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

Should We Come To Kansas Twice?

NASCAR is an ever evolving schedule. Not many tracks are keeping two weekend’s anymore. Kansas is lucky enough to be able to keep doing so. The thing is, just Richmond, Daytona, Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, Martinsville, Bristol, Talladega, Darlington, Kansas 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.

Just look at the tracks that are down to 1 race weekend. Each are seeing some of the biggest crowds at those respective tracks in decades.

The last 2 years Pocono was down to 1 race weekend but a doubleheader on it. This year it was just 1 race in general. As a result, they just produced the best attended race since 2010. Michigan is trending in the right direction for the biggest attended race there in over a decade. They too are down to 1 race weekend now after being a doubleheader also in 2020.

Since Loudon went to 1 race weekend each year, the grandstands are fuller. For the first time in years, Dover’s attendance gained as prior to the pandemic, the crowds shrunk each year. In 2020 they had COVID restrictions and a doubleheader. Now, they’re gaining again.

Which is good for them but bad for tracks with 2 dates already. It’s like the circus, they come once a year. Don’t show up, you have to wait 365 more days until they’re back.

Should Kansas if their attendance is down on Sunday be forced to give up 1 of their 2 dates?

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – MAY 02: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Mix Toyota, celebrates 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)

Toyota’s Race To Lose?

Toyota has won 6 of the last 11 NASCAR Cup Series races at Kansas including 4 of the last 6 Kansas in the Sunflower State in general. Just this past spring, they landed 5 cars in the top 6 and all 6 of their main cars in the top 10.

Can they repeat that on Sunday?

Denny Hamlin is the only driver to repeat at Kansas in the last 10 races. He finished 4th back in the spring race. Martin Truex Jr. has had a top 10 in all but one Kansas start since 2017 including sweeping both race wins to start this streak off with. He finished 6th in the spring race. Kyle Busch won last May of 2021 and has 5 top five finishes in his last 8 Kansas starts including a 3rd place run this past spring. Christopher Bell scored his first Xfinity race win at this very track a few years ago as well as being 10th and eighth in the last 2 Kansas playoff races and 5th in the spring race of this year.

23XI Racing was even better. Bubba Wallace was strong and looked like a race winner before pit road problems while his teammate, Kurt Busch, ended up winning after leading 116 of 267 laps.

The Toyota’s have been among the best cars on the intermediate package which is why I have my eyes on them on Sunday. Can they avoid calamity like they had last weekend with 2 cars taken out due to mechanical failures and each while leading.

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)

Why Do Only The Best Win Here?

Since 2011, every single Kansas winner on this track has won a series championship. In fact, only Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle and Joe Nemechek have won at Kansas and not won a Cup title. Kyle Larson joined that list but only for a few months last Fall before he became a champion.

3x has the winner of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Kansas Speedway has gone on to win the title that same season

Three non-Playoff drivers have won a NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Kansas Speedway:

In 2004, Joe Nemechek won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Kansas and was ranked 21st in the points at the time of the win.

In 2006, NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Kansas and was 11th in points at the time of the victory.

In 2007, Greg Biffle won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Kansas and was 14th in points at the time of the win.  

The worst finish in a NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Kansas Speedway by a driver that went on to win the championship later that same season was 15th by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in 2011.

Why do only the best win on this place?

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – OCTOBER 24: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on October 24, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Winner A Championship 4 Guarantee?

3 times including just last year did the Kansas winner go on to win the series championship. However, another trend is on their side too. Each of the last 5 years has seen the winner of the 2nd race of the playoffs reach the Championship 4. In fact, last year the 2nd race of the playoffs saw the Championship 4 drivers finish 1-2-4-6. A year prior it was 1-3-5-12. A year before that it was 1-2-3-7. 2018 was 1-2-3-14-. 2017 was 1-4-5-36. Granted those were at different tracks than Kansas, but Kansas has also been a precursor for later too.

Since 2011, every Kansas winner has won a series championship.

Last week we saw a non playoff winner so maybe we see a 2nd straight though too. The top one has to be Martin Truex Jr. A former Kansas winner had mechanical troubles while leading late in last Sundays Southern 500.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 06, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports Sleepers?

Toyota is getting a lot of the attention and rightfully so too, however, I think we should give the Hendrick Motorsports camp some attention too. In 8 intermediate races (Fontana, Las Vegas, Darlington, Kansas, Charlotte, Nashville, Michigan Darlington) this season, they’ve looked good at almost each.

Kyle Larson led the most laps in the spring race here last year, dominated the fall race and was runner-up this past spring again. He has 3 top 2 finishes and 6 top 10’s in those 8 races on like tracks this season.

Chase Elliott has 3 top 10’s including a win. William Byron has 3 top 10’s with Alex Bowman having 4 including 3 in the last 4 at that. Bowman won this race in the spring and looking for a Vegas sweep.

Bowman and Byron got their seasons back on track last week in scoring a pair of top 10 finishes. Larson (12th) and Elliott (last) faltered. Can they meet up front again?

Byron says they went the wrong direction this summer in a sense what they were learning on the simulator wasn’t translating to the track. By seeing tracks a 2nd time in the playoffs (7 of the 10 tracks are return visits) they can use what they have from the first time around. Which is why he scored a stage win and led 50 laps.

Byron also went from 7 points up to +32. Bowman gained 7 points from +3 to +10. By comparison, Elliott went from +33 to +14. Larson gained minimally from +12 to +17.

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