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NASCAR Driver Capsules, Oct. 2

The SportsXchange

By Jerry Bonkowski and Bob Moore

Capsules for all drivers competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

20 MATT KENSETH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Matt Kenseth still remains atop the Sprint Cup standings after the first three races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He leads former points leader Jimmie Johnson by eight points, and is 12 points ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.

KANSAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 2 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2012 and spring 2013. Finished first in this race last year and also won this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kenseth is looking for his third consecutive win at Kansas this Sunday. In his last eight starts there, he has two wins, three other top-five finishes and two other top-seven showings. Needless to say, Kansas is one of his favorite tracks. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "I feel good about this stretch. Kansas and Charlotte (next week) have been great tracks I really enjoy (and) that our performance has been pretty good at it. I'm looking forward to getting there."

LOOKING BACK: Kenseth fell short in his bid to win a third straight race to start the Chase this past Sunday at Dover, finishing seventh.

ETC.: Kenseth has completed 94.6 percent (3,739) of the 3,953 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 12.9, while his average finish is 14.8. He has two DNFs there.

48 JIMMIE JOHNSON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: After being in third place following the first two Chase races, former points leader Jimmie Johnson moved up to second place after his win at Dover this past Sunday. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by eight points, and is four points ahead of third-ranked Kyle Busch.

KANSAS RECORD: 14 career starts, 2 wins, 6 top-5s, 12 top-10s, 3 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2008 and fall 2011. Finished ninth in this race last year and was third in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Johnson has Matt Kenseth, not to mention a sixth Sprint Cup championship, in his sites. And with back-to-back 1.5-mile tracks at Kansas this Sunday and Charlotte next Saturday, Johnson could make a big swing in the standings if he has success at both places. Here's his thoughts on Sunday's race: "(During last Sunday's race at Dover) I was thinking about ... just how tough this championship's going to be. They're bringing their best and doing their best. You've got to deliver."

LOOKING BACK: Johnson made history by winning his eighth race at Dover, breaking the record of seven wins held by both Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. Johnson dominated the Dover race, leading 243 of its 400 laps.

ETC.: Johnson has completed 99.2 percent (3,657) of the 3,686 total laps contested in 14 career starts at Kansas. His average start there is 11.4 and his average finish is an outstanding 7.6. He has one DNF there.

18 KYLE BUSCH, Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After being ranked second following the first two Chase races, Kyle Busch dropped one spot to third after last Sunday's race at Dover. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 12 points, is four points behind second-place Jimmie Johnson and leads the fourth-place tied duo of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon by 27 points.

KANSAS RECORD: 12 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-fives, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Seventh in fall 2006. Finished 31st in this race last year and was 38th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch is hoping to change his luck at Kansas, which has become one of his worst tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit, a place he doesn't have even one top-five finish at. Why does Busch feel Kansas been so tough? "It's not that you might not like a track or might not like a race, or something like that, it's just a matter of trying to figure it out. Once you kind of get it figured out or get the right situations kind of lined up, you can have a shot. I look at this place a lot like Michigan. That's a place where I struggled for a long time, but we finally were able to break through there for a win two years ago. Of course, just like Michigan, as soon as I figure it out, they repaved it along with Kansas."

LOOKING BACK: Although he led 30 laps there, Busch couldn't hold on to the lead with how strong Jimmie Johnson was and settled for a fifth-place finish.

ETC.: Busch's overall record at Kansas is one of his worst. He's completed just 86.4 percent (2,722) of the 3,152 total laps contested in 12 career starts there. His average start is 16.3, while his average finish is a terrible 22.4. He has three DNFs there.

29 KEVIN HARVICK, Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After dropping two places in the standings after New Hampshire, Kevin Harvick regained those spots and moved back into fourth place - tied with Jeff Gordon - after Sunday's race at Dover. Harvick and Gordon trail points leader Matt Kenseth by 39 points, are 27 points behind third-ranked Kyle Busch and lead sixth-ranked Greg Biffle by two points.

KANSAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 0 wins, 1 top-fives, 6 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Third in fall 2010. Was 11th in this race last year and 12th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: If Harvick is to make a move upward in the standings and truly contend for the championship, he has to do so both this Sunday in Kansas and next Saturday at Charlotte, both 1.5-mile tracks. He typically does well on those types of tracks, but has not had the kind of success he'd like at Kansas. Here's his thoughts on this weekend's race: "Kansas will be a little different this time because of the tire change Goodyear is making for this race. Because of the tire change we have an open test day at the track (Thursday) before the race weekend begins, so we'll have some extra time to get used to the racing surface and what's going on with the aging and wear. The asphalt they use to pave these racetracks now is made to last a long time on roads and it's really not the right asphalt to use for a racing surface. Tracks seem to age a little slower than they did in the past and it's not really what we're used to."

