Inside look at Logano and Harvick’s final battle and my main takeaways from Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400

Kevin Harvick had the fastest race car in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway. That’s no surprise, Harvick has had the fastest race car all season. He’s won a series leading nine times already in 2020 and had the pace to make it 10 on a blistery cold afternoon in Kansas for the opening race of the Round of 8.

Instead, pit road and the racing package is to what allowed Joey Logano to reach victory lane instead.

Logano used every bit of the track to hold off Harvick over a long, finishing green-flag run to win the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday and clinch a spot in the championship round at Phoenix.

Harvick, the winningest driver so far this season, kept pulling up to Logano’s bumper coming out of corners but simply couldn’t make a pass stick. Despite leading a race-high 85 laps, Harvick had to watch Logano cross the finish line by just .312-seconds.

“You got to want it, man,” said Logano, after earning his 31st career Cup win. “What an amazing team this Shell/Pennzoil team is. I am worn out. I spent more time in the mirror than I did in the windshield there. Pit stops got us positions and got us the lead. The 4 (Harvick) was fast, real fast, especially down the straightaways. I thought if I could hold him off the first 15 laps that I would have a chance. Dirty air was the best for us.

“As we caught lap traffic, I was able to gap ourselves as he got more dirty air, and I was able to draft somebody because I was a little slow down the straightaway. Man, I am exhausted after that. We are going to Phoenix and racing for a championship again, heck yeah!”

It was the first win for Logano since before the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the track to reduce the crowd to about 10,000 fans. But it came at the best of times, giving Team Penske a couple of weeks to prepare for another title run rather than stress about races at Texas and Martinsville.

For Harvick, he says Logano beating him off pit road following the final pit stop was the dagger.

“We just needed to get off of pit road first,” said Harvick. “It came down to controlling that restart, and we lost the lead there on the restart and wound up trying to battle and didn’t get the lead, but just really, really fast Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang. All our guys did a great job, and we had a fast car; we moved all over the racetrack, and we weren’t the best behind somebody, but I had a lot of options as they made the car better towards the end of the race. It was a good run for us. I wish we could have one, but we were one short.”

The other factor was this rules package. Harvick hoped lapped traffic would allow him to make his move, but it never happened.

“There were a lot of things that could happen with lap cars or him guessing wrong and me being able to run the bottom or run the top or get a good run or something along those lines, and it never materialized,” said Harvick after finishing second for the fourth time at Kansas.

“He did a great job of putting his car where he needed to, and we just never had an opportunity to capitalize on anything from a mistake side of it.”

Harvick doesn’t blame Logano for doing that either. It’s the nature of the business in NASCAR with this racing package now.

“Joey did just a good job of putting his car right in front of ours, and with this package every time you put your car in front of the car behind you, it takes the nose away,” said Harvick. “We just had a little bit of trouble trying to get the nose to turn when he would take our lane. So, guys did a great job, brought a fast car and just came up one short.

“I think it’s how we race for sure; I think you’ve become used to that part of it. For me, it’s just a scenario that you just become used to, that’s part of what we race, and I definitely don’t make the rules, and just try to do the best we can each week with whatever situation that we have and go from there.”

Alex Bowman finished third, Brad Keselowski was fourth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.


Logano A Championship Favorite Now

Joey Logano’s win in Sunday’s race puts him into the Championship 4 for the fourth time of his NASCAR Cup Series career. He made the final round in the new playoff format’s inception in 2014. He did it again two years later (2016). He won at Martinsville (VA) in this very Round of 8 opening race in 2018 en route to his first and only championship that year. Now, he’s back again. This time, I think he’s the favorite to hoist this year’s championship trophy again.

Think about it. Logano hadn’t won a race at all during this pandemic. They struggled to adapt to the new changes but that’s because he and Paul Wolfe had to learn each other on the fly.

Team Penske swapped crew chiefs on all three teams during this past offseason. It meant everyone was relearning each other again. But, to start the season, they had the luxury of practice and qualifying.

