Coming off three straight weeks of difficult tracks for Sprint Cup drivers at two short tracks and a superspeedway, the series moves back to a cookie-cutter course in Kansas. If the track isn’t enthralling for NASCAR fans, the name—the SpongeBob SquarePants 400—certainly is.
The storylines are endless heading into the weekend, but whether or not the race gets in on Saturday night at all is a huge question. Before the SpongeBob 400 gets underway, here’s a full look at seven things fans need to know.
Where: Kansas Speedway
When: Saturday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Motor Racing Network
2. Harvick’s Playground
Kansas may not be a track where Kevin Harvick has won a lot like Phoenix, but it has been the sight of several close calls. Last season, he narrowly missed out on winning a second straight race at the track by finishing second behind Jeff Gordon.
The current points leader sustained damage last week at Talladega, but still wound up finishing eighth. With three straight poles and an average finish of 7.1 since 2010, this is yet another course where Harvick can simply toy with the rest of the field and earn another bloomin’ onion for his fans.
3. Erik Stepping In
At just 18 years old, Erik Jones has just about done it all in a stock car this season. A full-time Trucks driver, Jones has taken over for Kyle Busch at the Xfinity level and will do the same again on Saturday in Busch’s Sprint Cup car. He couldn’t have picked a more fitting race than a race sponsored by SpongeBob, especially as the youngest driver to get behind the wheel this weekend.
“It’s really all seat time and experience,” Jones said of his hopes on Saturday, via David Scott of The Charlotte Observer. “I think keeping our expectations realistic is a pretty big thing for us. If we can go run top-15, I’d feel like that would be a pretty big win for us. It’s a big step. We’ve talked a lot about it. It’s not going to be an easy step for anybody, but I really believe we can go run top 15 – and if we can do that, I think that would be a good day.”
The move for Jones is due to David Ragan moving over to Michael Waltrip Racing. But with the possibility of Busch coming back sooner rather than later, Jones will need to do everything possible to prove himself at the highest level. After all, 18 is apparently the new 25 in NASCAR—just ask last season’s Xfinity champion Chase Elliott.
4. Who Lives in a Pineapple Under the Sea?
Because simply sponsoring the race wasn’t enough, Nickelodeon decided to go all out by plastering SpongeBob on Ragan’s new MWR ride. Along with Mr. SquarePants on the hood of the No. 55, his crustacean friends from Bikini Bottom are also prominently featured on three other machines.
— Kansas Speedway (@kansasspeedway) May 8, 2015
Just imagine that Ty Dillon car driving up behind you with Plankton’s single eye in the rearview mirror. If NASCAR wanted to draw in a younger audience, this seems like the perfect way to do it.
5. Absorbent and Yellow and Porous is He?
Unfortunately, not everything has a SpongeBob theme to it this weekend. The track is not as porous as the lovable yellow cartoon character, making it difficult to foresee the race actually taking place on Saturday night. Similar to several other races this spring, weather will once again be a huge factor.
— Brian Neudorff (@NASCAR_WXMAN) May 8, 2015
If the race can’t be completed on Saturday, it will be moved to Mother’s Day on Sunday. However, the forecast on Weather.com doesn’t appear to be any better with rain likely again. That might be a huge positive for the drivers, who would be left with some salty moms if they raced on Sunday.
Even with Harvick’s aforementioned prosperity at Kansas, no driver has the track record Jeff Gordon does on the intermediate track. In just 18 starts, Gordon has three wins and 10 top-five finishes in Kansas City—more than any other driver.
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) May 8, 2015
The Hendrick Motorsports driver had a down week in Talladega, but did have six straight top-10 results prior to his late-race wreck. Gordon still has the speed and ability to win at nearly any track. He’ll prove that this weekend by collecting a second straight checkered flag for the Hendrick stable.
There’s something special about spring time in Kansas for Aric Almirola. The driver of the historic No. 43 machine for Richard Petty Motorsports has finished eighth over the last two seasons at the track, making it one of his best at the Sprint Cup level.
Along with his strong finishes, Almirola has also put together a driver rating of 90.4 or better in the spring races since 2013. Look for Almirola to make a strong case for a top-five result at Kansas and keep climbing his way up the Chase Grid this weekend.
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