Kansas Speedway is a driver’s track. With multiple lanes and a worn-out surface, it forces drivers to find the fastest line and battle each other all race. And with the Hollywood Casino 400 being a Playoff race, Kansas was the perfect track to see which postseason drivers could rise to the occasion.
Each driver’s performance at Kansas is scored on a 1-to-10 scale, with a score of 1 reserved for a terrible performance with no redeeming qualities and 10 reserved for a perfect and dominating performance. Performance over the entire weekend is factored in, since qualifying results make race days easier or more difficult.
Kansas was the second race of the Round of 16. The Playoff field will be filtered down to twelve drivers after the final race of the round at Bristol, and strong runs are essential to moving on in the postseason. This rating gives an indication of each driver’s relative performance throughout the Playoffs.
9.5 – Tyler Reddick (1st)
Tyler Reddick kept himself in position all race and pounced when the time was right. He was upfront throughout the race, finishing sixth in Stage 1 and fifth in Stage 2. He was even stronger in the long run in Stage 3, but couldn’t get to the lead until the final caution came out and brought about an Overtime restart.
Reddick was able to jump around four cars that stayed out or took two tires and get the lead, holding off his team owner Denny Hamlin to secure the win. A win in the Playoffs is an automatic ticket to the next round, so Reddick doesn’t have to worry about qualifying for the Round of 12 at Bristol. It was a strong run for Reddick and a strong performance when it counted. The only thing that his No. 45 team could’ve added for a perfect weekend was enough speed to get the lead without a restart.
9 – Denny Hamlin (2nd)
Denny Hamlin just had a strong day up front. He had a fast car all day, moving up from his 14th place starting position to seventh in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2. And he ended up second at the end. Though Hamlin was unhappy not to have put himself in position in the final Overtime restart despite leading before the caution came out, he showed championship-caliber speed. It means he enters Bristol in the best points position of all the drivers who haven’t won in this round of the Playoffs, with a 49-point advantage to the cutline.
“Just kind of sleeping on the restart, looking in the rear view instead of looking in the front,” Hamlin admitted of the final restart. “Just another really, really fast car, just didn’t need that caution at the end.” Still, he passed all the cars that stayed out or took two tires to end up second behind Reddick, his own driver in the 23XI Racing team Hamlin owns along with Michael Jordan.
8.5 – Kyle Larson (4th)
Kyle Larson was fast early and there when it mattered, but one mistake set him on the back foot in the middle of the race. Larson started second and won the first stage. But Larson chose to stay out when the caution fell midway through Stage 2 while most of the field behind him and the leaders pitted. He struggled to get going on the old tires and was quickly swallowed by the field, falling outside the top ten.
Crew chief Cliff Daniels chose to run an alternate tire strategy in the other direction early in Stage 3, electing to come down pit road after a short seven-lap green flag run to put on Larson’s qualifying scuffs. The move paid off, and though Larson restarted 31st, he scythed through the field. A little wall contact couldn’t stop his march to the front, and he ended up fourth. Larson didn’t need points since his win in the opening round of the Playoffs guaranteed him a berth in the Round of 12, but winning the first stage gives him a valuable Playoff point that transfers to the next round.
8 – Joey Logano (5th)
No one maximized the day better than Joey Logano. He started eleventh and never showed any more speed than that, spending almost his entire race fighting just to break into the top ten. Crew chief Paul Wolfe did manage the strategy to finish eighth in a caution-filled Stage 2 to pick up a few points, but Logano fell back as Stage 3 featured a long green-flag run.
Wolfe’s strategy really paid off at the finish. A late caution for Chris Buescher brought out the Overtime, and Logano only took two tires, picking up twelve spots on pit road. He restarted fourth and made quick work of Daniel Suarez, who didn’t come to pit road at all, before falling to fifth behind a group of drivers on four fresh tires. But getting up to fifth turned a struggle into a success. It proved especially vital for the points standings, as Logano went from being right on the cutline to holding a twelve-point advantage leaving Kansas.
7.5 – Kyle Busch (7th)
Kyle Busch continues digging his own hole in the opening rounds of the Playoffs, and for the same reason. He hit the wall in practice at Kansas, just like he did at Darlington, and both times he was forced to start from the rear as a result as his team repaired the damage during qualifying. He was able to drive through the field quickly but couldn’t crack the top ten.