LOOKING BACK: Harvick was competitive and stayed with the leaders at Dover, but was unable to finish any higher than sixth.

ETC.: Harvick has completed 97.2 percent (3,843) of the 3,953 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 19.7 and average finish is 12.8. He has one DNF there.

24 JEFF GORDON, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: Jeff Gordon climbed four positions, from eighth to a tie for fourth with Kevin Harvick, after Dover. The pair trails series leader Matt Kenseth by 39 points, is 27 points behind third-ranked Kyle Busch and leads sixth-ranked Greg Biffle by two points.

KANSAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 2 wins, 8 top-fives, 10 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2001 and 2002. Was 10th in this race last year and 13th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Gordon won the first two races held at Kansas Speedway back in 2001 and 2002. Since then, while he's had numerous decent finishes, he's been unable to get back to victory lane there. There's a lot riding on this race for him and his team, Gordon says: "If Matt (Kenseth) and Jimmie (Johnson) continue to post wins and good finishes, it's going to be difficult to catch them. But I like how our team has stepped up during the Chase and we need to be ready to take advantage if they have a bad race. When running the way we are right now, you really look forward to the next race."

LOOKING BACK: It was almost a 1-2-3 Hendrick Motorsports sweep at Dover. Jimmie Johnson finished first, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second and Gordon, who led three laps, finished fourth.

ETC.: Gordon has completed 99.0 percent (3,913) of 3,953 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 13.7 and average finish is 11.1. He has two DNFs there.

16 GREG BIFFLE, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: After jumping six places in the standings after New Hampshire (from 11th to fifth), Greg Biffle lost one spot after Dover, falling to sixth place. He trails points leader Matt Kenseth by 41 points, is two points behind the fourth-place tie of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon, and leads seventh-ranked Ryan Newman by seven points.

KANSAS RECORD: 14 career starts, 2 wins, 7 top-fives, 9 top-10s, 1 poles. Best career finish: First in fall 2007 and fall 2010. 2008. Was 27th in this race last year and 19th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kansas has been one of Biffle's better tracks, but not of late, having finished 27th and 19th in his last two starts there. He says he's looking to turn things around and climb back in the Chase standings this Sunday: "I feel really good about Kansas this weekend. We've got a lot of speed in our cars and 1.5-mile tracks are our favorite type of tracks. I like Kansas and have a couple of wins there. We've been running well and we have a strong opportunity to get our first win of the Chase. Even though the tire for this weekend is different than what we tested a little while back, I think we still learned a lot. We've got to get a win this weekend to get back in the Chase."

LOOKING BACK: While teammate Carl Edwards did miserably, falling seven places in the standings after finishing 35th, Biffle was decent, settling for a ninth-place finish.

ETC.: Biffle has completed 93.7 percent (3,453) of 3,686 total laps contested in 14 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 14.9 and average finish is a strong 10.1. He has one DNF there.

39 RYAN NEWMAN, Chevrolet

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: Ryan Newman is the highest he's been thus far in the Chase, climbing two spots from ninth to seventh place in the Sprint Cup standings after Dover. He trails series leader Matt Kenseth by 48 points, is seven points behind sixth-ranked Greg Biffle and leads eighth-ranked Clint Bowyer by three points.

KANSAS RECORD: 15 career starts, 1 wins, 3 top-fives, 4 top-10s and 0 poles. Best career finish: First in 2003. Finished 30th in this race last year and was 14th in this year's spring race there.

LOOKING AHEAD: Newman needs a big boost this Sunday for two reasons. First, he needs to build upon the momentum that raised him to seventh in the standings for the first time in this year's Chase. Second, he's failed to finish in the top 10 in each of the last five races there. Here's Newman's thoughts on Sunday's race: "I think it is a three-man race (Kenseth, Johnson and Kyle Busch) right now, but I don't think it can't be a four-, five- or six-man race by the time we get to Homestead. We didn't have a great race at New Hampshire a few weeks back, so we gave up quite a few points right there. Who's to say those guys won't find themselves having an off-race like that just the way we did? It's not over until it's over. There is so much racing left. There are so many laps, so many opportunities for guys to make mistakes that I feel like it's too early to be talking about it."

LOOKING BACK: Newman led six laps and ultimately finished eighth at Dover.

