Is This Toyota’s Race To Lose?
Toyota has won 5 of the last 7 Kansas races including 7 of the last 12. They also swept last year. Toyota’s went 1-3-4-5-6 in the spring race (171 of 267 laps led) and 1-2-3-5 in the Fall (94 of 267 laps led). They combined to lead 265 of 534 laps (49.6%) a year ago.
So, is Sunday’s AdventHealth 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN) their race to lose?
23XI Racing swept both races in their No. 45 Toyota a year ago with Kurt Busch being victorious in May and Bubba Wallace in October. Busch led 116 of 267 laps in last year’s May race while Wallace led 58 laps in his October win. Wallace also placed fourth this past spring in Vegas too. Tyler Reddick, with RCR last year, was seventh and 35th but that 35th was a crash after leading 38 laps.
Then you have the Joe Gibbs Racing quartet.
Denny Hamlin is the only driver to have won multiple times here in the last 11 races and was fourth and second here last year.
Martin Truex Jr. has had a Top-10 finish in all but one Kansas start since 2017 including sweeping both race wins in 2017. He finished sixth and fifth last year and was seventh this past March in Vegas. Now that his long winless drought has snapped, can he win again for a second time in six days? The only other time he’s gone back-to-back in regards to wins was in 2019 when he won the Vegas and Richmond playoff races. The span between them? Six days.
Christopher Bell scored his first Xfinity race win at this very track a few years ago as well as being 10th, eighth and third in the last three Kansas playoff races and fifth in the spring race last year. Bell was also fifth in Vegas too.
Can Hendrick Motorsports Top Toyota?
Hendrick Motorsports just went 1-2-3 this past March in Las Vegas which saw them combine to lead 250 of the 271 laps that day. They went 1-2 in Stage 1 and 1-2-3 in Stage 2. Last Fall in Kansas, they took two of the top three non Toyota finishers including the top two. Are they the top ones to knock off Toyota?
Kyle Larson dominated here in leading the most laps but not winning the 2021 spring race. He then would win the playoff race though in the Fall of 2021. He was runner-up and eighth respectively last year for his sixth top 8, four of which being in the Top-4 in his last eight Kansas tries. Larson led 63 laps and finished runner-up this spring in Vegas too.
William Byron has six Top-10 finishes in his last seven starts at Kansas including being ninth and sixth respectively last year. Byron also led 176 laps in a Vegas win this spring too.
Alex Bowman is out with a back injury, but Josh Berry is in. Bowman had seven top 11 results on the 1.5-mile track in his last 10 tries in this very car including being runner-up in the spring race in 2019, eighth and fourth respectively in 2020 and ninth and fourth last year. He won on a similar track in Las Vegas last spring and was third this past spring there too. Maybe Berry can finish well in it too.
Chase Elliott has had six top six finishes in his last nine Kansas starts including being fifth and second in 2021 and 29th and 11th last year. He’s been in the top 12 in all three races since his return from his leg injury.
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 nine top 7 results in his last 11 tries.
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 with him looking for his second win in the last six days.
Why Do Only The Best Win Here?
Since 2011, every single Kansas winner on this track with the exception of a couple have won a series championship. In fact, only Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace and Joe Nemechek have won at Kansas but also not won a Cup title. Kyle Larson joined that list but only for a few months in the Fall of 2021 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?
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 few 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 was 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?