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Hendrick, Chevrolet most successful in first 15 years of racing at Kansas Speedway

SpongeBob SquarePants 400

KANSAS CITY, KS - MAY 09: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 9, 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

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The newest track on the Sprint Cup circuit is Kentucky Speedway, which has hosted five Cup races since 2011.

But 10 years before that, the new kid on the block was Kansas Speedway, the 1.5-mile track in Kansas City, Kansas, the series returns to for its 16th season this weekend for the 400.

Saturday’s race marks the 21st race for the Cup series on the track. The very first one, held on Sept. 30, 2001, was won by Hendrick Motorsports’ Jeff Gordon in his No. 24 Chevrolet.

Over the following 14 seasons, that would be the scene that played out the most - a Chevrolet owned by Hendrick going to victory lane.

Six times in 20 races, a Hendrick car has won at Kansas Speedway. Gordon won the first two races and then claimed another in 2014 before retiring at the end of 2015.

Jimmie Johnson is the defending winner of Saturday’s race and has Hendrick’s other three wins, in 2008, 2011 and 2015.

“I really like the surface of the Kansas track and looking forward to a great race,” Johnson said in a press release. “Last year (Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) made a great call and we had a fast Lowe’s Chevy and the gamble paid off.”

Looking to bounce back from a dismal outing at Talladega is Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose best Kansas finish is second in 2011. He wound up third in last year’s spring race.

“That place has widened out pretty good and you can run against the fence there, which is a line that I like to run,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “It’s a very fast racetrack and very smooth – a lot of fun, so we should have a good time. We ran good there on the last several trips, so I anticipate us being very competitive.”

Chevrolet has won 10 of the 20 Kansas races, with Tony Stewart earning two (2006, 2009) with Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. The remaining two victories were claimed by Joe Nemechek and Kevin Harvick while he was with Richard Childress Racing.

Ford has six wins and Toyota has two, but none since 2013.

The next most successful teams at Kansas are Roush Fenway Racing and Team Penske with four wins each. Penske has the most recent success, winning with Joey Logano in two of the last three races, both in the fall race held in the day.

Penske’s first Kansas win came with Ryan Newman in 2003 driving a Dodge. Now Newman is in a Chevrolet at RCR.

“It’s super-fast and it has a little bit of a goofy transition into Turn 1,” Newman said in a press release. “It just seems like it is a combination of downforce and horsepower to go fast. It’s super smooth so it doesn’t really matter so much how your car rides as much as how you have the tires loaded up in each corner and the overall grip you can get out of the car with the downforce.”

Roush’s last Kansas win came in 2012 with Matt Kenseth. The three-car team is looking for its first win since 2014 and has performed well on intermediate tracks so far in 2016, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has the only top-10 finish, placing 10th at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But he and teammate Trevor Bayne ran in the top 10 for much of the Texas race.

Stenhouse will be back with crew chief Nick Sandler this week after Sandler was suspended for the Talladega race for an unapproved steering wheel coupler.

“The tires usually don’t wear (at Kansas) so pit strategy becomes a factor because you want to minimize the amount of time you are on pit road,” Sandler said in a press release.

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