ETC.: Newman has completed 94.2 percent (3,724) of the 3,953 total laps contested in 15 career starts at Kansas. His average start is 13.9, while his average finish is 18.1. He has three DNFs there.

15 CLINT BOWYER, Toyota

Team: Michael Waltrip Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 8th, 51 points out of first place. Gained two spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished fifth in the May race for his third top-seven finish in the last four races.

LOOKING AHEAD: Bowyer, a Kansas native, loves "coming back to Kansas. They've done such a great job with turning Kansas Speedway into a destination track for NASCAR fans. It's a fun place to visit with all the restaurants, shopping, sporting events and things to do within walking distance of the track. That all used to be farm field and now it's like a whole new city centered around the race track. I've run really well there, and I would love to win a race at my home track."

LOOKING BACK: Bowyer was playing the fuel-mileage game to perfection before a late-race caution ruined his hopes of visiting victory lane. "We've had a rough start to the Chase, but we worked hard and put ourselves in a good position to go for the win today," said Bowyer. "Unfortunately, that caution there at the end ruined our plan (of not stopping for fuel while the other leaders all had to stop), but we were good enough and smart enough to get a win today. We were just a little short (speed wise) there at the end)." Bowyer ended up 10th at Dover.

ETC.: Bowyer and Michael Waltrip Racing got some very good news last week when 5-Hour Energy announced they would return in 2014. Melissa Skabich, a company spokesperson, said the decision was made "after several internal discussions and meetings with MWR." There had been a lot of speculation that the company would not return after NASCAR severely penalized MWR for trying to "manipulate" the Richmond race. "There had been a lot of talk, but I've always knew 5-Hour Energy was behind me 100 percent," said Bowyer. "We've had a great relationship from day one, and it's going to continue to be that way."

78 KURT BUSCH, Chevrolet

Team: Furniture Row Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 9th, 55 points out of first place. Lost two spots last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Only three top-10 finishes in 15 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Busch said, "The Kansas track is very smooth and it's fast so you can be aggressive with shock control, sway bars and other things. Kansas is definitely its own animal but it compares more to a Michigan and the smoother tracks that we run on versus the rough ones likes Chicago and Atlanta. We have five races on the mile-and-a-half's (in the Chase). You need a good finish on those tracks just to make sure you're holding serve."

LOOKING BACK: A loose wheel ruined Busch's day as he finished 21st at Dover. "We were way off at the start, but after the first pit stop we made some good changes to the car and started to make a move," said Busch. "But once again we had an issue with a loose wheel and that put us a couple of laps down. And with the lack of cautions, we couldn't make it up. This is the Chase and you can't afford to have these problems."

ETC.: Busch knows the team needs to turn things around at Kansas if it wants to have any shot at winning the Championship. "The first thing we need to do at Furniture Row Racing is to get it together because we didn't come away with good finishes at the last two races (13th and 21st) after finishing fourth at Chicago," said Busch. "We need to turn things around now."

88 DALE EARNHARDT, JR., Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 10th, 57 points out of first place. Gained one spot last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Two top-seven finishes in his last four starts including a second in June 2011.

LOOKING AHEAD: Earnhardt noted "We had a lot of speed the last time we were at Kansas, but just had a bit of bad luck. For two weeks in a row we've had fantastic race cars. I'm proud of my guys for bringing such good cars to the track. We're bringing a new chassis this weekend and I'm hoping we unload fast. We are determined to win a race (before the end of the season)."

LOOKING BACK: After winning the pole at Dover, his second of the year, Earnhardt had visions of winning his first race of the year. And he led six times for 80 laps, but a problem getting on pit road early in the race dropped him out of the lead and left him scrambling to make up lost ground for the rest of the race. "If you really look at the race as a whole, the mistake I made missing pit road completely (which forced him to make another lap before pitting for fuel and four tires) cost us," said Earnhardt. "We had the lead, gave up the lead. Jimmie (Johnson) took the lead and was able to take advantage of that clean air when it counted. If I had not given up that track position, had a smart enough race to keep the lead when it counted right at the end, we might have won the race. It would have been hard to get by us, just like it was to get by Jimmie." Earnhardt ended up second to Johnson.

ETC.: Fans sometimes ask the strangest questions of their favorite driver. Last week at a fan forum at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Earnhardt was asked if he has any pets he takes on the road. He replied, "I've been dating Amy (Reimann) for several years and she's got Pomeranian that I don't claim. But he's pretty cool. But I don't admit it. He goes every week because he's so small; he's easy to carry around." Earnhardt has a boxer named Killer that he brings to some races. "He goes every once in a while if the grass is close to the bus (in the motorhome lot)," added Earnhardt. "If it's a lot of concrete, I usually don't take him because you have to walk him all the way across the track to get him to use the bathroom somewhere."

