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Weekend preview: Kansas Speedway

Sportsnaut
Oct 24, 2021; Kansas City, Kansas, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (5) celebrates with his crew after winning the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Larson made the save of the year last Sunday at Darlington, and Joey Logano made a steady run to the top of the NASCAR Cup Series standings.

Now the 16 championship hopefuls head to Kansas Speedway for the first trip to a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway since May. They’ll be battling to improve their positions in the standings in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 Presented by Barstool Sportsbook (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Believing he had an engine issue at Darlington, Larson pitted for repairs on Lap 79 of 367. He lost three laps and dropped to 35th in the running order as his crew worked under the hood before sending him back onto the track.

The engine problem overcome, Larson regained the lead lap as the beneficiary under a Lap 231 caution, after recovering two of the lost circuits with wave-arounds. Larson finished 12th and, instead of dropping below the Playoffs’ Round of 12 cutline, he enters the Kansas race seventh in the standings, 17 points to the good.

“I feel like every week has been pretty wild and unpredictable,” said the reigning Cup Series champion and defending winner of the Kansas race. “Darlington was maybe a little bit (wilder) than normal compared to other races this year, but I feel like every race this year, the majority of the field has had some sort of issue go on throughout the race.

“As much as I want to say Kansas will be different, I just don’t know. It could be even crazier. But I hope that we can have a smooth week, get some points, and try and put ourselves into a better position as we go to Bristol (for the Sept. 17 cutoff race).”

Logano grabbed the lead in the Playoff standings with a strong fourth place run at Darlington, but it didn’t come without a fight. After starting from the pole, the 2018 series champion fell out of the top 10 after a slow pit stop on Lap 75 and spent the rest of the race working his way back into the top five.

“It’s a solid day but a missed opportunity is probably where I would put it,” said Logano, who leads second-place William Byron by six points. “With so many others having trouble, every time you come to the Southern 500, especially in the Playoffs, you’ve just got to survive, and you get a solid finish.

“That’s what we were able to do is finish fourth after so many teams had issues. We had plenty of our own issues, too. We gave up track position a couple times and then we got caught with that caution and lost track position fairly late in the race (Lap 275), and then we just battled hard.”

Logano has to like his chances at Kansas, where he has claimed three victories (all in Playoff races) and two poles. But the Playoff field remains tightly bunched, with Logano leading 16th-place Kevin Harvick by only 49 points.

Harvick, who also has three Kansas wins on his resume, trails 12th-place Daniel Suarez by a mere 13 points. In other words, Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 could prove to be the salvation — or the undoing — of any driver in the Playoffs.

The series hasn’t raced on an intermediate track since the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in late May. Consequently, teams have been trying to gauge advances with the Next Gen car through simulations.

Kurt Busch won the May race at Kansas, with Larson running second, but Busch has been sidelined with concussion issues and gave up his spot in the Playoffs while he recovers.

–Race for final NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff spot in sharp focus at Kansas

Last Saturday at Darlington, Sheldon Creed made a dramatic bid for a victory but came home second in a three-car battle against race winner Noah Gragson and double-duty driver Kyle Larson.

Creed could have clinched a spot in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs with a win. Instead, the trails 12th-place Ryan Sieg by 16 points with two regular-season races left as the series heads to Kansas Speedway for Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Creed has never raced at Kansas in the Xfinity Series, though he did post a runner-up finish there in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2020.

Sieg, on the other hand, comes to Kansas with three straight top fives and five straight top 10s at the 1.5-mile intermediate track.

Ty Gibbs is the defending winner of the Kansas Lottery 300 and is the favorite to win a second straight race at the track. Second in the standings, Gibbs trails leader AJ Allmendinger by 51 points in the battle for the regular season championship.

“I’m looking forward to heading back to Kansas,” Gibbs said. “We won there last year in the Xfinity car, the same weekend we clinched the ARCA championship, so it’s a special place for me.

“Hopefully, we can get another win, as there are only two more races before the Playoffs start, and we would like to get all the points we can to give ourselves the best shot in the final seven races.”

–It’s crunch time for NASCAR Truck Series championship contenders

The first two races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs settled two issues — both Grant Enfinger and Chandler Smith will advance to the Round of 8, thanks to their respective victories at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park and Richmond Raceway.

The final six positions, however, are very much up in the air entering Friday night’s elimination race, the Kansas Lottery 200 at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Eighth-place Matt Crafton, a three-time series champion, leads ninth-place Carson Hocevar by three points and 10th-place Christian Eckes by six. Those three drivers in particular will be battling on Friday for the final spot in the Round of 8.

Based on experience, Crafton should have an edge. The 46-year-old driver has raced in all 24 Truck Series events at the track, dating to 2001, and has fashioned three victories there, the most recent in 2020.

But Crafton hasn’t shown his customary speed during a winless 2022 campaign. That leaves room for Hocevar and Eckes to compete for the final Playoff berth.

“I’m excited to go back to a mile-and-a-half (track), which seems to be more of our bread and butter,” said Hocevar, who finished 15th at Kansas in May.

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Hollywood Casino 400 Presented by Barstool Sportsbook
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Sunday, September 11
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $8,338,881
TV: USA, 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 400.5 miles (267 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 165), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 267)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Kansas Lottery 300
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Saturday, September 10
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,661,536
TV: USA, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Kansas Lottery 200
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Friday, September 9
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $648,530
TV: FS1, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 201 miles (134 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 30),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 134)

–By Reid Spencer, NASCAR NewsWire, Special to Field Level Media