped three spots in the last two races. Menard is 63 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson, trails ninth-ranked Joey Logano by one point and leads 11th-ranked Matt Kenseth by two points. KANSAS RECORD: 8 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-five, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in fall 2012. Finished 18th in last year's spring race and was third in the fall race there. LOOKING AHEAD: Menard has been slowly showing progress at Kansas during his first eight Sprint Cup starts there, culminating with a career-best finish of third in last fall's race there. He's ready to go for a win this Sunday, he says. "We had a good run the last time we were at Kansas Speedway, finishing third. Our Menards Chevrolet was really fast and we stayed in the top five for most of the race. We had a good solid car and the race was pretty uneventful for us. With the repave last year, the racing groove has mostly been on the bottom of the track. As the track wears during the hot Kansas summers, the groove will spread out. I don't expect to see it as much this spring, but when we come back in the fall I expect the groove to widen even more. Hopefully we can build off of what we learned last fall and bring home another solid finish this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Menard struggled for the second week in a row, finishing 17th at Texas after finishing 19th the week before at Martinsville. ETC.: Menard has completed 99.8 percent (2,079) of the 2,084 total laps contested in eight career starts at Kansas. His average start is 12.4 and average finish is 18.0. He has zero DNFs there. 20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, only two points out of the top 10. Lost one spot last week to fall out of the top 10. KANSAS RECORD: Won the October race. Has not finished worse than seventh in the last five races. LOOKING AHEAD: With his impressive record at Kansas, it is not surprisingly that he "really likes racing at Kansas. I thought we ran well all weekend there with the new pavement last October. I think the racing this weekend will be similar to Vegas because the groove at Kansas will widen out a bit after the surface has been able to age over the winter and hopefully that will move the groove around so that we have a little more room to pass." LOOKING BACK: An ill-timed caution flag cost Kenseth a shot at a top-five finish. He was running fifth when he made his final scheduled stop of the evening on lap 280. But the yellow flag was waved only moments after Kenseth had exited his pits. NASCAR ruled he was a lap down, but would be awarded the "Lucky Dog" award as the first car a lap down. This put him back on the lead lap, but he had to start at the back of the pack. He ended the day in 12th place. "We didn't have a winning car, but we should have finished a lot better," said Kenseth. "We thought our stop was quick enough to keep us on the lead lap, but NASCAR said differently. That yellow really hurt us." ETC.: Crew chief Jason Ratcliff also is "really looking forward to this weekend. Who else would you like in your car than the guy who visited victory lane last time around? Knowing that Matt won there in the fall (for Roush Fenway Racing), I hope that he can help us with where we may have missed the boat in last year's race," added Ratcliff. 29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 14 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: Finished sixth in the spring race a year ago for his sixth top-10 finish in 14 starts. In the last five races, he has three top-six finishes and two 11th-place finishes. LOOKING AHEAD: Harvick is not a big fan of racing on tracks after they have been repaved. "Anytime you see new pavement as a driver you kind of cringe," said Harvick. "They (Kansas Speedway) obviously did a great job repaving the track, but sometimes a great job doesn't result in a great race. It will be interesting to see how much grip the pavement has lost when we go back this weekend because they have such rough winters and you have no idea how the track will react. With the surface being fairly new, a lot of strategy, two tires or no tires, will be a factor in order to keep track position." LOOKING BACK: Harvick was running in the top 10 when he made his final pit stop on lap 282. But the yellow flag came out as he was on pit road putting Harvick a lap down. He was able to take the wave around during the final caution flag of the night to get back on the lead lap but didn't have enough laps to get back to the top 10 as he finished 13th. "It seems like we just can't catch a break these days," said Harvick. "Hopefully, our luck will change soon and we can start collecting the finishes this team deserves." ETC.: After a slow start to the season, Harvick has been able to slowly move up the ladder in his quest to again qualify for the Chase for the Championship. "We have been able to move up a few spots each week," said Harvick, who has jumped from 38th to 12th in six races. "But we really have been running a lot better than our finishes