Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas

0 Comments

NASCAR returns to a 1.5-mile oval this weekend with a trip to Kansas Speedway.

Kansas marks the second traditional mile-and-a-half track on the Cup schedule. Las Vegas hosted the first in March followed by a race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which was reconfigured and now features the sport’s superspeedway rules package.

Who should you have your eye on this weekend?

FRONT RUNNERS

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 4th  Talladega; 6th  Dover; 36th Darlington
  • Recent at Kansas: Won in October

Nobody led more laps at Kansas in 2021 than Kyle Larson. The No. 5 Chevrolet was out front for a combined 262 laps between the track’s two races, capitalizing in October by leading 130 circuits from the pole and on the way to the win.

His 2022 results remain a little less consistent than the standard set one year ago, but Larson has turned in four finishes of sixth or better in the past six races. A mechanical failure at Darlington led to a last-place finish, ending a three-race streak of top-six results.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 11th
  • Last three races: 10th — Talladega; 9th Dover; 4th Darlington
  • Recent at Kansas: Runner-up in this race last spring

Harvick has three Cup wins at Kansas Speedway and is on a heck of a hot streak. The 2014 Cup champion has finished inside the top four in each of the past four Kansas contests, including two runner-up finishes.

His last win in Kansas City came in May 2018. His next two starts resulted in finishes outside the top 10, but he hasn’t finished worse than ninth since. Harvick has scored points in 18 of the 20 stages at Kansas and finished third in last October’s playoff race.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: 7th Talladega; 1st Dover; 5th Darlington
  • Recent at Kansas: Led laps in five of last seven races

Elliott is a former Kansas winner, scoring his lone win at the facility in October 2018. While he hasn’t gone back to victory lane there since, he has been consistently fast at the 1.5-mile oval.

Elliott has notched six finishes of sixth or better in the past seven Kansas races, with eight career top 10s in 12 Kansas starts. The No. 9 Chevrolet has finished inside the top 10 in each of the past five races this season and placed fifth and second, respectively, in last year’s Kansas events.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 3rd  Talladega; 7th  Dover; 33rd Darlington
  • Recent at Kansas: Won this race last year

Kansas and Kyle Busch haven’t always gotten along, but the No. 18 Toyota won for the second time there in May 2021. In his past six Kansas starts, Busch’s results have been a mixed bag: three top fives and three finishes of 11th or worse.

Still, Busch has finished inside the top 10 in 11 of the past 14 Kansas races and scored stage points in 17 of the 20 stages. Surely, the team is eyeing a rebound from a 33rd-place finish at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 22nd
  • Last three races: 18th  Talladega; 21st  Dover; 21st Darlington
  • Recent at Kansas: Three top fives in past five races

Hamlin’s miserable luck continued Sunday at Darlington when a slow pit stop mired the No. 11 Toyota in traffic just in time to be collected in a multi-car accident that ended his aspirations of winning. Hamlin hasn’t finished inside the top 10 this year except for his Richmond win. Worse yet, he’s finished outside the top 20 in four of the past five races.

Kansas has been a good track for Hamlin, though. He has three Cup wins there, two of which came in the past five races, as well as five top fives in the past nine. He finished fifth at Kansas during last year’s playoffs.

William Byron

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 15th Talladega; 22nd Dover; 13th Darlington
  • Recent at Kansas: Led laps in five of last six races

The No. 24 Chevrolet was six turns away from what would have been a series-leading third win of the year at Darlington. With that in the rearview mirror, Kansas has proven to be a good track for Byron.

The 2017 Xfinity Series champion started his Kansas career with two DNFs but has strung together five consecutive top-10 finishes there and led 57 laps there in October. Byron is on a cold streak since his Martinsville victory with four straight finishes outside the top 10, but the team certainly hasn’t lost speed.