The Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway is a fitting sponsor for this weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. Not only is the casino the reason the 1.5-mile facility picked up a second Sprint Cup date beginning this season - with many fans questioning if the track even deserves one race - it is also the perfect theme for Sunday's 400-miler, as crew chiefs will have to roll the dice on strategy to help their position in the Chase. Some will hit the jackpot, and others will inevitably roll snake-eyes.
After a poor showing at Dover, one can be certain that Tony Stewart will be looking for a rebound as he tries to get back to the top of the standings. He has two Kansas victories, both of which came in races that involved a strategy play. In 2006, with nothing to lose after missing that year's Chase, Stewart's Joe Gibbs Racing crew chief Greg Zipadelli gave the driver the choice of pitting for fuel or trying to stretch his last gas tank to the finish. The gamble nearly failed, as Stewart ran out of gas on the backstretch of the last lap, but he was able to coast to the line before Casey Mears - who's tank also ran dry - could overhaul him.
Two years ago, Darian Grubb called for a two-tire change on the last pit stop of the race while most contenders went with four fresh tires. The track position allowed Stewart to stretch his lead and hold off a charging Jeff Gordon for his fourth win of his maiden season as driver/owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.
With back-to-back wins to open the Chase - both after Stewart saved enough gas to make it to the finish as some of his rivals ran out of fuel - one should not be surprised if Grubb makes another strategy call to get back to victory lane.
The June winner and runner-up, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr., respectively, stretched their fuel as most of the leaders were forced to pit road. A repeat performance would go a long way towards helping either one in their bid for this year's Sprint Cup title.
One driver who might not be looking forward to a possible strategy race is Jimmie Johnson. Fuel mileage has bitten him throughout his career, especially in recent seasons. He was one of the drivers in the top-five taking the white flag two races ago in Chicago who lost a number of positions after running out of fuel. He has one Kansas win to his credit - in 2008 - but had the fastest car in the 2006 race. He likely would have finished fifth after pitting for a splash of fuel, but a pit-road speeding penalty relegated him to 14th.