show so we could have been in the top 10 by now with a little luck. Hopefully we'll get there this week." 1 JAMIE MCMURRAY, Chevrolet Team: Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 16 points out of the top 10. KANSAS RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 12 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: McMurray enjoys going to Kansas because "it is close to where I grew up (Joplin, Mo.). I also enjoy racing at Kansas Speedway. I think that with the cars we have had the last few weeks our mile-and-a-half program is coming along nicely. We'll do everything we can to keep it going this week. Our team just needs to concentrate on what we have been doing, and if we can continue in that direction, hopefully we can put together a string of good finishes." LOOKING BACK: McMurray was running in the top 10 when he pitted on lap 129. The routine pit stop was anything but routine as McMurray was cited by NASCAR for pitting outside the pit box. This resulted in a one-lap penalty. McMurray was never able to overcome the penalty as he finished 16th at Texas. "Tonight was a tough test for our team," said McMurray. "We had a really fast car again, but after the penalty we all had to dig deep to get back on the lead lap. We just didn't have enough laps at the end to get back to the top 10." ETC.: A lot of drivers are superstitious, but McMurray is not one. "I don't believe in superstitions," said McMurray. "I think you make your own luck. I know you can have bad luck as we did last week at Texas, but I am still a firm believer in that you make your own luck." 43 ARIC ALMIROLA, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 14th, 20 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: His best finish in two starts is 23rd. LOOKING AHEAD: Almirola said, "I've been looking forward to Kansas since last October when we left there. We were so good last fall - to have it all taken away with some blown tires really stung. We have some good momentum from last week's top-10 and obviously will be looking for redemption at Kansas." Almirola led 69 laps last fall before tire problems resulted in a 29th-place finish. LOOKING BACK: Almirola finished seventh at Texas for his first top-10 finish of the season. But Almirola felt the night could have been a few spots better if he hadn't "totally blown it on that first stop. I slid through my box and made a stupid mistake that cost us a lot of track position. It was good for us to drive back up through there," added Almirola. "I wish we could have kept our track position. I felt like we have a solid top-five car. Still, it was a great points day for us, and I feel really good about that." ETC.: Last week at Texas, Almirola and car sponsor Eckrich surprised Army Staff Sergeant Fabian Hall by asking him to put his culinary skills to use by cooking for the team. Hall, who served two tours in Iraq, was "shocked" by the offer, but quickly agreed. Hall was selected as part of Operation Homefront which supports and honors military veterans and their families. "All of our military veterans are heroes, but when you hear a story like Fabian's, who is a single father and who has survived cancer, it makes you feel even better to give back," said Almirola. 24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet Team: Hendrick Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 15th, 35 points out of the top 10. Lost three spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: Two wins and 10 top-10 finishes including eighth top-five's in 14 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon feels "it's going to be tough with the new pavement and new Gen-6 car. We are going to be challenged (this weekend at Kansas). The tires are extremely durable so that makes it very edgy, adding to the challenge. We feel we have made some big gains (on the intermediate tracks), so I'm confident about this weekend, especially after how well we ran at Texas." LOOKING BACK: Gordon led twice for 15 laps and was running third when disaster struck on lap 306, only 28 laps from the end of the race. A broken wheel bearing ended his day as he finished a very disappointing 38th. "No signs," said Gordon of the mechanical problem. "Just went to brake and the brake pedal was spongy and the car just didn't turn. I thought I had a left-front tire going down. Man that was unfortunate. That Cromas Pro Chevy was awesome fast. It was so much fun to drive and what a great job this team did to prepare for this weekend. For it to happen that close to the end and to be running that good, I'm pretty upset. I thought we might have a shot at it (the win) before this thing was over." Etc.: Over the years, Gordon has earned a reputation as one of the best qualifiers in the sport. But surprisingly he has never won a pole at Kansas and three other tracks - Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Kentucky. Gordon hopes to erase Kansas from that list on Friday. "Starting up front is always important," said Gordon. "It limits the amount of traffic you're in early and it also helps with pit stall selection. It (winning the pole) would be a great way to start the weekend." 