Mash The Gas – Kansas Preview

Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards lead the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400. [Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images]

Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards lead the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400. [Credit: Photo by Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images]

by Dan Margetta and John Wiedemann

The Kansas Speedway hosts the middle race of the second round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup this Sunday afternoon with the Hollywood Casino 400.

Hollywood Casino 400
Kansas Speedway
400.5 miles (267 laps)
Sunday, Oct. 16
2:15 p.m. ET
NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
With this weekend’s Kansas race being the last opportunity for the Chase drivers to secure a spot in the next Chase round before having to face the looming uncertainty in the Talladega elimination race next week, the Hollywood Casino 400 becomes a must-win situation for those drivers on the outside looking in. Currently Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, and Kevin Harvick find themselves below the cut-off line but with the points tight throughout the top 12, all the Chase drivers with the exception of last week’s winner Jimmie Johnson have set their sights on a victory at Kansas and the coveted free pass that goes along with it. Kansas is another 1.5 mile oval circuit similar to Charlotte last week and so far this season the Toyotas were dominant earlier but lately the Chevrolets have caught them in speed. There is no room for errors this week as a bad race will leave a driver in the predicament of having to win next week during the most unpredictable race of the season at Talladega, the track that sends the most cars to the garage.

Last year this Kansas race touched off the feud between Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth that dramatically altered the championship race and more sparks could fly Sunday as the Chase pressure begins to heat up for many of the remaining contenders .…

Matt Kenseth (Dan Margetta)
Matt Kenseth is very good at the Kansas Speedway and he comes into this race relatively safe points wise after his second place finish last week. It’s a far cry from last year when Kenseth came to Kansas in desperate need of a win, an accomplishment he almost pulled off before getting tagged by Joey Logano in the final laps. This year things are much calmer around the #20 team and while they are relatively safe in the Chase, a Kansas win and free pass for Talladega looks very enticing. Kenseth is plenty capable of pulling off a win here as he already owns two victories to go along with seven top fives and twelve top ten finishes. He owns the second best Driver Rating here and finished a strong fourth at Kansas back in May. Kenseth comes into Kansas at enticing 12-1 odds and he drives one of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas that have dominated on the 1.5 mile tracks this season. Matt Kenseth is looking to turn last year’s extreme disappointment into a Kansas victory and a free pass to the next round and he should be plenty good on Sunday.

Kyle Busch (JW)
Kyle Busch is pretty safe this weekend, sitting third in the Chase standings and 27 points ahead of ninth place. But there are two races to go in this round and one of them is Talladega. That makes “pretty safe” far from “safe” and far from comfortable. Busch finally found victory lane at Kansas earlier this season and also won at Texas, another intermediate type track. Coming back here again, it is highly likely that Busch could take the win and punch his ticket for the Round of 8. Busch has been running very consistently in the Chase, averaging just under a fifth place finish and leading laps, but he hasn’t really broken free and had a race where he looked like the one to beat. But the results have been great and have put him right where he needs to be to move forward and try to win his second consecutive championship. Look for more of the same this weekend from Busch.

Kevin Harvick (DM)
It seems like every year Kevin Harvick finds himself on the brink of elimination in the Chase and this year is no different after the team’s mechanical problems last week leave them 12th in the point standings heading into Kansas. Also, every year it seems Kevin Harvick finds a way to win and keep on advancing in the Chase as he has made the final four in the two years this format has been in place. Harvick comes into Kansas as a 5/2 odds on favorite despite his low points position as he has finished first or second in four of the last six races here. He holds one Kansas victory to go along with five top five finishes and ten top ten results and holds the third best Driver Rating. Also, his average finishing position of just over 9th is the third best as well. When Kevin Harvick has had his back against the wall he has always responded strongly with a victory and we may just see another “Houdini” trick out of this team on Sunday as they try to avoid Chase elimination for first time.

Jimmie Johnson (JW)
Safe to move into the next round, it will be interesting to see how Jimmie Johnson runs this weekend. The Hendrick Motorsports team is back on track and at the top of the charts once again. Johnson and the team will probably continue their hot streak and not try anything out of the ordinary even though they don’t need to worry about their finish this week and next. What they do need to worry about is keeping the momentum going and there is one other role that they can play….. spoiler. With three top contenders for the championship hurting for points after Charlotte, Johnson would do himself a lot of good by keeping them out of victory lane and putting himself there instead. You may see crew chief Chad Knaus pull some tricks out of his bag late in the race and take a chance if it means the 48 in victory lane instead of the 22 or 11 or especially the 4.

Denny Hamlin (DM)
Things were going just fine for Denny Hamlin last week at Charlotte, until his engine let go in the waning laps, leaving him currently on the bubble in eighth place just a few points ahead of the cut-off line. Hamlin had been one of the stronger drivers all season and now must rebound this week at Kansas where he holds one victory and four top five finishes and five top tens. He finished second in this race a year ago but was a dismal 37th here last May and comes into Kansas at 15-1 odds to win. In years past when the pressure was ramped up, Hamlin and the #11 team seemed to let it knock them off their game and Kansas could be a test to see if they have improved in that area. Hamlin has been very strong all season on the 1.5 miles tracks and he should be good on Sunday too. If this team can keep their emotions in check, they should be in position to better their situation in the Chase at Kansas, otherwise they will have a tough task the following week at Talladega.

Chase Elliott (JW)
Tied with Austin Dillon three points behind Denny Hamlin the man on the bubble is where Chase Elliott sits in the Chase standings. Charlotte looked like Elliott’s opportunity for a victory or a solid position in the Chase, but getting caught up in a wreck after leading 103 laps spoiled that happiness. With the likely hood of the same scenario happening again next week at Talladega, this week at Kansas is the opportunity that Elliott needs take grab hold of. Elliott and all of the Hendrick Motorsports cars have been running great at the mile and a half tracks and this weekend should be more of the same. I thought Elliott would have gotten a win in some of the most recent races, and he has been right there in the mix but couldn’t find his way to victory lane. Once again, I am going to predict a victory for Elliott – which would put two Hendrick cars into the Round of 8. We’ll have to watch and see what happens.

Joey Logano (DM)
What a difference a year makes! Last year at this time Joey Logano was safely into the next Chase round and confident enough to rattle Matt Kenseth and knock him out of title contention. This season after a cut tire last week, Logano heads to Kansas on the outside looking in as he is eleventh in points and in need of a victory to ensure safe passage to the next round. Last year, Joey Logano was extremely aggressive with his free pass and it will be interesting to see if with the shoe on the other foot this year, if the other drivers cut him any slack. Logano is good here at Kansas having scored two victories to go along with five top five finishes and five top ten results. He had some bad luck here in May , finishing 38th after crashing early and the poor finish broke a string of five top five finishes in a row. Joey Logano is in a tough position this week as he may have to go for broke to remain alive in the Chase which could unravel some of the goodwill he has tried to build towards the other drivers this season. Winning is still the top priority with Joey Logano and he may be fun to watch on Sunday afternoon as he tries to stave off Chase elimination.

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