Wolfe and Logano started out great. They won their Duel. They won the second race of the season in Vegas. They won the last race before the pandemic at…Phoenix — the site of this year’s championship.

Logano, has maintained all season that their strength is on 750 horsepower tracks. His teammate Brad Keselowski agreed too. But, it was the 550 horsepower tracks to where it would be difficult to adapt.

As Logano put it to me this past summer in the middle of his struggles, he and Wolfe have seen these tracks before, it’s just that they haven’t seen them together. Without the luxury of practice anymore, they were going into race weekend’s guessing.

After two wins in the first four points paying races together, they had one top five over the first 13 races run during the pandemic. They only had four top 10’s in that span too. Then, Texas came around and they finished third in late July. That started the turn around. Logano, had three top five finishes over the next five races and seven top 10’s over the next eight races.

The No. 22 Ford was back.

Over the last 16 races now, Logano has scored 11 top 10’s. Over the last seven races, he has four top three finishes including a runner-up last Sunday and a win this week.

With the finals being in Phoenix, a track he won at back in March, doesn’t that make Logano the favorite now?


Racing Package Not Ideal Past Restarts

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. A lot of people were upset with how the end of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 ended. I mean, how can you blame them? The race was pretty good in fact for most of the way. It’s just that the final 42 laps were kind of blah.

I think that mixed with Joey Logano not necessarily being a fan favorite contributed to some fans voicing their frustrations when it was all said and done.

Don’t hate Logano though.

They didn’t have the best car. Kevin Harvick did. He led a race-high 85 laps. Denny Hamlin had the second best car but he took himself out when he got into the wall on Lap 180. He’d finish 15th after leading 58 laps.

Chase Elliott had the next best car. He led 48 laps, third most and only behind Harvick’s 85 and Hamlin’s 58. He just wasn’t as good on restarts when it mattered.

It was Logano who took over the lead on the final stop of the day and at that point, had two laps led all race. He held off Harvick who had led 85 laps, over the final 42 laps of green flag action en route to the win.

How?

Track position. That’s how.

Fans are growing tired of this 550 horsepower package not producing the action that was promised. I mean, just look at how great the start was of this race. Side-by-side, 2×2 and sometimes 3×3 racing. But, once the field settled in and started spreading out, you can’t pass.

Logano, had the clean air and all the sudden his car looked like it was great now. Was it better than the 4, 11 and 9? Absolutely not. But, clean air is king. All he had to do was block and defend his position like he legally is able to and he could cruise to a win.

Logano did just that.

Back in Vegas, the opening race of the Round of 12, Kurt Busch got lucky by running the second to last stint long hoping for a fluke caution to aid in his strategy. He got it. Busch, never relinquished the lead the rest of the way. He had a 13th-15th place car but clean air allowed him to win.

That’s this package now and that’s what’s coming back in 2021 too.

“You just never know how the cautions are going to fall, the strategy, anything like that,” Harvick said after his runner-up on Sunday. “You just have to go lap by lap and see where it falls.”

Pit stops, pit strategy and a little luck and anyone can win these races now. That’s why fans are frustrated.


Harvick Confident Heading To Texas

Kevin Harvick had the best car on Sunday and that was a surprise to him. Tracks like Kansas have been tough for his No. 4 Ford this year. They’ve had top five pace, but not race winning speed on them. On Sunday, no one could touch Harvick. He led a race-high 85 laps in the Hollywood Casino 400. Unfortunately, coming out of the pits in second under caution and not having the control of the restart in the end, cost him his 10th victory of the season.

Joey Logano had two laps led all race prior to that, but his No. 22 Ford beat Harvick’s No. 4 Ford off pit lane. Logano, had control of the final restart with 42 laps left and he blocked his way to the victory. Harvick, finished second.