Choosing to take two tires along with Joey Logano, as well as Erik Jones, in the final stop put him up front for the first time all day. He actually restarted a position higher than Logano in the outside lane but got shuffled back more quickly and ended up seventh. Still, like Logano, he maximized a bad day, but a good part of the issue was self-inflicted. He also failed to pick up any stage points. Still, Busch leaves Kansas with a healthy gap of 24 points to the good of the cutline. He just needs to start the Bristol weekend on the right foot.
7.5 – Brad Keselowski (9th)
Brad Keselowski just needed more short runs. Keselowski qualified twelfth, one spot ahead of his RFK teammate Chris Buescher, but outperformed Buescher throughout the race. He moved up to eighth in Stage 1 before winning Stage 2. The second stage was caution-filled and short-run heavy, though, and Keselowski fell back in the third stage which featured a long run.
Keselowski ended up ninth, a strong finish to a strong day that confers big Playoff points: boosting him from 18 points above the Playoff cutline to 33, plenty of comfort heading into Bristol.
7 – Kevin Harvick (11th)
Kevin Harvick showed why he’s been so successful at Kansas, wheeling a car that could only qualify as high as 20th into the top five in the middle of the race. He finished 10th in Stage 1 and 4th in Stage 2. He fell off somewhat in the long green flag run in Stage 3, though, and ended up 9th.
It’s another solid performance for Harvick after he showed speed at Darlington, and this time with a better result to show for it. His Stewart-Haas team is showing speed at the right time in the season, and Harvick is above the cutline for the first time in the Playoffs, seven points ahead of Martin Truex, Jr.
7 – Christopher Bell (8th)
Christopher Bell showed he had the fastest car by starting on pole and setting the fastest lap early, but that speed didn’t seem to translate to the long run as he struggled to maintain position early. Bell still managed a third-place finish in Stage 1. However, he had more issues with on pit road. His pit crew was Ty Gibbs’ during the regular season, a group that was consistently third-fastest on pit road. However, slow stops in the second stage cost Bell, and he fell back to tenth by the finish of Stage 2.
Another pit mistake cost Bell time on pit road in the third stage, but he was able to rally and finish eighth. The finish and the stage points throughout the race made up somewhat for a particularly poor opening round of the Playoffs at Darlington, where Bell finished 23rd with damage despite starting on the pole there as well. Bell, and his entire No. 20 team, need to figure out how to stay at the front after starting there as the Playoffs continue.
6 – William Byron (15th)
William Byron had enough speed to qualify ninth and contend early, but spinning by himself towards the end of Stage 1 didn’t help matters. He spun in the same corner as Austin Dillon hit the wall just a lap earlier, but said it wasn’t debris, just a loose car, that sent him around. He had noticeably less speed on the subsequent restart, but his team was able to fix up the car and Byron finished 15th. It didn’t hurt him much in the points, and Byron still has a 41-point advantage to the Playoff cutline.
“Once the track took a set in Stage One and kind of got all the rubber from yesterday’s race off, it seemed like we were just free from that point on. I didn’t know how free in that first stage – I just let the No. 45 (Tyler Reddick) go and it just came around on me,” Byron explained. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to try and figure out what that was.”
5.5 – Ryan Blaney (12th)
Ryan Blaney had a fairly unremarkable day, but in a day where many of his Playoff competitors suffered failures or problems, an unremarkable day isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Team Penske as a whole struggled throughout the weekend, but Blaney adjusted his No. 12 Ford well and found speed, finishing 5th in Stage 1 and 7th in Stage 2.
Blaney, like his Penske teammate Joey Logano, struggled in the long run and fell back throughout Stage 3. He wasn’t able to maximize the final strategy call and ended up twelfth, but it was still a very good points day. Blaney entered the Playoffs right at the Playoffs, but after quietly strong performances at Darlington and Kansas, he has a 25-point buffer for Bristol.
