By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
After a weekend at home in Charlotte for the Bank of America 500 that left some Chase contenders scrambling, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads west to America’s Heartland to take on the fast, treacherous 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway for this Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, the second race of the Round of 12 in the Chase.
First joining the circuit as a relatively tame 1.5 mile track with 15 degree banking in the turns, Kansas underwent a massive reconfiguration in 2012 that transformed it into a much more treacherous track with variable banking ranging from 17 to 20 degrees in the turns.
The fact that the track has been so treacherous since the reconfiguration makes Kansas as much as a wild-card race as Talladega given that a driver could get swept up in an accident not of their own making, putting them in a hole heading into Talladega, the final race of the Round of 12 in the Chase, and putting a serious damper on their championship hopes going forward.
By the Numbers
Track Size: 1.5 mile D-shaped oval
Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles
May 2016 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started sixth – 69 laps led)
October 2015 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started 14th – 42 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Chevrolet (27.325 seconds, 197.621 mph – 10/05/2014)
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings:
- Jimmie Johnson – 110.4
- Matt Kenseth – 107.4
- Kevin Harvick – 103.4
- Greg Biffle – 96.8
- Martin Truex, Jr. – 95.5
- Carl Edwards – 95.4
- Kasey Kahne – 91.8
- Kyle Larson – 91.8
- Brad Keselowski – 91.8
- Tony Stewart – 89.1
Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Standings:
- Jimmie Johnson (Charlotte win)
- Matt Kenseth (+31 over Chase cut-off)
- Kyle Busch (+27)
- Brad Keselowski (+25)
- Kurt Busch (+24)
- Carl Edwards (+20)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (+19)
- Denny Hamlin (+3)
- Austin Dillon (-3)
- Chase Elliott (-3)
- Joey Logano (-6)
- Kevin Harvick (-8)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Kansas is a fast track and we fight the same problems there that we face at most tracks we go to – you have to get through the center well enough to be comfortable enough to be very aggressive with the throttle at the same time. I think that, for sheer speed, you can’t be too loose, but in the race you can’t be too tight or you’ll fall back,” said Danica Patrick
“These cars are finicky. It’s about focusing on the small things and getting the most out of the car itself instead of trying to throw the kitchen sink at it if you’re a little off. It’s all in the little details. I think that’s the most important thing.”
2015 Hollywood Casino 400 Flashback
Despite a 14th place start, Joey Logano was able to quickly move to the front, becoming a top-five mainstay for the majority of the race. Restarting in second with 20 laps to go, Logano set about chasing down and passing then race leader Matt Kenseth, who had led 153 laps on the day.
With three laps to go, Logano had caught Kenseth and after Kenseth threw a few blocks on the Team Penske driver, the two made contact entering Turn 1, sending Kenseth spinning and moving Logano into the lead. On the ensuing final restart, Logano was able to hold off former teammate Denny Hamlin to score back-to-back wins for the first time in his career.
The win was also Logano’s second straight win at Kansas in October.
“What a fast race car again. Starting back in 14th wasn’t where we wanted to be, but the first run we drove all the way up to second and I was like, ‘Wow, we’ve got something today.’ Some of the guys made their cars quite a bit better and they were able to kind of move up through the field with the different strategies and stuff like that, and then really the last pit stop Todd made a great call and made some great changes, and then it’s always that time to find that next level as a driver and find that next little piece to get a little bit more speed out of your car, and I was able to race hard and get back to the lead and be able to win,” said Logano.
“It’s hard to drive a car with the rear tires off the ground. I was moving around the best I could, Joey (Logano) was a lot tighter, a lot faster on the short run, but we were so much better on the long run. I could still kind of get up to the top and get a run and get around him. We caught those two lapped cars, ‘Crazy’ (spotter) told me I was clear and I was, I pulled up in front of him and he just lifted my tires off the ground and he wrecked us,” said Kenseth of the contact with Logano.
Who to Watch (Stats Since 2012 Reconfiguration)
- Kevin Harvick – After a mechanical issue at Charlotte, Harvick needs a good run at Kansas to be able to move on to the Round of Eight. With that in mind, Kansas could be the perfect place for that to happen. Harvick has been stellar on the 1.5 mile tracks this season and has a good history at Kansas. In his last eight starts, Harvick has one win (2013), four top-five finishes, four top-10 finishes, three poles, 392 laps led, and an average finish of 7.2.
- Matt Kenseth – Kenseth was well on his way to winning this race one year ago before getting spun out of the lead with three laps to go, so redemption will be on Kenseth’s mind this weekend at Kansas as he looks to punch his ticket to the next round. Since the track was reconfigured, Kenseth has been pretty good, winning the first two races on the new layout in 2012 and 2013 and following that up with three top-five finishes and five top-10 finishes, as well as one pole, 420 laps led, and an average finish of 7.5.
- Chase Elliott – Elliott was fast at Charlotte last weekend before getting swept up in a late race crash that relegated him to a 33rd place finish and dropped him out of the top-eight in points, so a rebound at Kansas is crucial to keeping the rookie’s championship hopes alive. In his lone start at the track back in May, Elliott started 13th and finished ninth.
- Kasey Kahne – Kahne may not be a part of the Chase, but he could certainly play spoiler this weekend. He has yet to win at the track, but does have four top-five finishes, four top-10 finishes, one pole, 25 laps led, and an average finish of 10.4 since the fall of 2012.
- Carl Edwards – A win at Kansas would go a long way in helping Edwards’ toward winning his first Cup Series title, but would also be a personal victory for him as Kansas serves as his home track. In the eight races since the track was reconfigured, Edwards has finished in the top-five twice, along with four top-10 finishes, 43 laps led, and an average finish of 10.8
- Honorable Mention: Joey Logano – Despite finishing 36th at Charlotte last weekend as a result of a cut tire, Logano heads to Kansas looking for the three-peat in the fall race at the track. Logano has won both October races over the past two years and a win on Sunday would keep him from having to count on Talladega to make it through to the next round of the Chase. In addition to his two wins, Logano has five top-five finishes, five top-10 finishes, one pole, 292 laps led, and an average finish of 13.9 in the eight starts since the track was reconfigured.
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
Friday, October 14
- NSCS Practice (1:00 pm to 2:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
- NSCS Qualifying (6:15 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Saturday, October 15
- NSCS Practice (11:00 am to 11:50 am – CNBC)
- NSCS Final Practice (1:30 pm to 2:20 pm – NBC Sports Network)
Sunday, October 16
- NSCS Hollywood Casino 400 (2:15 pm – 267 laps, 400.5 miles – NBC)