By David Morgan, Associate Editor
One race down, two to go.
After Kyle Larson locked himself into the championship finale last weekend at Texas, the seven remaining drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs move on to Kansas Speedway looking to be the next to clinch a spot in the title race by winning Sunday’s running of the Hollywood Casino 400.
Among those seven other drivers still in the running for the Bill France Cup, all but one of them are previous winners at Kansas, with Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, and Martin Truex Jr. having won at the track in recent years. Ryan Blaney remains as the lone Playoff driver that has yet to win at Kansas.
Kansas Speedway has come into its own in recent years, following a repave and reconfiguration back in 2012. The track first joined the circuit in 2001 as a relatively tame 1.5-mile track with 15-degree banking in the turns, but the reconfiguration transformed it into the track we know today with variable banking ranging from 17 to 20 degrees in the turns.
With the groove widening out as the track has weathered in, drivers have been able to run from the bottom of the track all the way up to the top, especially with the 550-horsepower package that the track has entailed over the last couple of seasons.
When the green flag drops, Larson will lead the field from the pole, with Blaney starting alongside. The remainder of the top-10 starters include Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Hamlin, Truex, Logano, William Byron, and Christopher Bell.
By the Numbers
What: Hollywood Casino 400, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 34 of 36
Where: Kansas Speedway – Kansas City, Kansas (Opened: 2001)
When: Sunday, October 24
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Network, 3:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 1.5-mile oval (Banking: 17-20 degrees in turns, 10 degrees on frontstretch)
Race Length: 267 laps, 400.5 miles
Stage Lengths: 80 laps each (First two stages); 107 laps (Final stage)
May 2021 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota (Started ninth, 20 laps led)
October 2020 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started second, 47 laps led)
Track Qualifying Record: Kevin Harvick – 27.325 seconds, 197.621 mph – October 5, 2014
Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Kansas:
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 109.7
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 100.3
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 98.0
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 96.7
- Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 96.7
- Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Team Penske Ford – 95.1
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 94.0
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 91.5
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 88.0
- Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 87.8
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings:
- Kyle Larson (Advances with Texas win)
- Ryan Blaney (+17)
- Denny Hamlin (+9)
- Kyle Busch (+8)
- Chase Elliott (-8 under cut-off)
- Brad Keselowski (-15)
- Martin Truex, Jr. (-22)
- Joey Logano (-43)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Kansas Speedway has done a really good job with their banking,” said Austin Dillon. “There’s a line up by the fence that has a little extra grip. There’s an angle up there that I don’t think many have figured out yet, but Kansas got it right.
“You can run from top to bottom there. The bottom groove is the preferred groove at the beginning, but it becomes too tight to try and run around there in turns one and two sometimes depending on what the balance of your race car is. I’ve enjoyed that track a lot ever since they repaved it. I wish every track could do as good a job as Kansas has with repaves.”
Last Time at Kansas
Back in May’s Cup Series race at Kansas, the Buschy McBusch Race 400 started off with Brad Keselowski dominating from the pole, leading 72 of the opening 80 laps of the race before Kyle Larson took over a looked to be well on his way to his second win of the season, with a race-high 132 circuits at the front of the field.
However, a late caution would spoil the party for Larson, giving Kyle Busch a chance to win his namesake race.
On a restart with two laps to go, Busch ascended to the lead with help from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., while Larson got bounced back to the second row during the intense restart, eventually making contact with Ryan Blaney, which would wind up causing the two cars to slide up out of the groove and into the wall. Larson would fall all the way back to 19th at the finish.
Meanwhile, Busch was able to keep his Toyota out front for the remainder of the race to score the victory, while fresher tires would propel Keselowski and Kevin Harvick to second and third. Matt Dibenedetto brought the Wood Brothers No. 21 car home in fourth, with Chase Elliott rounding out the top-five.
“Obviously very satisfied,” said Busch. “We had a strong car. We ran up front all day. Dropping the green flag, we were heading towards the front, so that was definitely a confidence booster, and just kept trying to make little adjustments to the car all day long in order to get it to where we wanted it there closer towards the end, and nothing was really hitting on it and making it better, but the final two adjustments definitely were a positive for us.
“Didn’t necessarily take us from a third-place car to a winning car, but all the restarts and circumstances did, and got us in the right position when we needed it.”
In addition to marking his first win of 2021, Busch’s Kansas win also brought him into a tie with Hall of Famer David Pearson for the most consecutive seasons with a win at 17. Only Richard Petty has more seasons in a row with a win, at 18 years from 1960 to 1977.
“It’s cool,” Busch said. “It gives me chills. I don’t know if I just got a chill from the air-conditioning or actually hearing that.
“It’s meaningful. It’s a huge accomplishment. I feel like any accomplishment that’s still out there that’s able to be achieved to get it is something to be honored with.
“Being able to do it 17 years now and hopefully go on into 18, 19, 20, whatever it is, there’s definitely not very many things that you’re going to beat The King at, that’s for darned sure. Hopefully we can continue that tradition and then make sure that we get to 18, get to 19 and so on.”