Still, Harvick is sitting pretty good. It was his fourth runner-up result at the Kansas Speedway. That’s the most ever. He’s now had 17 top 10’s on this 1.5-mile track, second ever only behind Jimmie Johnson’s 19. He’s also had 10 top five finishes, trailing only Jeff Gordon’s 11.

Harvick, has scored 14 top five finishes over the last 20 races on the season and five straight top 10’s on 1.5-mile tracks overall, four of which being in the top five.

He went from +45 to +41 leaving Kansas this weekend and heading to a track to where he can easily win at next. Harvick, has won each of the last three Texas playoff races and feels confident now heading to the Lonestar State next Sunday.

“I feel better about Texas than I do here (Kansas),” Harvick said on Sunday. “Our guys did a pretty good job of bringing a whole lot better car than what we had at the first race. If our car’s that much better at Texas than it was the first race, it should be a good weekend.”

That’s scary for the rest of the field. He’s had 12 consecutive top 10 finishes on that track and four top two’s in his last six there overall.

Harvick, can be the next to stamp his name into the Championship 4.


Bowman Finishes 3rd, Still Loses 9 Points

Alex Bowman had a solid day in his No. 88 Chevrolet on Sunday at the Kansas Speedway. He finished third in the Hollywood Casino 400 for his seventh top 10 finish in his last nine starts on the season. He only had four in the previous 23 tries in 2020 at that. So, to have this type of run going for him, he’d have to feel pretty good about making his way to the Championship 4, right?

Instead, he’s got some work to do still he says.

Bowman, actually lost nine points in the standings despite his third place effort. He scored 12 stage points on a day that he said that his car wasn’t the best early.

“I think it’s obviously a really good day for us,” Bowman said after his fourth top 10 in the last five Cup races at Kansas. “We didn’t have the car that we hoped to have. We struggled with it quite a bit today. Still got good stage points. Didn’t really have the speed we wanted to have.”

Bowman, notes that they kept working on his car all day and they found the right path over the final couple of stops. He felt like that if that final caution doesn’t fly on Lap 220, then maybe he’d be the one celebrating in victory lane instead.

“We needed a little bit longer run there at the end,” he continued. “I think we were the fastest car, just kind of ran out of laps.”

It’s good and bad though that he had a day like this but lost points. Joey Logano wasn’t one Bowman could afford to win. That’s why he lost points.

“Happy and sad,” Bowman continued. “A little bit bummed we lost points. A little bummed Joey won. That makes my life harder over the next couple of weeks. I feel like we had a really good day. I’m really proud of my race team. A lot of people said we were going to go out early in the playoffs. We’re still here fighting. We’re still bringing really fast cars to the racetrack each and every week.”

Bowman, is now 27 points behind the cutoff line and likely going to need to win now over the next two weeks. He’s not won in the last 30 races and heading to Texas to where he did finish fifth in last year’s playoff race, but that’s his only top 10 there though too. After that, it’s to Martinsville to where he’s never had a top five at. He was sixth this past June though.



Keselowski Nervous About 1st 2 Races Of This Round, Gets Just 2nd Top 5 In Last 12 Races On Season

Brad Keselowski was nervous about his chances of making the Championship 4. He felt good about winning the Round of 8 finale at Martinsville (4 straight top 5’s there) but didn’t like the way his cars have raced lately at the first two tracks in this round (Kansas and Texas).

“You know, here and Texas are two tracks we were nervous about,” Keselowski said after a top five finish in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.

Keselowski, had great pace in his No. 2 Ford early. He finished second in Stage 1 and sixth in Stage 2. That got him a much needed 14 stage points on the afternoon and had himself setup for a good result in the end.

He capitalized with a rare playoff top five at Kansas. While it was his third top four finish in his last four Kansas starts, he had struggled in the annual Fall race though. He was 19th last year and was eliminated from the second round of the playoffs as a result.

“We were really fast all day,” Keselowski continued. “We just didn’t quite have enough there at the end. I feel like if we would have had the lead, we could have won. But, it just wasn’t n the card today.”

