Kansas Race Review
Going into this weekend many thought the newly repaved surface of Kansas Speedway could make today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 a bit of a wild card race in the Chase. Despite two days of testing to help teams acclimate to the new conditions it was clear from the outset that it would indeed become a matter of survival in a race that featured an unusually high number of spins and cautions.
Denny Hamlin would lead Joe Gibbs Racing with a 13th place finish, while Joey Logano came home 19th and Kyle Busch had his day ended early with a wreck on lap 181 and finished 31st.
It was a long weekend for Hamlin who ran through the oil of the No. 13 car during testing on Thursday and wrecked his primary car for the weekend. He would start the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota in the ninth position and was able to drive up into the top five on the day’s first run before a caution came out on lap 31. Crew chief Darian Grubb made the call for adjustments and four tires on the first stop and with many of the other leaders taking just two tires, Hamlin would drop back to 18th on the restart. He would race in that spot over the course of the next run as he reported that his car was loose upon entering and exiting the turns. The FedEx crew would make a two-tire stop on lap 73 allowing Hamlin to regain his track position and restart seventh on lap 76. The No. 11 Camry would race 11th on lap 100 as Hamlin reported that he remained loose into the turns but was now tight in the center. Hamlin would get caught a lap down when a caution came out just after a green flag pit stop. He was able to take the wave around to remain on the lead lap, but would once again lose a great deal of track position and drop back to 27th. The FedEx crew would make major adjustments in an attempt to improve the handle on Hamlin’s car and he would race 21st when yet another caution came out. This time crew chief Darian Grubb made the call to remain out while many others pitted in an effort to get back the lost track position. It allowed Hamlin to restart second on lap 163. There would be several cautions over the next portion of the race but since Hamlin was not in his fuel cycle to finish the race on one stop the 11 team would wait until lap 208 to pit under green and for the second time on the day a poorly timed caution would cost them a great deal of track position. Once again he would be forced to take the wave around and restart 24th on lap 222. Hamlin would climb to 18th over the next run but was still tight on exit. When another caution came out on lap 234 the team made the decision to go ahead and pit a final time for four tires and fuel to ensure they had enough fuel to the end and for any potential green white checker attempts at the finish. The move didn’t cost the team any real track position as he lined up to restart 19th on lap 239. Hamlin was able to drive his way up to 13th, but amazing no further cautions would come and that is where he would finish.
Logano qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota eighth and showed early speed as he moved up into the top five before handling conditions forced him to fall back a few spots prior to the days first caution. A two-tire stop by the Dollar General crew on lap 34 would allow Logano the opportunity to restart ninth. Logano would settle in to race eighth on the next run. A four-tire stop on the next round of pit stops moved Logano back to 17th for a restart on lap 76 and was racing 21st on lap 100 with car battling tight handling conditions. With several cautions over the next portion of the race, Logano would find himself racing in 16th with 100 laps to remaining. He would manage to get back into the top ten with about 40 laps to go, but with so many cautions and strategies at play, and changing handling conditions on the track, Logano would fall back to a 19th-place finish.
Busch started the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota in fourth and was fast early as he settled in to race third over the course of the first run of the race. A two-tire stop while pitting under the day’s first caution on lap 34 allowed Busch to restart second on lap 36. Busch would get loose while driving in the high lane on lap 41 causing him to spin down across the infield. Fortunately there was no significant damage and with four fresh tires he was able to restart 33rd. It didn’t take long for Busch to climb his way back inside the top 25. Crew chief Dave Rogers would go with fuel only on the round of stops under caution on lap 73 allowing him to jump back inside the top ten and restart eighth on lap 76. The No. 18 Camry would prove extremely loose on the next run however and Busch would drop back outside the top 15 to run 18th on lap 100. Track position would shuffle several times over the next portion of the race and Busch would find himself racing in 11th with 100 laps to go. Busch was eighth with 86 laps remaining when contact from behind by the No. 39 car would send him spinning and hard into the outside wall. This time the damage was too severe for repair and Busch’s day was over. He would be scored in 31st position.
Matt Kenseth earned the victory, while Martin Truex, Jr. was second, Paul Menard third, Kasey Kahne fourth, and Tony Stewart rounded out the top five. There were 14 total cautions for a total of 66 laps with 18 lead changes among 10 different drivers.
Hamlin is now 20 points behind current leader Brad Keselowski in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship and 13 points behind second-place Jimmie Johnson.
With just four races remaining in the season the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the small track confines of Martinsville Speedway for the Tums Fast Pain Relief 500 next Sunday live broadcast coverage by ESPN starting at 1 PM ET (race begins at 2 PM ET). Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90 will also provide live coverage.
You can also keep track of all the action by following @joegibbsracing.