5 – Ross Chastain (13th)
Ross Chastain lost out on a rare mistake. After starting sixth and finishing fourth in Stage 1, Chastain was shuffled back in a restart midway through Stage 2. On the lap 133 restart, Kyle Larson, who chose to stay out on old tires, struggled to grip up and fell back. Chastain made contact and fell back himself, falling all the way outside the top twenty.
While he tried to battle back, his No. 1 Trackhouse Racing team was hit with its first pit road penalty of the season for crewmembers over the wall too soon, which sent him back to the rear. Chastain was able to battle back up for 13th by the end though, showing impressive resilience. It was actually enough to bolster Chastain’s gap to the Playoff cutline, and he leads Kansas 18 points to the good.
4 – Bubba Wallace (32nd)
Bubba Wallace showed incredible promise early but never got to reap the rewards from it. He ran up front in Stage 1 and was in second when the green-and-white checkered flag flew. Wallace continued to run well at the outset of Stage 2 before his right-rear tire failed on lap 109 of 267 and he hit the wall. The damage caused a toe link issue that his crew spent a long time repairing on pit road, ultimately putting him six laps down midway through the race.
He spent the rest of his race battling back and fighting more issues with the car, and could manage no better than 32nd, the second-worst finishing car still on track. The result digs Wallace into an even deeper Playoff hole, and he’ll have to find a way to make up 19 points at Bristol. Wallace was certainly willing to take the blame for the accident, though, and he certainly avoided the bad judgement that led to him spinning early at Darlington. He certainly has the speed to make up the points differential, he just needs to put it all together and get a little extra luck.
3 – Chris Buescher (27th)
Chris Buescher got unlucky at Kansas, but he wasn’t in the strongest position to begin with. He finished outside the points in Stage 1 but rallied to ninth in Stage 2. Buescher was around the outside of the top ten most day, including his starting position of 13th, until the final laps of the race.
On lap 260 of 267, Buescher’s right-rear tire went down and he hit the wall, ultimately finishing 27th. Despite a few flashes of speed throughout the day, Kansas to be a poor track for Christopher Bell. He entered with 27 points over the cutline and leaves with just a 13-point advantage heading into Bristol, negating the advantage of his late streak of wins in the regular season.
2 – Ricky Stenhouse (23rd)
Ricky Stenhouse never managed to find the speed all weekend. He started 16th and ended up 23rd all while failing to score any stage points. Stenhouse was clearly pushing, scraping the wall twice in the middle of Stage 2, but couldn’t move forward.
The unremarkable result is not the sort of performance that suggests the No. 47 team can move forward in the Playoffs, and Stenhouse will have an uphill road to make the Round of 12 at Bristol. He leaves Kansas 22 points below the Playoff cutline.
2 – Michael McDowell (26th)
Michael McDowell’s qualifying has been the only bright spot in a Playoffs struggle. The team qualified in the top ten in both of the two opening rounds of the Playoffs but has yet to finish inside the top twenty. McDowell just didn’t show the speed he needed to contend for a championship at any stage of the Kansas race, and slow pit stops certainly didn’t help.
In addition, he managed to pick up some damage after contact that sent Austin Cindric spinning midway through the race. Crew chief Travis Peterson made a “hail mary” call to stay out in the final green-flag pit sequence, banking on a caution that failed to materialize. That’s hardly a position that McDowell can afford to be in, and his 26th-place finish leaves him 40 points below the cutline leaving Kansas. McDowell said it wasn’t “a panic ‘911,’ must-win, have to go extreme strategy or extreme aggression” heading into Kansas, but it certainly is going to be at Bristol for the No. 34 camp.
1.5 – Martin Truex, Jr.
Martin Truex clearly had a fast car that was good enough to qualify third, but he never got a chance to show it off in race trim. After bleeding positions at the start, his right-rear tire blew on lap five and he turned hard into the wall. Truex’s No. 19 Toyota ended up damaged too badly to continue, and he ended up finishing 36th and last. It also means that the Regular Season Champion who entered Kansas with a 25-point buffer to the Playoff cutline leaves 9 points below it.
“Just unfortunate and very unlucky. I took off really tight and I knew something was up, and then cut a right rear. Not really sure what happened, obviously, but it blew in the worst place possible. I hate it for my guys,” Truex said. “We were going to have a great day, just not sure what we need to do to get some luck here.”
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