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Drivers know importance of Kansas oval

There’s plenty of racing left to decide this season’s NASCAR champion, and a bad day at Kansas Speedway shouldn’t cripple a driver’s chances.

But statistics show that today’s race at Kansas City, Kan., the third of 10 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, could be the most critical. The eventual champion left Kansas ranked either first or second in the standings in five of the first six Chases. So it made sense that the 12 title contenders all approached the Chase with a wary eye on the 1.5-mile oval.

“I said it from the beginning of the Chase – this is the one where I feel like we’ve got to make our most,” said Kyle Busch.

“We need to come out of here with a solid top-10, just to keep us in the hunt and not lose too much ground to the guys in front of us or have the guys behind us gain too much ground.”

Four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson is the only driver in the history of the Chase to have an off day at Kansas and still hoist the Sprint Cup at the end of the year. It came in 2006, when he finished 14th but went on to his first championship. He’s the only driver to win a championship despite not scoring a top-10 finish at Kansas.

Off to a slow Chase start that season, Johnson left Kansas ranked eighth in the standings, 165 points out of the lead. In every other season, the champion was ranked at least second after Kansas.

Seven drivers are within 83 points of leader Denny Hamlin. Although many consider Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer already out of the running, four-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson hasn’t ruled out those drivers using Kansas as a springboard back into contention.

“Someone can have a big race this weekend and be right back in the middle of it, on top of the fact that there are a lot of cars very close in points,” Johnson said.

Joey Logano has plenty of experience racing teammate Kyle Busch for wins.

Logano got aggressive on a late restart to get past Busch, then used a push from Brad Keselowski to hold on Saturday at Kansas Speedway for his second Nationwide Series win of the season.

It was the 16th Nationwide victory this season for Joe Gibbs Racing, and gave Toyota the manufacturers title for the third consecutive year.

Busch, who led a race-high 64 laps while chasing his 12th Nationwide win of the year, faded to third behind Logano and Keselowski.

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