Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway just got a whole lot more interesting following Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway where all 12 of the NASCAR Playoff drivers were involved in wrecks.
Following Kansas, four drivers will be cut from the Playoffs and the other eight will advance to the Round of 8 which begins at Martinsville Speedway next week. This is the halfway point of the Playoffs.
The top-6 drivers appear somewhat safe, including the winners of the first two of this round, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney who got the automatic berth into the Round of 8. Denny Hamlin is safe to advance after finishing third — his series-leading 16th top-five finish in 2019 — at Talladega despite duct tape holding his fender and hood together after being in an early wreck. Two-time Kansas winner Martin Truex Jr. is also safe to advance while 2016 Kansas winner Kyle Busch and three-time Kansas winner Kevin Harvick would have to wreck early in the race or have engine problems not to advance.
But the seventh and eighth spots to advance are ripe for the taking despite Brad Keselowski winning at Kansas twice, including the May race there, and Joey Logano winning this race twice to advance (2014, 2015).
Keselowski has three wins this season, two using this week’s race package with the cars having aero ducts and engines producing 550 horsepower, but his last win came in the May Kansas race. A driver like Chase Elliott who won this race last season only has to make up 17 points on Logano and 24 on Keselowski, or he could just win again and then let Logano and Keselowski battle it out for the last spot.
But the thing about Elliott this season is that all three of his wins have come with other race packages at Talladega, the road courses at Watkins Glen, and Charlotte’s Roval. His win at Kansas last season was using a completely different race package as well, making that results irrelevant to the equation of right here and now.
This will be the ninth of 11 races on a 1.5-mile layout and Elliott has top-fives in three of them, the last one coming on the last 1.5 raced on in Las Vegas last month. Maybe he’s on an upward progression, but there are several other drivers on these types of tracks that have been much better with this race package and most of them are housed in the Joe Gibbs Racing stable winning seven of the 15 races with this week’s package.
Kyle Busch has been stuck on four wins since winning the June 2 race at Pocono. It’s crazy to think that 17 races have passed since then, but this could be the race he breaks through and regains some confidence for the stretch run. He has no pressure to win, nor does teammate Truex who won the last race on a 1.5-mile layout at Las Vegas. He also won at Charlotte and has a series-leading six wins. Hamlin has won at Texas and Pocono using this package and Erik Jones win at Darlington six weeks ago.
And then we come to perhaps the best non-JGR driver candidate to win, Kevin Harvick, who averages a 9.8 average finish — the best among active drivers. He’s one of three drivers to have started in all 27 Kansas races and his 855 laps led is the most among all drivers. All three of his Kansas wins have come in his last 12 starts, and he had the best care in the May race leading a race-high 104 laps, winning the first stage and finishing second in the second stage, but had a late issue to finish 13th. In his last four starts using this package, he’s got two wins (Michigan, Indianapolis), a runner-up at Las Vegas, and a fourth at Darlington.
Vegas Boys wreck each other
With five laps to go at Talladega Monday afternoon, our Las Vegas NASCAR drivers Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, and Brendan Gaughan were all running in the top-five. All I could think of was Gaughan winning his first Cup race (100-1) at Talladega much in the same fashion Keselowski did a decade ago as a part-time driver for an underfunded team.
Gaughan’s No. 62 South Point Chevrolet was right in the middle of the mix and had other drivers respecting him and following his lead. He was making the winning move when Kyle Busch made a sudden turn right — to avoid Ricky Stenhouse — and hit his brother Kurt who then hit Gaughan which propelled the No. 62 into a full flip at 200 mph. There was a chain reaction of 11 cars being involved in the wreckage.
There was some debate as to whether Stenhouse’s aggressive sidedraft up towards Kyle caused the swerve, but whatever the case was, seeing the Vegas boys run strong was a blast. And due to the safety measures of the cars, all three were not harmed.