NASCAR Playoffs are wide open and “unpredictable” heading to Kansas

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS - MAY 15: Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Jordan Brand Toyota, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 15, 2022 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The sixteen drivers in the Playoffs just saw their expectations turn upside down. Issues and crashes at Darlington eliminated several Playoff contenders, including Kevin Harvick, while others like Joey Logano enjoyed a solid night to earn a boost in the standings.

Now NASCAR’s Cup Series heads to the second race of the Round of 16 at Kansas Speedway. Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 Presented by Barstool Sportsbook (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is also the first 1.5-mile intermediate track for the series in more than three months.

And the pressure is on for drivers near the cutline before the Bristol elimination race.

Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe, and Kevin Harvick are all currently below the cutline, in that order, and need a good run at Kansas. But a win is the only assurance. Even Joey Logano, who currently sits first in the standings after a fourth-place finish at Darlington, regretted not finding victory lane.

“It’s a solid day but a missed opportunity is probably where I would put it,” Logano said after the race at Darlington. However he did acknowledge that, “with so many others having trouble, every time you come to the Southern 500, especially in the Playoffs, you’ve just got to survive, and you get a solid finish,” which he did.

That win is the only way drivers can be confident of moving to the next round, no matter how strong their position is in the standings. “I feel like every week has been pretty wild and unpredictable,” said reigning champion Kyle Larson by way of explanation.

Daniel Suarez, who sits just two points to the good of the cutline, was taken out of contention at Darlington after a late-race speeding penalty.

“We are ready,” he said. “I made a mistake and you can’t have that. We have some things to clean up, but if we are as fast at every playoff race as we were in Darlington then we are going to be fine.”

One spot above him in the standings is a less-confident Kyle Busch, who described his relationship with the track as “hate-love,” because “it started out bad and has been good lately. We will hopefully keep that going in our favor.”

As for Kansas itself, Chase Briscoe said, “for the most part, Kansas isn’t much different than what it has been compared to some of these tracks that race so differently with the new car.” He promised he’ll be “running the fence” on Sunday as he looks for points to get above his fifteenth-place position in the standings.

His teammate Kevin Harvick added: “Kansas has become one of the more unique racetracks because of the fact the asphalt and the shape of the racetrack is so driver-friendly, as far as where you can drive on the racetrack. You can literally drive from the wall to the apron all the way around the racetrack. So, it’s a fun racetrack.”

Xfinity Series drivers battling for the top twelve at Kansas

AJ Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs will continue their battle for the Regular Season Championship in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), but that won’t be the only battle on track at Kansas. Though Gibbs trails Allmendinger by 51 points, he does have the most wins in the series and won this race last year.

“I’m looking forward to heading back to Kansas,” Gibbs said. “We won there last year in the Xfinity car, the same weekend we clinched the ARCA championship, so it’s a special place for me.”

But while Gibbs wants the points advantage winning the regular season title, other drivers throughout the field are concerned about making the Playoffs altogether. That list includes Sheldon Creed, who battled for the lead at Darlington last Saturday before ultimately coming up short before ultimately coming up to short to winner Noah Gragson.

That loss was especially disappointing for him as he sits one spot out of the twelve-driver Playoff field, 16 points behind twelfth-place Ryan Seig. But Kansas might not look the best for Creed: he’s a rookie at the track in the series, while Seig comes in with three-straight top-fives and five-straight top-tens. Still, the Xfinity Series is always unpredictable and a win guarantees a spot in the Playoffs.

Truck Series is already at an elimination race

The Truck Series has already been Playoff racing, and the return to the track at Kansas is an elimination race to set the field for the Round of 8. Six spots are up for grabs in the Kansas Lottery 200 at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) after Grant Enfinger and Chandler Smith clinched a berth with their wins.

Two drivers will face elimination, but the cutline is tight. Ninth place Carson Hocevar is only three points behind former champion Matt Crafton and tenth place Christian Eckes is only three points behind Hocevar.

Crafton has the experience, competing in all 24 races the Truck Series has held at Kansas and winning three of them. But Hocevar is confident.

“I’m excited to go back to a mile-and-a-half,” Hocevar said, “which seems to be more of our bread and butter.”

Expect a battle for the transfer spot in the Truck Series.

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Hollywood Casino 400 Presented by Barstool Sportsbook
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Sunday, September 11
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $8,338,881
TV: USA, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 165), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 267)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Kansas Lottery 300
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Saturday, September 10
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,661,536
TV: USA, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Kansas Lottery 200
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Friday, September 9
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $648,530
TV: FS1, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 201 miles (134 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 134)

Owen Johnson