Five things to watch in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway


Tonight begins a key stretch for NASCAR Sprint Cup teams that could give a hint of what is to come.

The SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway is the first of three consecutive races on 1.5-mile speedways – tracks that comprise half of the Chase races. After tonight’s race, the series heads to Charlotte for the Sprint All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600. Both Kansas and Charlotte host Chase races.

In two of the first three races on 1.5-mile tracks this season (Atlanta and Texas), the finishing order has been the same with Jimmie Johnson first, Kevin Harvick second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. third and Joey Logano fourth. Harvick won at Las Vegas in the only other race on a 1.5-mile track this season.

So can anybody break into what seems to be a relatively exclusive club over the next three races?

“These next three weeks I think are going to be very important,’’ said Carl Edwards, who has not finished better than 10th in the first three races on 1.5-mile tracks. “I think they’re going to tell us a lot about the season going forward. If in these next three weeks as a group, our (Joe Gibbs Racing) Toyotas can work on some of the things we have planned and they are successful. …’’

Then it could give teams the direction they need to head for the fall. After Charlotte, there is only one 1.5-mile track on the schedule (Kentucky on July 11) until the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in September.

Here’s what else to watch for in tonight’s race:

Tires could be a factor. They were last fall at this track. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading when a tire went down and he hit the wall. Brad Keselowski also had a tire go down and he slammed the wall. Others also had problems.

Could it happen again?

“I think anytime we come to Kansas we are a little nervous about tires just because of what we’ve seen in the past and a lot of what happened here in the fall race where a lot of the fast cars were blowing right fronts out,’’ said Joey Logano, who won that race last fall and starts tonight’s race on the pole.

“It always makes you a little nervous, but at the same time we put our faith in Goodyear to make the right decisions and we feel fine about it. Our car didn’t have a problem last time, but I know we were on the verge of it because a lot of cars were.’’

Said Jeff Gordon about tire issues in last fall’s race: “I know Goodyear has made a slight adjustment to the tire to help with that. We saw a couple issues last year. We personally on Team 24 did not have issues, but you never know how close you are to the edge. Even with less downforce on the cars, the amount of power that’s been reduced has made the cars a lot faster through the center of the corner. We enter the corner slower and exit the corner slower, but going through the crucial part of the load on the tire and how we sustain that through the center of the corner is up, and that’s a reason for concern.’’

Could Martin Truex Jr. be a dark horse? It is hard to call the driver second in points a dark horse but don’t forget about him. While he enters tonight’s race with a 66-race winless drought, he scored his best finish of the season last year at this track when he placed fourth in the fall.

Truex has been strong this season with nine top-10 finishes in the first 10 races. At the 1.5-mile tracks this season, he’s placed sixth (Atlanta), second (Las Vegas) and ninth (Texas).

“The car has had good speed and it’s driven good,’’ Truex said after qualifying fourth. “This is a brand new car for us, and I feel like it’s another step as far as catching a few of those guys on speed.’’

Erik Jones makes his official Sprint Cup debut. While he replaced Denny Hamlin during the Bristol race last month, the records list Hamlin in the finishing order – as if Jones didn’t drive that race. That won’t be the case tonight. Jones, who had never driven at Kansas Speedway until this weekend, has been fast.

“We could knock off laps back and forth that were pretty good and that was nice,’’ Jone said. “Definitely confident in the race. I’m just excited to get going.’’

Could Jimmie Johnson have a rough night? He’s won two of the three races on 1.5-mile speedways this season but qualified 19th. He struggled some in practice with short-run speed. If there are a number of cautions – both Kansas races had eight last year – or cautions bunched toward the end of the race where short-run speed is necessary, Johnson could face a challenge.

“We have qualified much worse and finished pretty darn well, so directionally we are going the right way but we just wish we had the magic want to fix the short-run speed,’’ he said.


COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

MORE: Truck points after COTA

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

William Byron wins Cup pole at COTA


William Byron will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron won the pole with a lap of 93.882 mph around the 3.41-mile road course Saturday. He becomes the first Cup driver to win a pole at four different road courses: Charlotte Roval (2019), Road America (2021), Indianapolis road course (2021) and COTA (2023).

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Byron will be joined on the front row by Tyler Reddick, who had posted the fastest lap in Friday’s practice and fastest lap in the opening round of qualifying Saturday. Reddick qualified at 93.783 mph.

Austin Cindric (93.459 mph) qualified third. Former IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, substituting for an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth with a lap of 93.174 mph. AJ Allmendinger (93.067) will start fifth.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Ross Chastain, who won this event a year ago, qualified 12th. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified 22nd, former world champion Jenson Button qualified 24th, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 31st and IndyCar driver Conor Daly qualified 35th.

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy with a high of 80 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: COTA Cup starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


Friday 5: What to do about lack of respect on the track?

Dr. Diandra: With Chase Elliott out, these are the best Next Gen road racers

Drivers to watch at COTA

North Wilkesboro’s racing surface will prove challenging to drivers 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Christopher Bell is new No. 1