Will 1.5 Mile Parity Continue?
We’ve seen 14 different winners in the last 20 races on intermediates including 12 straight. Does that trend continue on Sunday in Kansas?
It all started nearly two years ago, on June 30, 2019 at the Chicagoland Speedway to be exact, with Alex Bowman. Then, Kentucky Speedway (Kurt Busch), Las Vegas in the Fall (Martin Truex Jr), Kansas (Denny Hamlin), Texas (Kevin Harvick) and Homestead (Kyle Busch) to close out the season.
Last year, we had Las Vegas (Joey Logano), Charlotte (Brad Keselowski/Chase Elliott), Atlanta (Harvick), Homestead (Denny Hamlin), Kentucky (Cole Custer), Texas (Austin Dillon), Kansas (Brad Keselowski), Vegas (Kurt Busch), Kansas (Joey Logano) and Texas (Kyle Busch) following suit.
So far, we’ve had three 1.5-mile tracks in 2021. One occurred in Homestead. William Byron won. The next was in Las Vegas with Kyle Larson. Then, the last coming in Atlanta. Ryan Blaney won that event.
We’re running out of names to keep this going? All that’s left on the big teams not on this list are Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, or Aric Almirola. If we want to keep the streak going to 13, then you can have someone like Truex Jr. or Bell with JGR, Bowman for HMS or the duo at SHR.
Bell, starts eighth.
You also can’t count out someone like Matt DiBenedetto. He starts fifth, finished runner-up in both Vegas races last year which is a very similar track to Kansas and enters with a ton of momentum on the season. What about Tyler Reddick. He starts 11th.
Will Clean Air Be King Again?
Kevin Harvick had the fastest race car in the Fall race at the Kansas Speedway. That’s no surprise, as a year ago Harvick has had the fastest race car all season. He won a series leading nine times by that point last October 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, not Harvick.
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 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 that day. “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!”
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.”
Don’t hate the player, hate the game. A lot of people were upset with how the end of that race transpired. 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.
Logano didn’t have the best car and beat the guy who did. Then, you have Denny Hamlin who 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.
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.
“You just never know how the cautions are going to fall, the strategy, anything like that,” Harvick said. “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. What happens on Sunday?
Vegas went caution free for a longer stretch of the final stage which allowed the best car in Kyle Larson to win that day. If we don’t see a fluke caution towards the end, the best car has the capability to win. Does a caution not of his control hurt that?
Martin Truex Jr. during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 10, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas.
Can Truex Find His Groove Again on 1.5-Mile Tracks?
Martin Truex Jr. used to be a 1.5-mile king. 11 of his first 19 wins were on intermediate tracks. It wasn’t until his 20th win that came via a short track. But, over his last 10 wins, seven have come on tracks 1 mile in length or shorter including each of his last five.
Truex, has 15 wins still on intermediate tracks but none since the Fall of 2019. Does that change Sunday in Kansas?
Since 2017, he’s had a top 10 in all but one Kansas start including sweeping both race wins in 2017. In fact, he has six top six results in his last eight tries.
Trends though say Truex can win on Sunday. He’s had a top 10 finish in all 550 horsepower tracks this season and isn’t among the 12 different winners on 1.5-mile tracks in-a-row.
Is This The Place Busch/Harvick Can Get Going?
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had nice streaks going in terms of Championship 4 appearances. Coming into 2020, each had made the final round of the Cup Series playoffs in 5 of 6 years including three combined championships. But, neither made it to the final round last year and as things sit now, I don’t think either get back in 2021 neither.
Yes, Kevin Harvick has seven top 10’s in 10 starts in 2021. But, he also has just three top five finishes too and has only led a total of 29 laps, 12 of which coming last weekend in Talladega.
Kyle Busch has four top 10’s now including all coming in the last 8 races, but only one of those finishes were better than fifth and he’s only led 13 laps all year too.
They’ve also feasted on playoff points in years past but right now, they’ve each scored zero. Can that change this weekend in Kansas?
Maybe the month of May is just what each needed.
For Kansas, Busch has three top five finishes in his last five Kansas starts and nine in his last 13 overall. It’s just that he’s only had 53 laps led in the last five races there combined. In the case of Harvick, he was in the top four in both races last year and has seven top two finishes at Kansas since 2013.
Then it’s onto Darlington to where Harvick has led 719 combined laps there since joining SHR in 2014 to go along with two wins in three starts in 2020 and eight top five finishes in his last nine starts overall. Busch, was runner-up in the second Darlington race last year and has five top seven results in his last six Darlington starts.
After that it’s to Dover where Harvick also won at last year and has six straight top six finishes on. Busch, was third last year in one of the Dover races too.
COTA is after that which is an inaugural race followed by the Coca-Cola 600 where Harvick has three straight top 10’s on the oval and Busch with five top sixes in his last seven.
May will tell us a lot on Harvick and Busch.
Will Hamlin, Elliott and Harvick Find A Win This Month?
Last year, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott were the ones to beat for most of the races in 2020. They combined to win 21 of the 36 races a year ago. So far this year, they’re 0-for-10. How much longer does this go?
There’s three drivers with five races on the schedule this month. Can they get a win in at least one of them?
I suspect though that at least two of them win among the five races run in May.
It all starts this weekend in Kansas to where Hamlin won the first of two races there in 2020 and two wins in his last three Kansas tries. Harvick, had a pair of top fives as well in Kansas last year while Elliott has four top six results in his last five Kansas starts.
Then it’s to Darlington to where Hamlin and Harvick split wins at last year with Harvick winning two of the three races and Hamlin the other. They also each won the two races at Dover last year as well and that’s the next stop after Darlington. Then, we go to COTA followed by the Coke 600 at Charlotte to close the month of May. Keselowski and Elliott won the two oval races there last year.