Before last week’s playoff opener, Cookout Southern 500 at Darlington, I noticed that I felt like the 2022 playoff race, the NASCAR Cup Series, was as wide open as anyone whose I remembered the past few years. In fact, I suggested that I believed up to 11 drivers were capable of racing until at least the final race of the season in Phoenix, creating a major opportunity for bettors. Well, the action at Darlington did nothing to dampen that outlook, as series favorite Chase Elliott finished dead last and three other title contenders were 27.e or worse. The standings were certainly upended after this race, making this second event in Kansas an important event for drivers looking to bounce back.
Elliott isn’t in desperation mode just yet, as he dropped to ninth with the top-12 out of this round after the third heat. That said, there must be immediate concern in the No.9 side given that they only finished 29e in the Kansas race in May. Of the other drivers who struggled last weekend, Chase Briscoe is in the worst shape, sitting in 15e place in the standings, 46 points behind and having finished only 24e here in May. He also has a track handicap rating of 24e among the participants in Sunday’s race. Kyle Busch would appear to be the driver most likely to bounce back from his poor playoff opener, as he was third in May and has a 2n/a graded track note.
Unlike last week, where the physical and mental challenge in Darlington was much greater, the race in Kansas is pretty straightforward. It’s a cookie-cutter mile-and-a-half track that has an oval design resembling several other venues on the annual calendar, including Las Vegas, which the series will see next month. From a historical standpoint, the drivers who post the best times in the practice sessions in Kansas have generally done better on race day compared to the other factors that I take into account in my simulation. Drivers have gotten pretty used to racing at tracks like Kansas, as evidenced by the low number of cautions in the last four playoff races here, 7, 6, 7 and 3. Of course, the three most recent races have had two automatic warnings at the end of the stages, which shows further proof of the cleanliness of the race here.
Let’s take a look at some of the key statistical indicators you’ll want to consider for Sunday’s race.
Hollywood Casino 400 Statistical Breakdown
The peloton raced here in May and Kurt Busch was the winner, leading 116 of 267 laps that day. He was also the highest rated driver for that race, scoring 137.2 on the NASCAR rating scale. It was 13.2 points better than anyone else in the field. However, he won’t be a factor this week, as is always the case on the unofficial ‘DL’, suffering from concussion symptoms following an accident a few months ago. That said, Bubba Wallace is now in the #45 car for the remainder of the season and will be looking to maintain the success. Other riders who did well in this May race were Kyle Larson, who finished 2n/aas well as Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain and Christopher Bell, all of whom finished with driver ratings over 100. Denny Hamlin finished 4e but failed to lead a lap.
As for my “handicap” ratings, track and designation ratings can vary widely as the latter derives from other tracks of the “Cookie Cutter” designation. Here are my top five riders in TRACK RATINGS heading into Sunday’s race:
- Kyle Larson – 128.7
- Kyle Busch – 105.1
- Denny Hamlin – 101.7
- Ryan Blaney – 101.5
- William Byron – 100.6
Of those drivers, all five are playoff contenders and four of them were also in the top five for last week’s race. Larson obviously has a huge advantage in this statistic indicator over any other driver, and should therefore be considered among the favorites to win.
My track designation ratings are somewhat similar, with the top 5 looking like this:
- Kyle Larson – 122.7
- Denny Hamlin – 112.9
- Ross Chestnut – 105.8
- William Byron – 105.0
- Martin Truex – 102.4
Only Truex is outside the playoff field of this group, and like last week, he should be a threat to upset the playoff field. In last week’s race he ran in the lead for much of the race until his engine overheated late. Of course, Erik Jones, a non-elimination contender, won that race in the #43 car, meaning none of the 16 playoff drivers have earned a second-round berth yet.
In terms of my recent ratings, here are the top 5 before Darlington:
- Chase Elliott – 112.6
- Denny Hamlin – 99.2
- Christopher Bell – 98.2
- Kyle Larson – 96.8
- Ross Chestnut – 93.2
These five drivers are still in the hunt for the championship, and Elliott is still a heavy favorite, despite the slow start to the playoffs. If you recognize the same rating for Elliott as last week, it’s because his early issues after just 113 laps didn’t meet my criteria for his data to be used as a “handicap run.” I do this to eliminate random circumstances that can have a big impact on drivers’ strength ratings in the wrong way.
Final results of the simulation/My predictions
My first Tuesday simulation ahead of Saturday’s practice and qualifying showed Kyle Larson as the predicted winner for Kansas, followed by Bell, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.
Saturday’s practice session was won by Tyler Reddick, who also had the best 10-lap race average. He was followed in speed by Chastain, Bell, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson, who was second in 10 laps. Later in qualifying, Reddick continued his huge practice session with a pole qualifying effort of 180.608 MPH, followed by Joey Logano and Alex Bowman.
After updating the initial simulation with Saturday’s practice and qualifying results, my final simulation showed this top 5:
- Tyler Red Dick
- Kyle Larson
- Ross Chestnut
- Alex Bowman
- ryan blaney
These are the biggest drivers of the initial simulation:
Alex Bowman + 10 places
Ty Gibbs + 9 seats
Bubba Wallace + 7 seater
Ross Chastain + 7 seater
Aric Almirola -15 seats
Austin Cindric -10 seats
Kyle Busch -9 seater
Drivers projected higher on the simulation than usual: Reddick (1), Bowman (4) Gibbs (15)
Drivers projected lower in simulation than usual: Almirola (31), Kyle Busch (13), Hamlin (11)
My latest predictions from Darlington:
Longshot driver(s): Byron
Driver(s) to disappear: Kyle Busch
Kansas receives a Handicap-Ability rating of C on my scale. Other races on the line will again prove to be more predictable, as sometimes these races can be affected by fuel consumption at the end. I have to remind you again that the speed of the workouts turned out to be the most important simulation factor. So if you’re one of the NASCAR fans who has this race on the main TV, or on a side screen in favor of Sunday’s opening NFL action, and you plan to enhance your viewing with few bets, be sure to analyze these Saturday Training Gears closely, as well as all the information in Race Center today to prepare as much as possible to win.