Kansas in the fall y’all.
What is it about the October visit to Kansas Speedway that produces such chaos, drama and intensity? The 1.5-mile track has a reputation for just that over recent years and the latest chapter was written in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400.
Denny Hamlin had to survive a pair of overtime finishes to score the victory in a race that impacted the playoff picture significantly.
While Hamlin was securely into the Round of 8, the battle to get in among those in the bottom four on the grid was very much up for grabs. Thanks to a late surge by Chase Elliott, who nearly won the race, and a horrible final two laps by Brad Keselowski there was a change around the cutline. Elliott is in and Keselowski is now out of the championship picture.
But what does it mean for Hamlin? The playoffs have been kryptonite for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver literally since 2010 when he coughed up the point lead in Phoenix one week before the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale. Whether or not he can seal the deal will be played out in the next four weeks.
Kansas will be remembered for an entertaining race that carried with – as has been the case in recent seasons – bigger picture implications.
- While Kansas remains in the playoffs next year it will shift from an elimination race to the opening stop in the Round of 8. Here’s hoping the move doesn’t take away any of the intensity Kansas has created in the last few seasons as the "do or die" race in the middle round. Actually since Kansas was repaved and reconfigured in 2012, the fall race has produced some of the most memorable moments of the season with Sunday’s race the latest example. The chaos and unpredictability was ramped up by the playoff implications that came with it being a cut-off race. Bristol, Charlotte’s road course and Martinsville inherit the three cut-off spots in next year’s revamped schedule. Kansas shifts to being a round opener and it will be interesting to see how the competitive dynamic changes if at all.
- Saturday’s wild Xfinity Series race ended with a pit road confrontation between Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick. I’m hesitant to call it a fight because while the two certainly faced one another the situation escalated into at least a mini brawl when crew members got involved. It’s unlikely NASCAR will penalized either of the drivers for their encounter, which the sanctioning body has framed in similar incidents as "passion," but the others involved should face stiffer consequences. If drivers have a beef with one another so be it and let them work it out. Anyone else entering the fray and as was the case on Saturday instigating a bigger problem needs to be parked for at least a week.
- A scary week for the unsung heroes of the sport with the accidents involving two team haulers. Thankfully members of both Kaulig Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing were not seriously injured in a pair of separate incidents those teams suffered on their way to Kansas for the racing weekend. It truly is remarkable what the road crews and hauler drivers accomplish over the course of the longest season in sports. While the drivers get the spotlight it’s everyone behind all these NASCAR organizations that make this sport tick.
- Daniel Suarez remains the last of the Stewart-Haas Racing drivers unsure about his future after news came out over the Kansas weekend Clint Bowyer would return to the No. 14 car in 2020. Bowyer joins Aric Almirola, who announced an extension last week, and Kevin Harvick set to be back at SHR next season but the No. 41 seat still remains in question. Sponsorship, and not the talent or skill of Suarez, is the hold-up but with only David Ragan’s Front Row Motorsports seat and the yet-to-be-announced plans for GoFas Racing still unknown, top tier and fully financed opportunities are few and far
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.