It’s time for the second primetime race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. NASCAR’s premiere series will start a three week stretch of all races under the lights beginning with Saturday’s Digital Ally 400 (7:30 p.m. ET/FS1/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Here are the top five storylines surrounding Saturday night’s race at the Kansas Speedway.
Joe Gibbs Racing Could Be The Ones To Beat Again
This has been a very strong start to the season for the Joe Gibbs Racing camp. We’re 11 races down and three of their four teams have reached victory lane already. In fact, they’ve combined to win 7 of the 11 races run thus far.
With how strong that they’ve been out of the gates mixed with how quick they typically are in Kansas, watch out.
Since 2014, Kyle Busch has scored eight top 10 finishes, all consecutively. Out of those eight top 10’s are six top five’s including a win in 2015. Busch, was also runner-up in the fall race last year and has a top 10 finish in literally all 11 races run this season.
Sounds like the favorite to me.
But, watch out for his new teammate Martin Truex Jr. too. With Furniture Row Racing, Truex swept both races at Kansas in 2017 to go along with finishing second and fifth respectively on the 1.5-mile track a year ago. Over his last four spring race starts at Kansas, Truex has led the following laps – 95 (205), 172 (2016), 104 (2017) and 13 (2018). He’s won two of the last three races on the season too.
Erik Jones finished in the top 10 in both races a year ago too including result of seventh (May) and fourth (October) respectively. He’s coming off of a top 10 finish on Monday at Dover.
The only odd ball is Denny Hamlin. He has five top 10 finishes in his last 12 Kansas starts but two of those were fifth place runs in the fall race of 2017 and the spring race last year. He’s also finished outside the top 20 in each of the last two weeks as well.
Stewart-Haas Racing Could Make Up More Ground
It’s hard to believe we’ve gone 11 races without a single SHR driver winning so far this season. I mean, at this point last year, SHR was coming off of their fifth win in the first 11 races and ended up winning again at Kansas for their sixth.
Heading into this weekend, they haven’t won a race since Texas last November and even that car was found to be illegal. Their last win for a car that passed inspection was the Talladega race last October. Their last legal win not on a superspeedway came at Michigan on Aug. 12. Prior to that, their win before the August Michigan win was at the June Michigan race.
Their last win away from a superspeedway or a 2-mile high speed oval was at this very race track a year ago.
You can see how far they’ve fallen since they left Kansas last May. But, maybe they can turn things back around this weekend.
Kevin Harvick has eight top 10 finishes in his last 11 Kansas starts including being the defending race winner. Furthermore, out of his last six Kansas starts, four of which have resulted in a finish inside of the top three. Out of those 11 races, Harvick has six top two’s.
Aric Almirola should be tough too. He finished ninth in the Fall race of 2017 with RPM. He was also ninth and 10th respectively in the two races a year ago as well.
Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez have been feast or famine at Kansas but with SHR power, look for them to contend as well.
Feast Or Famine For Penske At Kansas
Speaking of feast or famine, that’s exactly what Team Penske has been at Kansas too. Brad Keselowski has only one top five finish on the track since 2012. Despite that, he does have a top 10 in each of the last three years at Kansas as well. But, on the season, Keselowski has finished 12th or worse in four of his last five starts.
Joey Logano has eight top 10 finishes in his last 12 tries but over the last few years, he does have three finishes of 21st or worse in his last six starts. Is he the 21st or worse driver or the one with seven top five’s since 2013.
Ryan Blaney is typically good at Kansas as he’s in a stretch of five top 10’s in his last seven starts there. But, he did crash and finish 37th in this race a year ago and 14th in the Fall race in 2016. Blaney, has finished 25th, 15th and 15th now the last three races on the season too.
If they can stay out of trouble, then Logano and Blaney can at least vie for the win. Out of the three starts on 1.5-mile tracks in 2019, Penske has won two of them. Keselowski, reached victory lane in Atlanta while Logano won the next week in Vegas. Maybe it’s Blaney’s turn in Kansas.
Will Chevy Be Strong Again?
Chevy is getting a tad better. They’ve finally won and worked in unison two weeks ago in Talladega. Now, can they get a win on a 1.5-mile track?
Chase Elliott won the Fall race at Kansas last year but all of his Kansas success is in that Fall race. In the Spring race, he’s finished ninth, 29th and 12th respectively. In the Fall race, he’s been 31st, fourth and first respectively. He enters on the heels of two consecutive top five finishes including leading a race high 146 laps on Monday at Dover.
William Byron finished 33rd and 21st respectively as a rookie at Kansas last year while Alex Bowman was 18th and ninth himself. Jimmie Johnson used to be the man at Kansas with 14 top 10 finishes in a 16 race span between 2007 and 2016. In the four races since?
24th, 11th, 19th and 22nd respectively.
Kurt Busch is their best option as the new Chip Ganassi Racing driver has five top 10 finishes in his last eight Kansas starts. He’s been eighth, third, 19th and eighth respectively in his last four Spring starts too. On 1.5-milers this year, he’s finished third (Atlanta), fifth (Vegas) and ninth (Texas) respectively.
His teammate Kyle Larson is searching for luck and maybe this is the place. Out of his last four starts, he’s finished in the top six in three of them. Unfortunately though, in his seven starts prior, Larson only had one top 10 (2nd) but four finishes of 15th or worse. But, he’s coming off of a third place run in Dover and finished in the top five in both races last year.
This will be a true test to see how far this racing package has adjusted. A somewhat newly repaved 1.5-mile track run under the lights. That should mean max grip. With high drag as well as high downforce mixed with a restricted engine, shouldn’t this in theory create a “pack race?”
This race last year had 13 lead changes. The year prior had 18. Will the new aero configuration add more?
In Atlanta and Vegas, we didn’t see much of a bump in action. In fact, it was minimal. The race at Texas though was actually better, so there’s reason to believe that this may be one of the best races of the year thus far.