The 2022 NASCAR The Cup Series playoffs are reset for their second Round of 16 race on Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Taking place in an area of the country known for its inclement weather, the championship contenders head to the Heartland, still recovering from the tornado that once swept through the playoffs in South Carolina.
Darlington’s Southern 500 lived up to its reputation as the crown’s flagship event, with The Track Too Tough To Tame resetting the Round of 16. Regular season champion Chase Elliott? He finished the night last after crashing before the end of the first stage.
It was a harbinger of the chaos to come. Only six of the 16 playoff drivers (plus Bubba Wallace, who is fighting for the owners’ championship with 23XI Racing) finished the night in the top 10. One non-playoff driver, Erik Jones, finished the race in the lane of the win after another thwarted bid by Martin Truex Jr. was spoiled on the stretch.
Once the smoke cleared, two drivers on the outside looking inside, Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez, had positioned themselves on the right side of the knockout line. A fashionable Dark Horse pick for the 4th Championship, Kevin Harvick, finished the night on fire and sank to bottom, 13 points off 12th. And Elliott, who looked invincible before the playoffs, is now down to ninth in the standings.
The hope for these playoff drivers is a chance to reset at Kansas, introduced to the series in 2001 as a cookie-cutter 1.5-mile oval. But this place also has a history of weird and unexpected finishes, including an event in May where Kurt Busch came out of nowhere, winning the race as one of six full-time Toyota drivers to finish in the top 10. .
Early signs indicate the Camrys will struggle to replicate that performance in the fall. Only two of them qualified in the top 10 and a new tire compound threw everyone a bit of a surprise in just the second race here with the sport’s new Next Gen chassis.
Even new point leader Joey Logano, who qualified on the outside post, is feeling a bit taken aback.
“We all guess,” he said Saturday. “Without being out there on the circuit, you kind of guess at the magnitude of the effect that’s going to have and at what parts of the corners do we think it’s going to affect the car the most. And then you try to get there. adapt.
Tire wear management will be key to success here at a track that often produces long green flag runs. One driver to watch early will be Elliott, who will have to fight from 22nd on the grid despite posting a disappointing qualifying effort. He is not alone there; Frequent Championship 4 entrants Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin will start this race in 20th or worse.
On the other hand, poleman Tyler Reddick, third last week at Darlington, finished in the top 5 in a row. The groove here seems to suit its style, overlapping the exterior wall; could that propel his No. 8 lame duck into the round of 16?
Expect another wild ride on a type of intermediate track that produced the best competition with the Next Gen chassis. Can another non-elimination driver create a major surprise? Or will Kansas mark a return to semi-normalcy in this upside-down NASCAR season?
Hollywood Casino 400
Date: Sunday September 11
Time: 3 p.m. ET
Track: Kansas Speedway (Kansas City, Kansas)
TV: American Network
Radio: DRM, SIRIUS XM channel 90
Who’s at the front: Erik Jones
Jones produced the first Cup Series victory for No. 43 Richard Petty since 2014, the beneficiary at Darlington when a late series of engine problems doomed Joe Gibbs Racing veterans Truex and Busch. It was a sweet irony for Jones, who was released by JGR in late 2020 as he raced for his second career Southern 500 victory.
Jones now has 10 top 10 finishes this season, the most for a Petty-owned car since 2011, as he made the racing icon relevant to the front of the field. It was the King’s first win at Darlington since September 4, 1967 – 55 years to the day its driver has replicated the feat.
Who’s in the back: Chase Briscoe
Elliott’s crash at Darlington left Briscoe an innocent victim, putting the No.14’s chances of advancing to the knockout stages on life support. Now 15th in points, the sophomore driver hasn’t finished in the top 10 since the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend.
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Last minute reports on Saturday have Richard Childress Racing signature Kyle Busch from the 2023 Cup season. Busch, 37, has spent the past 15 years with Joe Gibbs Racing, winning two championships and more than 100 races in NASCAR’s Cup and Xfinity series. But with sponsor M&M’s leaving after the 2022 season, JGR and Toyota were unable to find enough funding to re-sign him.
The 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race has a surprise new destination: Wilkesboro North Speedway. It will be the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has raced there since 1996 after a new revitalization project brought the iconic short track back to life.
NASCAR has implemented a rule change with the Kansas race weekend designed to minimize the risk of fire. Among the highlights: the use of intumescent coatings for the underside of the lower crush panels and more clearance between the exhaust and the rocker bar floor. These changes will hopefully prevent rubber from igniting a fire under high-speed race cars, as we’ve seen from at least half a dozen drivers (including Harvick art Darlington) since mid -July.
NASCAR in numbers
Michael McDowell is in the top 10 this season, more than double his previous career high of five.
Races since Erik Jones’ last Cup Series victory, also at the Southern 500 (2019).
Play the odds (Fantasy Spin)
Winner of Kansas last fall, Kyle Larson, grabbed an unlikely 12th place finish at Darlington after dropping four laps at one point with power issues. Nearly 400 (351) laps led in his last four starts here leave him a pretty safe bet to stay in contention, racking up valuable stage bonuses and fastest lap points.
Denny Hamlin the start of the 25 should be considered only for the position differential. A top 10 could lead to 15 valuable bonus points, probably more and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The No. 11 driver Joe Gibbs Racing has picked up two wins in his last six Heartland starts, along with four top-five finishes.
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Tyler Red Dick really becomes top material with the way it has climbed to the top all summer long. A track where Reddick earned his first Cup top 10 finish (2019) is the perfect place to claim his first NASCAR oval track victory. Feel free to play it from the post; the track position and clean air could net you bonus laps and a stage win.
Austin Dillon was the surprise crasher of the playoffs and tends to do well in the Round of 16. Kansas offers him a great opportunity to make money; he has four consecutive finishes here between 10th and 13th. Mount the consistency he will provide despite a minimal chance of a positional differential bonus.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has struggled lately and qualified a disappointing 35th. All the more reason to use him here, a Kansas track where he finished eighth in the spring on a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes. He was also working from traffic at the time, charging from his 36th starting place.
Brad Keselowski quietly put together a season-best seventh-place finish at Darlington, a brief respite from a miserable season as a driver/owner at RFK Racing. Could that trigger a turnaround in the last 10 races as this team prepares for 2023? Keselowski finished 14th in this spring Kansas race and has four top-five finishes (including a win) in his last seven starts here.
What Vegas thinks
The vegasinsider.com Kansas odds put Denny Hamlin ahead with +550 odds despite starting 25th. Kyle Busch is next at +600 followed by Martin Truex, Jr., still winless for 2022, sitting at +700.
Looking for a longshot? Erik Jones sits at +5000 if you think the #43 team can somehow pull off back-to-back wins.
What I think
I stick to Joey Logano, this time, creating a bit of a surprise by winning at a track in Kansas where no Ford finished in the top 10 in May.