Keselowski, still sits +8 on the cutline as he lost five points despite the top five. He only had one top five finish in his last 11 races on the season entering this weekend.



Martin Truex Jr. Says They’ve Been Off Lately, Confident They Can Turn It Around Still

Martin Truex Jr. has to stop seeing his car fail pre race inspections. Yet again, he had to forego a good starting spot and had to drop to the rear prior to the start of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway as a result of two failures in pre race tech.

Still, he managed to get up to 12th by the competition caution on Lap 25. The problem was, he just didn’t have much more than that. Truex, was eighth in both stages and finished ninth in his No. 19 Toyota.

“That’s about all we had,” Truex said post race. “We were eighth in both stages and then ninth at the end. We didn’t really have much more than that. If we could have got some track position at times, the really long runs were strong.

“Just restarts were really tough to fend people off. We just didn’t quite have the short run speed. Missed it a little bit there with it being so cool out, I guess. Just didn’t have what we hoped to have.”

Truex, now is likely facing a potential must win over the next two weeks. He dropped to 31 points below the cutline. It’s entirely possible to make that ground up, but to do so on the best of the best in the Round of 8, well it’s going to be tough.

He’s chasing Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott. Combined, that foursome has won 23 times this season. Truex, has only won once. All four of those drivers are capable of winning in each of the next two races. If they do, then Truex, has to make it in on points and those are four drivers that are going to be difficult to chase down.

Truex, has never won at Texas, the site of next Sunday’s race. He has won the las two times out on the Round of 8 finale at Martinsville though.

“We’ll do what we do,” Truex continued. “We’ll just keep fighting. Today is over. It’s wasn’t a terrible day by any means, but not what we needed to get to the final four.

“Try to pick it up for Texas next week and Martinsville should be good too.”

But, do they have the capability to turn this around?

“I know we can do it, “Truex said. Just a matter of hitting it really right. We’ve not hit it right in a while. We’re good enough to win at least and we’ve been close. We’ve been second, third and fourth a lot of times and today, ninth is unacceptable for us. That’s the way it goes and that’s racing. This stuff is hard. We’ll go back to work. I know we can win at one of the next two. We just have to hit it right.”


Hamlin “Threw Away” Win Sunday In Kansas

Denny Hamlin knew he had enough points for one mulligan in the Round of 8. He entered the third round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs +32 on the bubble. But, Hamlin was likely hoping that if he needed to use it, that it was going to come next week in Texas.

Hamlin, won the spring race on the 1.5-mile track last year, but was only 28th and 20th in the last two Cup races at Texas. Four of his last five finishes there have been 20th or worse. So, to have lost 12 points on Sunday at the Kansas Speedway, well it was frustrating for him.

Especially when his No. 11 Toyota had the speed to win and he had won the last tow races in the Sunflower State as well.

Hamlin, led the second most laps all day (58). He won the second stage. But, he got too high while battling for position during the final stage on Lap 180 and got into the Turn 4 SAFER barrier. He had to pit for right side damage as a result and would lost a couple of laps. He fell back to 28th after pitting for repairs.

Luckily for them, they didn’t panic. They knew more cautions would fly which would give them plenty of time to make up the lost ground. He took the wave around on Lap 199 and got back on the lead lap on Lap 220 caution for Tyler Reddick.

That allowed him to still finish 15th.

“Obviously, we damaged the car and at these tracks, you can’t have any damage on the car,” Hamlin said following his fifth finish of 12 or worse in seven playoff races. “I was fortunate to get a couple cautions there to get us back on the lead lap. That was as far as I could go with the damage that I had. It just hurt the FedEx Camry so bad. To finish 15th with that damage, that was the best we could possibly hope for.

“Still definitely had a race-winning car today. Just threw it in the fence.”