99 CARL EDWARDS, Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 11th, 65 points out of first place. Lost one spot last week.

KANSAS RECORD: Eight top-10 finishes in 12 starts.

LOOKING AHEAD: Edwards knows, "We've really got to step it up now to have a chance (to win the Sprint Cup Championship). We did not need that trouble (at Dover), but there's a lot of races left. We are heading to a track (Kansas) where we've run well, so we have high hopes for this weekend. We feel this can be the place where we get back in (the Chase for the Championship)."

LOOKING BACK: A broken part in the rear end of his Ford left Edwards in 35th place at the end of the day. "We struggled all day," said Edwards. "Our plan was to get off-sequence at the end and I thought we might have a shot at making a top-three or four out of it, but something broke in the left-rear. I don't know what it was. Jimmy (Fennig, crew chief) did a great job working hard on it all day, but we just weren't fast."

ETC.: As a native of Columbia, Mo., Edwards looks on Kansas Speedway as his "home track." And for that reason, a win at the facility "would be awfully special. A lot of my family and friends come to Kansas each year. We've come close (to a win). We've had a second and a third. Now we just need to close the deal."

22 JOEY LOGANO, Ford

Team: Penske Racing

WHERE HE STANDS: 12th, 66 points out of first place.

KANSAS RECORD: Still looking for his first top-10 finish. Best finish in eight starts is a 15th.

LOOKING AHEAD: Logano is really looking forward to Kansas this weekend because of the team's success at 1.5-mile tracks this year. "Those type of tracks have just always suited my driving style," said Logano. "There is just something about those tracks that I like. I don't really know what it is. You have a nice little mix of speed and drivability at these places. Even in the Nationwide Series, I've had a lot of success on the 1.5-mile tracks. And those have been our best tracks this year. We've been fast everywhere."

LOOKING BACK: Logano finished third at Dover. "Our biggest issue is we didn't take off with really good speed, but after 15-16-17 laps it came to me and it was really fast," said Logano. "It just took a little too long there on that last restart (with 26 laps to go). I was able to get up to third, I was in the right lane, but by the time my car came to me it was too late. We were the fastest car the last six laps, but it doesn't really matter when you can barely see the leaders. But we can't be too disappointed with a third-place finish."

ETC.: Car owner Roger Penske has been quite pleased with the organization's transition from Dodge to Ford in 2013. "I'd say the transition to Ford has been a home run," said Penske. "The commitment from Ford Motor Company from top to bottom is something that we haven't seen with many manufactures. Switching to the new Gen-6 car and also looking at going with a new manufacturer had a lot of challenges, but I think we've come together and we're only going to get better."

5 KASEY KAHNE, Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

WHERE HE STANDS: 13th, 78 points out of first place.

KANSAS RECORD: Finished second in the May race for his second runner-up finish in the last four races. Will be shooting for his fifth straight top-eight finish.

LOOKING AHEAD: Kahne is really looking forward to the next two races at Kansas and Charlotte. "I think it's a stretch where we can run well," said Kahne. "They're a couple tracks that we've been able to run up front at every time we go to them. Looking forward to that. Just trying to get back on track, finishing up the season strong. I feel like the leaders in the points, they're kind of in their own race. We'll just do what we can to finish off our year, and hopefully we can get a win or two at some of our best race tracks."

LOOKING BACK: After being one of the fastest cars in both practice sessions on Saturday, Kahne had high hopes for Sunday at Dover. But a late-race engine problem left him in 13th place at the end of the day. "Something was wrong - we don't know what - and we lost a lot of power," said Kahne. "Didn't seem like the engine, maybe it was something else like the tail pipes... We are not real sure. We salvaged a good finish out of it. So that was good for what we had and what we were dealt with."

ETC.: Kahne does not believe there should be a special point system for the Chase for the Championship. "I like how NASCAR has done that (the Chase)," said Kahne. "I like the fact that 12 and sometimes 13 drivers get to start the Chase and have a chance to win a championship with 10 races to go. Once you get in those final 10, if you keep having an up-and-down year, you're not going to win a championship. Consistency and winning races and running up front week after week, you get your Sprint Cup champion from that. You shouldn't be able to mess up four times in 10 races and still have a chance to win a Sprint Cup."
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