Thursday, June 2, 2011

NASCAR heads to Kansas to begin important stretch of Cup season

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas this week for another weekend that is different from where the series usually races at this point in the season.

In the past several years, the first weekend in June meant a trip to Pocono Raceway and the start of the TNT Summer Series. However, among the several changes made to the Cup schedule this season is this weekend in Kansas. The series has traditionally run at Kansas on the first weekend in October, but this year the race in June was added.

Kansas does fit at this point in the season, though. While June isn’t always the most exciting month of racing, with tracks including Pocono, Michigan and up until this year, New Hampshire, it is one of the most important as far as the championship battle is concerned.

In the years before the Chase, June was the month when the championship contenders began to separate themselves from the rest of the field. The tracks during this month were big, so they required strong cars and the variety among those tracks required teams to be consistent across several types of setups, from big flat tracks to big sweeping tracks with a road course thrown in for good measure.

With the Chase, June is the time for drivers to either get themselves in a comfortable position to make the Chase, or for drivers outside the cutoff to start putting together a charge to get back in contention. It’s tough to make up a bunch of ground in June, but a bad month makes it very difficult to be in a good position come Chase time in September.

The weather during the race weekend at Kansas in October has usually been on the cooler side, or at least it hasn't had the blistering heat that will be at the track this weekend. The forecast calls for temperatures in the low to mid 90s while the cars are on the track.

Hopefully the teams are prepared for the heat and have the cars setup for a long, hot day so the race doesn’t turn out like the one a few weeks ago at Dover where everybody seemed to be chasing their car around an unexpectedly hot and slick racetrack.

This will likely be another good track for the Ford cars. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle have been good at this track in the past, and although it has much less banking than Charlotte and Dover, the track in Kansas is still 1.5 miles long and Fords have won two of the first three races on tracks of that length.

If somebody is going to jump up and contend with the #99 team in the points standings, they better start getting after it now because Edwards’ lead is up to 36 points. In the past that would’ve barely been any lead at all, but now it is almost a full race’s worth of points.

Now is the time for someone to work on breaking down that lead, or Edwards could end up being this year’s Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart as he goes on to dominate the regular season. But, it takes more than consistency these days to win the championship.

Wins might not be as important toward the points standings as some people would like, but they are as important now as they have been at any other time in the sport’s history.

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