KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The opening half of the playoffs, with its Roval and other schedule changes, saw five different winners but such parity may be replaced beginning this weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Three of the season’s final five races will be at 1.5-mile tracks — Kansas, Texas and Homestead. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have dominated this season on the 1.5-mile tracks.
Consider what they’ve done this year on such tracks:
Atlanta — Harvick won, leading 181 of 325 laps; Truex was fifth.
Las Vegas — Harvick won, leading 214 of 267 laps; Busch was second and Truex was fourth.
Texas — Busch won, leading 116 of 334 laps; Harvick was second.
Kansas — Harvick won, leading 79 of 267 laps; Truex was second
Coca-Cola 600 — Busch won, leading 377 of 400 laps; Truex was second.
Chicago — Busch won, leading 59 of 267 laps; Harvick was third and Truex was fourth.
Kentucky — Truex won, leading 174 of 267 laps; Busch was fourth and Harvick was fifth.
Las Vegas — Brad Keselowski won; Truex was third, leading 96 of 272 laps.
Also consider that Harvick, Busch and Truex combined to win 12 of the 17 stages at those tracks and one can see how difficult it could be for other drivers if this trend continues.
Keselowski (-18 points), Ryan Blaney (-22), Kyle Larson (-36) and Alex Bowman (-68) enter this weekend’s race below the cutoff line. Bowman must win or he’ll be eliminated. Larson, Blaney and Keselowski will need to win or hope others have problems to advance. Scoring a victory won’t be easy against Harvick, Busch and Truex, who have combined to win the last five Kansas races.
Don’t be surprised if the Big 3 dominate the second half of the playoffs.
2. The value of playoff points
Martin Truex Jr. enters Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC) in the last transfer spot.
He holds that position because of the 38 playoff points he’s accumulated this season. His advantage would be much less without having scored so many playoff points.
Brad Keselowski trails Truex by 18 points for that transfer spot. Keselowski has scored 13 fewer playoff points than Truex.
Ryan Blaney trails Truex by 22 points. Blaney has scored 25 fewer playoff points than Truex.
All the points matter throughout the season.
3. Kind words about Kyle Busch from a competitor
At a media event Thursday to promote the upcoming Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick was asked about competing against Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
“I love racing against Kyle Busch,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle is one of the best drivers that is ever going to come through this sport. The things that he does in the car are great, but he knows a lot about the car, too.
“And Martin (Truex Jr.) and those guys have run well over the last few years, so racing with those two teams, we’ve been around each other in the garage a lot. There’s a lot of respect amongst the three teams, but we all want to beat each other.”
4. What’s at stake …
Jimmie Johnson has five races left to score a victory this season and continue his streak of seasons with at least one win.
He’s gone 16 seasons with at least one victory, tying him with Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace for third on the all-time list.
Richard Petty holds the record at 18 consecutive seasons with at least one victory. David Pearson had at least a victory in 17 consecutive seasons.
5. How much does testing matter?
Kansas was one of three tracks NASCAR held organizational tests this season, allowing one car per organization to test.
In the previous two organizational tests this season (Las Vegas and Richmond), the winner did not test.
Kyle Larson was the fastest both days of the Las Vegas test on Jan. 31-Feb. 1. He finished third, highest among those who tested.
Kevin Harvick took part in the organizational test at Richmond on Aug. 27-28. He went on to finish second, highest among those who tested.
The organizational test at Kansas Speedway was Sept. 24-25. Here’s who tested:
Playoff drivers: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.
Drivers eliminated or didn’t make playoffs: Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard.