NASCAR Pre-Race Media: 5 burning questions for Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN)

Does HMS Use This String Of Races For Playoff Data?

Hendrick Motorsports went 1-2-3-4 in the 2021 Dover race. A few weeks ago, they put 3 cars in the top 6 including stamping their 4th driver into the 2022 postseason via Chase Elliott’s victory. Now, are they in the middle of a playoff crunching data session because of that?

The first round of the playoffs are Darlington, Kansas and Bristol. The opening race of the 2nd round is Texas.

Last week we raced at Darlington. This week we’re at Kansas and next week we go to Texas for the All-Star race. Wouldn’t it benefit HMS to punt the race wins away most of this month and focus on the playoffs?

I mean we only get a small amount of practice for each race. There’s not much to be truly learned and applied to your car since it’s an impound event. With 4 drivers and 4 sets of data that you can chase, would it benefit HMS more to go 4 different directions this month and then come together in June and figure out a collective plan to have your cars truly dialed in when it matters the most?

I mean they’re the only team in the garage with the luxury of having their entire fleet locked into the playoffs right now. That’s a massive advantage that I feel if used correctly and with doing so at this point, you can use the playoff tracks that have spring dates and use these races for data for later.

They’re already a leg up on the competition when they come back in the Fall in a sense that they know what direction to start off in. Practice can further dial your cars in during the postseason and make them an even more dangerous team than they already are.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 13: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, signs autographs for fans during the red carpet prior to the Ruoff Mortgage 500 during at Phoenix Raceway on March 13, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

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 11 wins, 8 have come on tracks 1-mile in length or shorter including 5 of his last 6.

For me, it’s confidence in each other, believing in each other,” Truex Jr. said on why the improvement on short tracks. “There was a time in my career when I go back to the Busch Series days, all the races I won there were short tracks. We never won any mile-and-a-half’s. Damn, I need to get better at mile-and-a-half’s. You work on that. In the Cup Series, every track is tough. Everybody is working constantly at being better every type of track.

“For whatever reason for me, the short tracks never really panned out. Even though we had a lot of great runs over the years, for instance, I think we led the most laps at Richmond three or four races in a row before we finally won there. Sometimes you need things to go your way.

“Honestly, from a consistency standpoint, being consistent at these short tracks, it comes down to people and equipment, that belief in each other. As I mentioned, especially at Martinsville, being able to just work on similar things year after year with the same group of guys for the most part, continuing to improve on small things. Really just believing what they’re telling you. If they tell me I need to drive a certain way, I start driving a certain way. If I tell them that it needs to do something different, they know it needs to do something different.

“It’s just that team chemistry that we’ve had over the years has been really good and we’ve been able to fine-tune on these places.”

Truex, still has 15 career wins 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 8 top 7 results in his last 10 tries.

At Vegas back in the spring, he was 8th after being in second place and on Kyle Busch’s trail for the win before a late race caution changed everything.

He says the reason for the parity now on these tracks and why his dominance was negated was in part due to the 550 package.

“I think it’s mostly the cars and the situations to where it seems we always have a late restart,” Truex told me a few years ago. “You look at the way that these cars drive and the way on restarts, we don’t have a lot of horsepower. You can’t get away from each other. You’re kind of at the mercy of the drag and the horsepower and we all end up in a big wad for 2-3 laps. That’s kind of where we’ve seen the different winners come from and it’s come at a pretty consistent basis.”

Now, we have a new car and the horsepower/downforce levels better. Can that lead to more trips back to victory lane? We’ll find out Sunday.

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – MAY 02: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Mix Toyota, takes a bow after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 02, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Is This The Place Busch/Harvick Can Get Going Again?

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had nice streaks going in terms of Championship 4 appearances. Coming into the 2020 season, 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 the last two years. It doesn’t look any better this time around either.

Harvick, won nine times in 2020 but all came in the first 29 races. In fact, if you go back to the end of the 2019 season, he had 10 wins in 32 starts. But, over his last 55 starts, he’s been shutout. For Busch, he has just three wins in his last 84 races. He had 18 in the previous 88 starts.

