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Drivers took vastly different routes home to Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer returned to Kansas Speedway a year ago at very different points in their careers.

Edwards had claimed the top spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship a week earlier and was locked into a tense title race. Bowyer used the venue to announce his next career move after a nerve-racking summer scouring a limited free agent market.

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Things couldn’t be any more different a year later as they’ve returned for the Hollywood Casino 400 Sunday.

It’s Bowyer, in his first year with Michael Waltrip Racing, who is now a title contender. Edwards, who lost the championship to Tony Stewart on a tiebreaker, is stuck in neutral after a steep dropoff.

There is no better example than Bowyer and Edwards of how fast the landscape can change in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Edwards, who still lives two hours away in his hometown of Columbia, Mo., goes into Sunday’s race 15th in the standings. He’s not in the 12-driver Chase field and is stuck in a 64-race winless streak dating back to Phoenix in February 2011.

The contrast is Bowyer, from 90 minutes away in Emporia.

Bowyer had six good years with Richard Childress Racing and wanted to stay there, but couldn’t work out an extension last season. With so few open seats, fledgling MWR persuaded Bowyer to take a chance on them because they had a plan in place toward becoming a legitimate player in NASCAR.

That leap of faith may be the best decision Bowyer ever made.

His win last Saturday night at Charlotte was his career-best third of the season and edged him back into the title race. He goes into Sunday’s race ranked fourth in the standings, 28 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came back from two laps down Saturday to win the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway. The Nationwide race was extended six laps because of a late caution, which helped Stenhouse grab his series-leading sixth win; all three cars in front of him didn’t have enough gas to make it to the finish.

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