56 MARTIN TRUEX, JR., Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 16th, 37 points out of the top 10. Gained nine spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: Finished second in both of the 2012 races. Led a race-high 173 laps in the spring race. LOOKING AHEAD: Normally, Truex would be delighted to be heading to Kansas where he ran so well in 2012. But all he can think about these days is the near misses he has had recently in his bid to win his second Cup race. "Finishing second is good," said Truex. "I'm not saying that's not the case. It's just when you've been so close to winning so many times since your last one, it really sucks to run that good and finish second. Second is a great accomplishment, but it's not what we're here for." LOOKING BACK: Truex was leading when the yellow flag was waved with only 21 laps to go. But Kyle Busch won the race off pit road and Truex was forced to settle for second place after leading five times for 142 laps. It was the sixth second-place finish for Truex since his first and only win - now 210 races ago. "When they say second sucks - second sure sucked tonight," said a dejected Truex. "We had a great race car. Got it to where we were the best car on the race track. Just got beat out of the pits at the end. Obviously the outside on the restarts is not where you want to be. Just frustrating. Just tired of finishing second." ETC.: The front end of Truex's car was "too low" in post-race inspection at Texas, and he could face a six-point penalty for the infraction. Crew chief Chad Johnson said the shocks on Truex's car would not rebound after the race. "We tried to pull the shaft out of the body, and it's just stuck," said Johnson. "There's something going on, whether it's debris (inside the shocks) or parts and pieces of the shock (are broken)." Based on past NASCAR rulings, a six-point penalty and a $25,000 fine for the crew chief is the norm for being "too low." 39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 17th, 37 points out of the top 10. Gained six spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: One win and four top-10 finishes including three top-five's in 14 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Newman said, "We had a lot of grip with the tire compound that Goodyear brought last year (to Kansas), which is equally as important a part of the repave as the asphalt that's used. We learned last year what a difference it made when the sun came out, what it did to the race track. It allowed us to lay more rubber down, and move around more. The more laps we turned, the more rubber we put down and the more the track changed." LOOKING BACK: Despite struggling for most of the evening, Newman was all smiles at the end as he finished 10th at Texas. "We had a tough day in the pits for the most part and got a lap down," said Newman. "We got lucky and got the Lucky Dog (to get his lap back). We never got the Quicken Loans Chevrolet balanced quite right, but the guys did a good job of coming back. We were probably our best at the end of the race. We did not have a 10th-place car all weekend until there at the end of the race. So it ended up being a good night." ETC.: Newman knows he is fighting an uphill battle is his bid to be in this year's Chase for the Championship. "Our two DNF's (did not finish) really put us in a hole - really hurt us in the points," said Newman. "We need to put together a streak of top-10s to get back up there (in the standings). We had two in a row earlier this season, but we need to string together four or five. If we can do that, we'll be okay." 9 MARCOS AMBROSE, Ford Team: Richard Petty Motorsports WHERE HE STANDS: 18th, 37 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: One top-10 finish in seven starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Ambrose feels "the past few weekends we have started to gain a lot of momentum. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and the guys have brought some really fast cars to the track, and we've been one of the fastest on the track. We have some great communication and chemistry and it's paying off since our Easter break. We have to keep going in this direction, but things are looking good for our Stanley team." ETC.: Ambrose hopes to follow in Adam Scott's footsteps this weekend at Kansas. Scott became the first golfer from Australia to win The Masters last Sunday. "That was a pretty big news story back home and we're hopeful that we make everyone back home proud again with a win this weekend," said Ambrose, who is still looking for his first oval track win in Sprint Cup. He became the first Australian driver to win a Cup race in 2011 at the Watkins Glen road course. 