Kansas Speedway is a standard, 1.5-mile track – often dismissively called one of the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks.
Then again, so was Las Vegas Motor Speedway that kicked off the Cup playoffs six races weeks ago and we saw how that played out.
Playoff contenders swept the first five spots on the lineup for the Hollywood Casino 400. Eleven of the 12 drivers will start 14th or better, making the Hollywood Casino 400 a head’s up competition in the battle to see who will advance to the Round of 8. They each received a stark reminder on Saturday, however, when half of the Xfinity series playoff contenders crashed on the opening lap of the Kansas Lottery 300.
Races are not made up of a single lap. Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch are happy with the fact that they topped the speed chart in the first and second practices respectively, but the driver much more likely to win is one of those with the quickest 10-lap averages. Kyle Busch topped that chart in both of Saturday’s sessions. It was quite notable in Happy Hour when he was the best of 31 drivers who made at least 10 laps.
For the record, Almirola and Kurt landed among the top three in final practice as well – although they were outside the top five in the morning session.
Erik Jones was the best among non-playoff contenders in final practice with the fifth-best speed over a 10-lap average. He is also the best qualified among those outside the Top 12 this week and in a game like NASCAR Fantasy Live that makes a big difference.
The biggest news to come out of practice this weekend was that Kyle Larson crashed midway through Friday’s session. He was practicing under a cloud – awaiting dispensation of an appeal for violating the crashed vehicle policy at Talladega that puts him 36 points behind the cutoff. Larson destroyed his primary car and will have to roll off the grid from the back of the pack making a difficult task more difficult still.
Joey Logano leads the field to green. The last two Kansas races were won from the pole; Logano hopes to make it three in a row. That is not out of the question because he has two previous victories at the track. One of those came after he started among the top five – in the 2014 Hollywood Casino 400 after starting fourth. This is his second pole on this track. His first ended in a top-five the following spring.
Kevin Harvick lines up on the outside of the front row after trailing Logano by .069 seconds in the final round of qualification. This is the fourth consecutive race in which he will start on one of the first four rows. If he is successful, it could also be the sixth straight time he finishes among the top 10. In his last five attempts, he has won twice, finished second once and third on another occasion. The Big 3 have lost some of their dominance, but Harvick seems to be prepared to regain his this week.
Almirola does not need to win this week in order to advance to Round 3 of the playoffs, but unless he believes he is going to win one of the next three races, he could certainly use the bonus points that go along with race and segment wins. He also has an opportunity to keep Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, or Larson out of the next round and each of those drivers is likely to outperform him in the next three races. Qualifying third, he has all of them in his rearview mirror to start the week and that is an advantage he feels he needs.