Which Kansas Speedway will greet Kyle Busch in NASCAR Cup Playoffs‘ second race?
Once upon a time, Kyle Busch considered Kansas Speedway a “jinx” track.
He finished 37th in his debut race at the 1.5-mile speedway in 2004. A decade later, Busch scored his first top-five at the track, and it wasn‘t until 2016 that he found Victory Lane.
Busch‘s win that year marked the completion of a dramatic turnaround at a speedway he couldn‘t solve early in his career. It was part of a streak of five straight top fives and eight straight top 10s, transforming Kansas from a track Busch dreaded to one he relished.
Lately, though, the track has been trending back toward the “jinx” category, leaving it a matter of conjecture as to which Kansas will greet Busch when he returns for Sunday‘s Hollywood Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET on USA, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
After a gritty 11th-place finish in last Sunday‘s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Busch enters the second Playoff race of 2023 seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series standings, 20 points above the current cutoff for the Round of 12.
“Overall, it was just nice to get an 11th-place finish… for what looked like was going to be a 20th,” said Busch, who had to start the Darlington race from the rear after slapping the wall in practice, necessitating repairs to his car. “Definitely not a day that we wanted but just survived with what we could there.
“Really proud of everyone at RCR and ECR (Earnhardt-Childress Racing Engines) for fighting hard all day long. The pit crew had some really good stops today and got us some spots on pit road. We had issues, some self-inflicted and some with our strategy with just the luck of the draw with how the cautions fell…
“At least we get to live to fight another day.”
A 20-point margin is tenuous, however, considering that Busch has finished 26th and 35th in his last two starts at the track, the latter of which was his first run with his new Richard Childress Racing team.
Then again, Busch picked up his first victory in the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.—like Kansas a downforce track.
And Busch‘s situation is far less perilous than those of the drivers who occupy positions 11 through 15 in the Playoff standings—Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace, Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., respectively.
Between Logano in 11th and Stenhouse in 15th, there‘s a six-point spread, providing the opportunity for considerable movement at Kansas.
Having escaped Darlington with a 16th-place finish, Stenhouse feels the final two tracks in the first round (Kansas and Bristol) are more to his liking.
“If we do our job, I feel like we can transfer through rounds,” Stenhouse said. “We‘re focused on the first round. We‘ll see where we end up after Bristol Motor Speedway and figure it out from there on out.
“Darlington was probably the least of the best tracks for us. I‘ve run good at Kansas before, and Bristol is my favorite track by far.”
NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff field will be set this weekend in tight battle
The moment has finally arrived for full-time drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, whose Playoff field will be written in stone after Saturday‘s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio).
Ten drivers already have clinched berths in the postseason. Eight are in on wins: series leader Austin Hill, John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Sam Mayer, Chandler Smith, Sammy Smith and Jeb Burton. Two have qualified on points: Josh Berry and Sheldon Creed.
Daniel Hemric will clinch simply by scoring one point at Kansas, even if a driver below him in the standings wins the race.
That leaves Riley Herbst and Parker Kligerman to battle for the final Playoff spot, with Herbst holding a one-point lead entering the decider. Herbst surged back into the final Playoff-eligible position with a sixth-place finish last Saturday at Darlington, where a late-race wreck relegated Kligerman to 24th.
Herbst, still seeking his first Xfinity Series win, will be keeping a close eye on points throughout Saturday‘s race.
“At the end of the day, we show up at the race track each and every weekend to contend for the win,” said Herbst, who climbed as high as second in the standings before a rash of five DNFs (did not finish) in 10 races placed him squarely on the Playoff bubble. “It‘s cool to be back in the Playoffs at the moment, and I‘m hoping we can keep ourselves in contention.
“We never wanted to be in this position with how solid we were at the beginning of the year, but I know that we can bounce back from this. My hope is that we can go out, contend for the win and lock ourselves in the Playoffs with a victory, but we‘re also going to be conscious of the points. We‘re in the better position right now above the cut line, so it‘s about finding that balance.”
At the top of the standings, the Regular Season Championship likewise won‘t be decided until Saturday. Hill holds a lead of 23 points over Nemechek and 33 over Allgaier. The regular-season winner gets a bonus of 15 Playoff points, with 10 going to the runner-up and eight to the third-place driver.
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series drivers vie to stave off elimination at Kansas
With the Playoff field in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series set to be cut from 10 drivers to eight at Kansas Speedway, four of the spots in the Round of 8 already have been clinched entering Friday night‘s Kansas Lottery 200 (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Grant Enfinger and Ty Majeski have advanced on wins in the first two races of the Round of 10. Corey Heim and Christian Eckes have advanced on points. That leaves six drivers to battle for the remaining four berths, and Carson Hocevar is all but certain to claim one of them—needing just two points to move on, no matter who wins the race.
Most vulnerable are Matt DiBenedetto in 10th and 2021 champion Ben Rhodes in ninth. DiBenedetto is 19 points behind rookie Nick Sanchez in eighth, with Rhodes trailing Sanchez by a mere three points. Seventh-place Matt Crafton has a nine-point edge over Rhodes, his ThorSport Racing teammate.
Rhodes can draw on experience from his 2021 championship season, where he also had to survive a close call with elimination in the early rounds.
“I remember vividly racing at Bristol in 2021, and we were below the cut line and we were racing for, what felt like, our lives,” Rhodes told the NASCAR Wire Service. “I watch the other guys, but I don‘t really want updates on where they are. I physically or mentally know where they are, whether I see the scoreboard myself, or I‘m keeping track of them in my mirror or in my sights.
“I‘m kind of doing mental math the whole race, and maybe at the very end, in the last 10 or 20 laps, I‘ll ask for an update. That will give me an idea of, ‘Hey, this is all or nothing,‘ or what I have to do. It gives me an idea of how to frame everything at the end of the race. If I need to frame it up as, ‘All right, I need to do everything I can to keep this guy behind me,‘ or ‘I just need to be five spots ahead of them,‘ whatever it is, it gives me an idea of how I have to work.
“So all in all, I try to keep an eye out for myself, but I‘ll ask at the end. It gets complicated, and you have so much going on in the race truck where worrying about that too early can make things worse for yourself.”
— NASCAR News Wire —