55 MARK MARTIN, Toyota Team: Michael Waltrip Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 19th, 40 points out of the top 10. Gained two spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: One win and five top-10 finishes in 14 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Martin said, "Kansas is a great place. It's almost a home track because I raced so much up in Springfield (Mo.) and I-70 Speedway and around there, so we should have a lot of charged-up fans. We were a little off in Texas, but we'll get that back this weekend in Kansas." LOOKING BACK: Martin finished 14th at Texas. "We worked hard tonight," said Martin. "Nobody gave up and we got a decent finish. We were just a step off all weekend. I want to compliment Martin Truex Jr., tonight who had a heck of a run. When he gets his next win the flood gates are going to open up." Truex, Martin's teammate, has finished second six times since his last win - 210 races ago. ETC.: Martin will hold his ninth annual fan appreciation day on May 4 at his Batesville, Ark., car dealership and museum. "I'm really excited because we have The King (Richard Petty) coming to join us this year," said Martin. "That's about as big as it gets. Like everyone else, Richard has always been one of my heroes. I would never have imagined Richard would someday come to my fan event and museum." 17 RICKY STENHOUSE, JR., Ford Team: Roush Fenway Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 20th, 44 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: Will be making his Sprint Cup debut. Won the Nationwide Series race last October. Finished in the top six in all three Nationwide starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Stenhouse feels this could be a very good weekend. "We tested there (Kansas Speedway) a few weeks ago and I feel confident in our 1.5-mile track program," said Stenhouse. "Kansas is a fast, smooth track which I like. After the past two weekends, it can only get better. It would be awesome to get our first top-10 finish this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Stenhouse's car took a sudden turn to the left as he raced down the backstretch early in the Texas race. "I just cut a left-rear tire," said Stenhouse. "It's kind of tough to go straight when you lose a left-rear tire." Stenhouse slammed hard into Austin Dillon and then bounced into the wall. As a result, Stenhouse finished 40th. "I felt like our car was pretty good, but it's just a tough break." ETC.: Stenhouse said he hasn't really set any goals for his rookie Sprint Cup season. "I think for me we have to go out and try to win every week," said Stenhouse. "I think that is how you achieve your best results. You go out there and shoot for the best. We have to be consistent. I think that is the thing that I have learned over the past three years racing in the Nationwide Series. You have to be consistent." 14 TONY STEWART, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 22nd, 48 points out of the top 10. KANSAS RECORD: Finished fifth in the fall race. Overall has two wins and nine top-10 finishes including six top-five's in 14 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Stewart was surprised how smooth Kansas Speedway was last October after the track was repaved. "It was so smooth - even the transitions were smooth," said Stewart. "We knew going in that it would have a ton of grip and a ton of speed, but it was smoother than most highways you do down. The key is getting more rubber on the race track. The more rubber that gets transferred, the better the racing surface is. It was better by the end of the race weekend last year, and it will keep getting better the more laps we run." LOOKING BACK: It was another long evening for Stewart as he battled a car that was loose on entry into the turns, tight in the middle of the corners and loose off. As a result, he ended the day in 21st place. "We just couldn't get the car right," said Stewart. "It's pretty obvious we've got some work to do." The two-time champion has only one top-10 finish in the season's first seven races. ETC.: When asked if he was happy with the development of the new Gen-6 car, Stewart said, "I don't know where everyone wants it to be. That's the biggest thing. It still boils down to the fact that it's a race car and I think there's way too much pressure as far as expectations of what it's supposed to be. It's a car and this is a car that doesn't come with an instruction manual. It's a constant work in progress. We're all going to be smarter about the cars." 31 JEFF BURTON, Chevrolet Team: Richard Childress Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 23rd, 54 points out of the top 10. Gained one spot last week. KANSAS RECORD: Two top-10 finishes in 14 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Burton said, "With the new pavement at Kansas Speedway, everything changed quite a bit. We didn't do so great there last year, but improving on the 1.5-mile tracks has become a major focus for the 31 team. I think we've done that with offseason testing. That's why I'm looking forward to going to Kansas this weekend." LOOKING BACK: Burton was livid after being involved in an accident on lap 282. He pounded the steering wheel several times as he limped back to the pits after running into the back of a slowing Mark Martin and spinning into the inside