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Mash The Gas: NASCAR Playoffs At Kansas Speedway Preview

Ryan Blaney leads the field to green during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway. [Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

Ryan Blaney leads the field to green during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway. [Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images]

by John Wiedemann

The Kansas Speedway track may be a typical looking “D” shaped mile and a half oval, but this will not be a typical weekend in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. This weekend is the cutoff race of the Playoffs Round of 12 where four drivers will be cut from Championship contention when the checkers fly.

Hollywood Casino 400
Kansas Speedway
400.5 miles (267 laps)
Sunday, Oct. 22
3 p.m. ET
NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 80)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 160)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 267)
Currently on the bubble is three series champions with nine championship trophies and six wins at the Kansas track between them. Just above them in the standings are two second year drivers. Only two drivers are safe to make the Round of 8 as we have seen in the last two races that no one is immune from a bad points day.

While Kansas Speedway is a typically shaped 1.5 mile oval, a repave of the surface in 2012 is just starting to get to that weathered point. But the asphalt still has grip and the track is considered one of the “fast” tracks by the drivers with a tricky turn four that can cost you time if you drive it wrong.

400 miles of racing awaits the drivers and at the end of the day only six will join Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski in the Round of 8, who will they be?

Who’s In

Basically just the winners of the last two races, Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski, are safe. Both drivers finished in the top two in the May race at Kansas with Truex leading 104 laps and taking the win. Finishing sixth in that race was Kyle Larson, who has improved his racing at cookie-cutter tracks this season.

Larson has a 29 point lead over Kyle Busch who is currently outside of the cutoff, giving Larson a bit of a cushion. Just behind Larson in the standings is the defending champion of this race, Kevin Harvick. Harvick has a 22 point lead over ninth place in the standings.

Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott are next with Hamlin a point behind Harvick and Elliott a point behind Hamlin. Hamlin was 23rd in the May race and Elliott finished behind him in 29th. Those finishes could put them in jeopardy if they repeat the results this weekend. Hamlin has been running strong with three top six finishes in the Playoff races so far. Elliott has been even better with three second place finishes in the Playoffs including the two mile and a half races.

Baring a catastrophic issue, Harvick, Larson, Hamlin and Elliott should be safe.

And Here Is Where It Gets Interesting

Ryan Blaney, who won his first pole at Kansas in May, is only nine points ahead of ninth place. Blaney finished fourth in the May race and led the second most laps (83). Blaney’s Playoff results so far have been good but not spectacular with three top eleven finishes and a best finish of eighth. As tight as the points are at the cutoff, a top ten is probably necessary for Blaney to make it to the Round of 8.

Jimmie Johnson is next and is currently on the bubble to make the next round. Johnson has three top ten finishes in the Playoffs so far including the races at Chicago and Charlotte. Johnson made the Round of 12 with a third place run at Dover and will likely need to do that again to protect his spot and move forward in the next round.

Kyle Busch, with two disastrous races in this round of the playoffs, currently is outside of the top eight. Just seven points behind Johnson, Busch will need to make things happen in the two stages to gain points. And, he is just the driver to do that. We’ve seen Busch make it happen before as he returned from injury midway through the season and won races to make the Chase and then win the Championship. I expect Busch to get it done this weekend and also win the race.

The last former series champion that is currently on the outside looking in is Matt Kenseth. Kenseth is eight points behind Johnson for a spot to make the Round of 8. Kansas is a track that has cost Kenseth in the past, well it was Logano but it was at Kansas. With a fast Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, I expect Kenseth to have a great weekend and be in contention for the win this weekend. A solid top five could get him in to the next round but it will be very close.

Long Shots

Ricky Stenhouse Jr (-22 points from eighth) and Jamie McMurray (-29 ponts) have a ways to go and would need a lot to happen to point their way into the top eight. Basically they need to win to advance and I just don’t see that happening. McMurray probably has a better shot than Stenhouse and both ran well in the May Kansas race, just not well enough to be considered contenders for a victory.

So, Who Is In?

I told you my top six: Truex, Keselowski, Harvick, Larson, Hamlin and Elliott.
The next two are difficult… I’m picking Busch and Kenseth.
That leaves Johnson and Blaney out, along with McMurray and Stenhouse.

Those are my picks but it will be interesting to see how and if they get there.

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John Wiedemann is the owner, editor and developer of the RacingNation.com website.

A motorsports fan from his earliest memories, John started going to local short tracks and the Milwaukee Mile with his parents, brother and sister. John enjoys drivers racing side by side and battling for the same piece of real estate on the racetrack as much as he appreciates the technical aspects of the sport.