October 9, 2005 | 8:40 A.M. EST
Now with those three sideshows out of the way, the "real" start to this year's "Chase for the NEXTEL Cup" can begin today at Kansas Speedway.
Sunday's Banquet 400 is the first of five races on mile-and-a-half speedways over the course of the final seven "Chase" events. And that could be good news for Roush Racing, but bad news for everyone else.
Roush drivers have been a dominant force on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Five time 2005 winner Greg Biffle hopes that past success will return this week in Kansas.
"Last year we finished third in the Cup race at Kansas but led several laps and felt like we had a good shot at the win," Biffle said. "I like racing at Kansas, it’s a nice facility and the track suits my driving style. As always, track position will be important so we’ll look to qualify well and stay up front. We had some rough luck at Talladega and Kansas could be the race that gets us back on track."
Polesitter Matt Kenseth is another of the "Roush-keteers" who's looking forward to Kansas - if only to be out of Talladega.
"We are relieved to be finished with Talladega," Kenseth said. "Our car was really good and we were able to come home with a solid third-place finish. It was disappointing, though, to lose the lead on the last lap and not end up in Victory Lane. Our momentum is good right now going into Kansas - our cars have been strong, the pit stops have been fast and this whole team is just focused every week on getting the best finish possible."
But there are others who bring optimism to Kansas including Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who won at Chicagoland Speedway in July, considered the "sister track" to Kansas.
"Winning at Chicago (on July 9) went a long way in improving my optimism on these flat one-and-a-half mile tracks," Earnhardt said. "Before that, I really didn’t look forward to ‘em because we struggled so bad. But the results at Chicago prove we’ve come a long way in our intermediate speedway program, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do at Kansas. It’s a pretty cool track. On a map, the two tracks look almost identical, but I’ve always said the Kansas track was designed much smarter because the transitions on and off the corners are much better. It’s a difference you can’t see on TV, but inside the racecar it’s a big difference."