Commentary

Expert picks: Kansas

Originally Published: October 6, 2011
By NASCAR Staff | ESPN

Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag at Kansas back in June, but it's his Dodge teammate Kurt Busch who has all the momentum heading into the fourth race of the Chase. Who will cross the finish line first? NASCAR personalities Ricky Craven, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and Jamie Little share their podium picks for Kansas.

Ricky Craven's analysis

Jeff Gordon gained points last week with a top-15 finish at Dover, but he dropped to ninth in the standings. As these Chase races click off, you can't allow more drivers between you and the leader. A lot of people had Jeff Gordon as a favorite coming into the playoffs, but I think he needs a top five finish at Kansas to stay in contention. And I think he'll deliver with a strong weekend. If he's going to match Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson down the stretch, the No. 24 team needs a solid performance at Kansas.

Carl Edwards, on the other hand, is in a good place right now. It's not like he has to win. He started the Chase with a deficit and now he's tied for the lead. He's also the only driver with three top-10 finishes in the Chase. His finish last weekend at Dover was a game changer. Instead of leaving with all this distraction and mental anguish from his pit road speeding penalty, he actually left with a higher level of support from his team. To fall to 30th, two laps down, and charge back to finish third can only be described as a statement race for Edwards, and I see his momentum carrying over into Kansas.

I had a tough time deciding my third-place finisher because I can see that fire in Jimmie Johnson's eyes. But I think Greg Biffle's team is primed to win a race before the Chase is out and Kansas seems like a good track for it. I call him Mr. Mile and a Half because he's at his best at these tracks. So while I certainly see Jimmie Johnson finishing top five, I'm giving Biffle the edge.

Dale Jarrett's analysis

Carl Edwards and his team have had a good turnaround and I think it's time he goes to Victory Lane again. Consistency is something they have worked on and they seem to have found some speed. Mile-and-a-half tracks used to be Edwards' bread and butter. With four mile-and-a-half tracks left, he needs to get it done to win this championship. He's likely to give up some points at a track like Martinsville so he really needs to take advantage of races like Kansas.

But he's going to have tough competition in the form of Jeff Gordon. His team is really firing right now and it was a hard decision for me to put Edwards ahead of him. In third, I see Jimmie Johnson continuing his climb back into Chase contention. Those two Hendrick cars are really performing at a high level right now. Strategy and late-race adjustments could switch around the top three, but I see these three drivers running well at Kansas. I just hope it doesn't come down to fuel mileage.

Rusty Wallace's analysis

I'm picking Carl Edwards to finish first. This is his home track, and he loves racing here. He told us last week that he'd be excited to get here. Jimmie Johnson has some momentum as well, and he's won this race before, but it seems like Carl is really on fire for this place. It's close to a toss-up, but I have Edwards with the edge.

Kevin Harvick is my pick to finish third. He's first in points and is racing incredibly well, but I think the other two will be a tad faster this time.

Jamie Little's analysis

My pick to win it on Sunday is Brad Keselowski. I'm not going with him just because he won there in June. I'm going with him because he has proven the last three months that he has speed. He's a threat every week, no matter the track. Secondly, he's proven on multiple occasions that the Dodges are up there with the best at fuel mileage and he's at the top when it comes to saving. Both of those factors combined make him my pick.

Finishing with a strong second will be Tony Stewart. He has two wins at Kansas and has finished top eight the last three there. He won our last two fuel mileage races, and after a miserable race at Dover, this will be his opportunity to get back into the Championship hunt.

Rounding out the top three will be Jeff Gordon. He has two wins there and has finished top five the last five straight. He lost quite a few positions in the points at Dover and right now he's ninth in points. He's as low as he can be without falling out of championship contention. This is a great track and a great opportunity for him to jump back up to the top three in points.

Brad Daugherty's analysis

Between Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, I expect to see a Dodge in Victory Lane at Kansas. Though Keselowski got the win at Kansas back in June, NASCAR is a sport of momentum and Busch is coming off a really strong race at Dover. Busch was actually the pole-sitter at Kansas this year and led 152 laps, so I expect him to be right up there. Another driver I'm really impressed with is Matt Kenseth. He was competing at Dover and if his team had better strategy in pit road, he could have edged Jimmie Johnson and made a run at the win. I see him qualifying well and having a solid day in Kansas.