On the last corner of the last lap of this very race last year, Carl Edwards attempted what he later termed as a "banzai" move in a desperate attempt to wrestle the lead away from Jimmie Johnson. The move was ultimately unsuccessful; Edwards slammed into the wall and Johnson eked by on the inside to take the checkers; but it spoke volumes of the Roush Fenway racer's desire to snatch all the points, the big trophy not to mention a need to expend every ounce of energy he could to best the champion. More of the same will be needed from the Chase contenders this Sunday, not least given Johnson's ominous domination at the Monster Mile last weekend; he led 271 of the 400 laps and sped away from the double file restarts like he was on a Sunday drive; if the pack is to stop the driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Chevy from winning an unprecedented four straight titles.
One of five intermediate "cookie-cutter" tracks in the last 10 races, Kansas is the sister track of Chicagoland with both venues making their Sprint Cup bow in the 2001 season. But with only 14 degrees of banking in the corners, as opposed to Texas and Charlotte with their 24 degrees for example, Kansas is a track where handling is even more crucial so expect the drivers that have shown their mettle all year to step up once again. And with that in mind, let's take a look at the favorites...
Jimmie Johnson: If you have allocations left, now truly is the time to be picking Jimmie J. The back-to-back-to-back champ is, as Mark Martin suggested post-race at Dover, an absolute superhero in the Chase: a veritable Superman in Lowe's colors. In the 52 Chase races he's run, Johnson has led 2489 laps, picked up 38 top 10s (or 73%) and an astonishing 15 wins: a tick under a win every three races. For more on Johnson's dominance check this out. One other point to mention: Johnson has three poles in seven attempts so if your Fantasy scoring system rewards qualifying; he's a slam dunk first round choice this week.
By the numbers: In the six years of the Chase the winner at Dover has never gone on to take the title.
Mark Martin: In keeping with a career that has been a story of near-misses, Martin is the second choice this week. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride (so to speak) Martin has started the Chase in fantastic form; winning at Loudon for the first time in his career and finishing second to Johnson last week. Martin has one win and two top fives in eight attempts at Kansas; the victory came in 2005 when he was technically going to retire at the end of the year; but there's every reason to suspect the consummate point racer will be dialed in for another tilt at the track that is the home venue for series title sponsor, Sprint.
By the numbers: Martin is one of only 13 current drivers to have raced in every event held at Kansas
Jeff Gordon: If Big Daddy Jeff is going to finally make this the year he "drives for five" then there can be no question he needs at the very least a top-five effort this weekend. Gordon won the first two races held at the heartland track and has three further top fives and one more top 10. Other than a 39th place run in 2006 when he was derailed with a fuel pump issue; Kansas is a track where Gordon has a record of excellence -- in keeping of course with a driver who has had so much success pretty much every where the Sprint Cup schedule takes him. Given the form of his fellow Hendrick stable-mates above, this is a weekend where Gordon has to step up if he wants to convert the near misses into glory at Homestead in November.
By the numbers: Gordon has an average finish of 9.8 at Kansas in eight previous attempts.
Greg Biffle: It's fair to say this has not been a banner year for the Biff -- as really has been the case for his fellow Roush Fenway Racers. Looking to become the first man to win titles in all three premier series; he won the Truck championship in 2000 and two years later picked up the Nationwide crown; Biffle needs to have the eight races of his life if he is to claw his way back into contention. Kansas is a good place to start. Biffle won the race in 2007 despite technically crossing the line fourth; he was running on fumes under caution and had slid down to the infield grass to ensure he didn't run out completely; and has three further top-3 finishes in seven attempts. In short, it's go-go-go time for the amiable Biffle if he wants to be in with a shout come the final race of the season. Failure this weekend is simply not an option.
By the numbers: Biffle has led laps in four of the last five races at Kansas.
Carl Edwards: After a series-best nine wins in 2008, Edwards was expected to be a serious threat for the title this year. It hasn't quite panned out that way, and the Missouri native has struggled for much of the season recording only 7 top five runs in 28 attempts. Edwards wrecked at Kansas in 2007, and finished 37th, but finished runner-up last year, third in 2005 and sixth in 2006 so clearly this is a circuit at which he is typically comfortable. Already 153 points back from the points leader Martin, and hobbled by a foot he broke playing Frisbee of all things, Edwards has a long road back. Although there's still time -- and the lotto that is Talladega to come -- Edwards championship hopes are, at best, on life support. A win at his home-town track would be just the tonic the struggling No. 99 team needs.
By the numbers: Edwards' winless streak is now at 28 races. Sunday would be the perfect time to erase that statistic.
Kyle Busch: Wasn't this the year when Busch was going to scratch, bite and snarl his way to a championship? It hasn't exactly panned out that way has it? Missing out on the Chase was a hammer blow for a team already running below expectations; despite four victories this year; and Kansas is not the track the younger Busch sibling would pick to show his unquestioned driving ability. In five attempts Busch has nary a top five finishing 37th, 21st, 7th, 41st and 28th last year. Never one to disguise his emotions, the frustration of the season has been writ large on the petulant driver's face these past couple of months. Don't expect Kansas to be the place he starts to restore some pride on what is, by his own very high standards, proving to be a terrible season.
By the numbers: Busch has an average start of 20.6 and an average finish of 26.8 at Kansas