Hamlin, now sits +20 going to Texas next weekend. It’s weird that he’s only had two top 10’s all playoffs. But, you also have to look at the circumstances too. Hamlin, has had speed more times than not.

He was running third in the playoff opener at Darlington before getting run in the back of by Jimmie Johnson on his final stop for the Southern 500. He’d finish 13th. A week later in Richmond, he won a stage and had top five pace again but was speeding on pit road. He finished 12th. They didn’t have much in a 21st place result at Bristol.

The Round of 12 was much better. He was third in Vegas and won in Talladega. Hamlin, finished 15th on the ROVAL and now 15th after having a top two or three car again in Kansas.

“We can win every week,” Hamlin continued. “Every week, we’re up front. I think we can win next week. We can win the week after that and we can win the week after that. Not too worried about having to go out there and win because I know we can do it.”


Busch Needing To Win Now To Make It To Championship 4

Alex Bowman may be the Cinderella story of the playoffs, but Kurt Busch would like to have a word. He wasn’t picked by many to be here right now either. Following some luck in his hometown of Las Vegas, he is.

Busch, had two top five finishes in the Round of 12. He only had one in his last 21 starts prior. Now, he was heading to some very good tracks for him. He had five top 10 finishes in his last six Kansas starts and seven consecutive top 10’s on the next track at Texas.

Instead, he’s not facing a must win again.

Busch’s engine of his No. 1 Chevrolet blew on Lap 193. He’d finish 36th as a result. What’s rare is, this is his first engine failure since he joined Chip Ganassi Racing last year.

“Yeah, usually there’s no warning,” said Busch. “Everything is so buttoned-up these days in the engine department. I haven’t seen an engine problem in years. No fault of anybody at Hendrick engines; we’re running hard here. We were running top-five, and there’s a ton of RPM down the front straightaway with the tailwind. We were right in the mix. We were doing the deal. I just couldn’t quite clear some guys to get into that top three or four, and then our car would come back to us on the long run after about lap 30.

“It’s a shame for everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing. Having an engine failure in the Playoffs – it’s just like a huge parachute that slows you up. We’ll pack that parachute up, throw it away, and we’ll go to Texas to win. We knew we were going to have to win either here or Texas. Martinsville, we have a shot at it, too. The odds are stacked against us, but hey, we’re in the top eight for a reason. I have a great crew chief, Matt McCall, and we’ll bounce back. … It’s just one of those things where you have an engine failure, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

It was a tough day for him anyways. Busch, had good speed but was caught speeding on pit road following his first stop. He’d come up to ninth for Stage 2 but then the engine let go.

All is not lost. Busch likely needed to win this round anyways. He entered -21 and is now -73. The problem is, he’s not had a top five at Texas since 2011 and hasn’t had a top five at Martinsville since his win in 2014. He’s also only had four top 10’s in his last 28 starts there too.


Byron Still Shining

William Byron is showing that 2021 could be his year. Yes, he’s getting a new crew chief, but if he can score more playoff points in the regular season, watch out.

Byron, finished eighth in his No. 24 Chevrolet in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. It was his sixth top eight finish in his last nine races on the season.

“It was a good day for us by the end there,” said Byron. “We had a couple things happen early on that we had to recover from. We took two tires early and fell back really far in the field and that was tough. We rebounded from that though and got our car tightened up which we needed. We were just too loose for the majority of the day. By the end our car was really fast and we could have ran around fifth to seventh-place and ended up finishing eighth. That’s a good day for us. We’re putting together solid runs and we just need to keep that going as the year ends.”

It all started with a fourth place effort in Dover 2. He backed that up with a win in the regular season finale at Daytona. For the playoffs, he was fifth in the Southern 500, but just 21st and 38th in Richmond and Bristol respectively. That eliminated him from championship contention.

Since though, Byron was 25th in Vegas, fourth in Talladega, sixth on the ROVAL and now eighth in Kansas. He needs to keep this momentum going for much needed confidence going into the offseason.

Points

Results

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