So far this season, Harvick has just 2 top 5 in 12 races run. Busch, has 3 in the same span, a win in Bristol after leading just 1 lap all night. At this point last year, Harvick at least had seven top 10’s in 10 starts (Kansas was the 10th race last year) in 2021. But, he also had just three top five finishes too and has only led a total of 29 laps, 12 of which coming in Talladega.

Busch at this point last year had four top 10’s, but only one of those finishes were better than fifth with only 13 laps led too.

That’s where it changed. Busch won this race a year ago with Harvick finishing second. Can Kansas be the start for them again?

Busch, has 3 top 5’s in the last 5 Kansas races. Harvick, has four straight top fours including a runner-up in 2 of the last 3 and also 8 top two finishes at Kansas since 2013.

After Kansas is the All-Star race before the Coca-Cola 600 a week later. Busch, has six top six finishes in his last eight Charlotte oval starts while Harvick has four straight top 10’s including 11 in the last 13 Charlotte oval starts with a win and three runner-ups in that span.

From there is to Gateway for an inaugural race before going to Sonoma where Busch has 6 straight top 7’s including a win and Harvick having 5 top 6’s in the last 6 starts there.

KANSAS CITY, KS – JULY 23: / races during the NASCAR Cup Series Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway on July 23, 2020 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** /

Does Kansas Need 2 Dates?

I asked this question for Richmond and will do so again for Kansas. NASCAR is an ever evolving schedule. Not many tracks are keeping two weekend’s anymore. Kansas is just lucky enough to be able to keep doing so. The thing is, just Kansas, Daytona, Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Martinsville, Bristol, Talladega, Darlington, Richmond and Charlotte each host two races each season.

But, if you break them down, NASCAR owns the tracks at Daytona, Talladega, Phoenix, Richmond, Martinsville, Darlington and Kansas. SMI owns the rest (Vegas, Atlanta, Bristol and Charlotte). Among the SMI dates, Bristol and Charlotte have two separate weekends with Bristol’s spring race being on dirt and Charlotte’s Fall race being on a ROVAL. Vegas and Atlanta are their only two outliers.

Dover, Texas, Pocono, Michigan and Loudon each lost a weekend lately. Chicago and Kentucky are gone.

With NASCAR constantly adding new tracks now, the dates being taken away are those who host two. With Kansas essentially hosting two of the same race weekend’s this season with both falling on a Sunday afternoon, both having the same race distances, there’s nothing that differentiates the two. Does that hurt their cause for keeping two dates?

They have two races for the only fact that they added a casino outside of Turn 2 and have renovated to stay ahead of things for the seating areas. Outside of that, there’s no other reason to come to Kansas twice.

It’s basically the same race that has arguably been among the worst on the schedule. I’m not saying Kansas is the worst, but it’s among them. 1.5-mile tracks are being left off more and more and without that casino, I have a feeling Kansas would be joining the list of others to go down to two dates.

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – OCTOBER 18: Tyler Reddick, driver of the #2 TAME the BEAST Chevrolet, prepares to practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 18, 2019 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Is RCR Close To Victory?

We’ve had 12 races run during the 2022 season with 10 different winners. All 4 Hendrick Motorsports cars have won. So has half of the Joe Gibbs Racing camp. So has 2 of the 3 at Team Penske. Stewart-Haas Racing (Chase Briscoe) and Trackhouse (Ross Chastain) have also visited victory lane. One team that hasn’t yet but is getting closer and closer? Richard Childress Racing.

Between both Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon, they’ve combined to score 4 top 3 results in the last 5 weeks. 3 of those 4 were runner-up’s including last week in Darlington. The only time in the last month that they’ve not had a runner-up was a couple of weeks ago in Dover.

Right now, they sit 15th and 16th in points but 16th and 17th in the playoff standings. That’s because Denny Hamlin (22nd in points) has a win which has Reddick trailing Dillon by 1 point right now for that final playoff spot.

Aric Almirola leads Reddick by 25 points right now with Kevin Harvick +27 on the bubble.

Dillon was 10th in both Kansas races last year while Reddick was 7th in the spring. Can they keep it going and challenge for a victory on Sunday?

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