wall. Burton felt his spotter should have warned him that a car in front of Martin was spinning. "We were actually running okay (13th) when we got caught up in that wreck late in the race," said Burton after his 23rd-place finish. "The crew did a great job making adjustments after struggling with the handling through the first half of the race. We deserved a lot better finish." ETC.: When it comes to having to seeing his son Harrison race, Burton said "my anxiety comes in making sure he's prepared. Making sure we have the right equipment for him. I feel like it is part of my job as a parent, and also knowing what I know about racing, to help him be the most prepared he can be." 78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet Team: Furniture Row Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 24th, 55 points out of the top 10. Lost five spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: Three top-10 finishes in 14 starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Busch believes "for our Furniture Row Racing team, this (Kansas) should be a good track. It's similar to California where we had a top-five finish and also similar to last week in Texas where we ran in the top five before having a parts failure. Our Chevrolet SS has the speed; we just need to have a clean race. Too many things have gone wrong lately." LOOKING BACK: Busch was running fifth just past the half-way mark of the Texas race when he encountered fuel pressure problems. The culprit was a broken part in the fuel injection system. Busch ended the day in 37th place. "When you're running solidly in the top five and then to have a parts failure knock you out of contention, it's very frustrating," said Busch. "We came in here with a fast car, qualified on the front row and continued the strong performance in the race. That's why it is so frustrating." ETC.: While in Texas last week, Busch was the recipient of the Major General Thomas Sadler Award for his work with Speedway Children's Charities. His work as host of the Kurt Busch Celebrity Bowling Tournament and Busch-Whacked Mud Run helped raise more than $40,000 for the Speedway Children's Charities-Texas chapter. 11 DENNY HAMLIN, Toyota Team: Joe Gibbs Racing WHERE HE STANDS: 25th, 61 points out of the top 10. Lost seven spots last week. KANSAS RECORD: For the second straight week, Brian Vickers will be subbing for Hamlin, who is sidelined with a fractured vertebrae. Vickers has one top-10 finish in seven starts. LOOKING AHEAD: Vickers was quite pleased with how his first weekend in the 11 car went, and for that reason feels more good things could be coming his way on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. "I'm really proud of the way they (the 11 crew) worked with me," said Vickers. "The way they've tried to adapt and make me feel comfortable within the team and within the car. It makes all the difference in the world. Hopefully, we can reward them with a real good run this weekend." LOOKING BACK: In his first start in the 11 car, Vickers finished eighth at Texas. "It was a great effort by everyone on this FedEx team," said Vickers. "Our car didn't handle as well as we would have hoped, but the guys gave me great pit stops every time, and we were able to battle our way into the top-10 there at the end. We were just too loose in the long runs." ETC.: While the doctors told Hamlin he will need at least six weeks to heal, he continues to hope to return to the driver's seat a couple of week before that -- April 27 at his home track of Richmond. "I feel really good," said Hamlin last weekend. "I feel like I could get in the car any day now. It will all depend on what the doctors see on the x-rays after the Kansas race." 10 DANICA PATRICK, Chevrolet Team: Stewart-Haas Racing WHERE SHE STANDS: 26th, 71 points out of the top 10. KANSAS RECORD: Finished 32nd in his only Cup start last October. Did finish 10th in the Nationwide race. LOOKING AHEAD: Patrick feels one of the most important things for her in her rookie Sprint Cup season is "to get more comfortable with the car, more comfortable with everything that has to do with the Cup Series. There is a lot more going on. Then there is a lot of testing, but for me as a rookie driver in the Cup Series that is a great thing. I just need to get as comfortable with the car as I can." LOOKING BACK: It was another long, long night for Patrick on an intermediate track as she finished 28th at Texas. "It was a tough night," said Patrick. "The car was just kind of all over the place at the beginning. Tony Gibson (crew chief) and the GoDaddy guys kept working on it all night and we made some improvements on it. We just need to get better on the 1.5-mile tracks." ETC: Patrick admits the season has "been not as good as what I had hoped for. Then again I also said I'm not going to set expectation levels at this point and time. I think for me I would say that we just need to get a grasp as to what I need out of this new car. Tony and I need come up with a baseline balance set up that works, and I'm not sure we have achieved that yet."