After Erik Jones stole the Southern 500 last weekend at Darlington, we head to Kansas for the second race of the Round of 16.
This is the second time this season that the NASCAR Cup Series will circle Kansas Speedway. Back in May, Toyota dominated the race, having all six of their entries finish inside the Top 10, highlighted by 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch taking the win. However, the defending Kansas victor will not return to defend his race win as he is still recovering from concussion protocol after a crash at Pocono. Ty Gibbs will continue to fill in for the 2004 Champion and Bubba Wallace will continue to drive the 45 in the owner’s championship for 23XI.
Now let’s talk about the playoffs. Entering Kansas, no playoff driver is safe. Championship leader Joey Logano enters this week only 38 points above the cutline. Only 40 points separate Logano and 13th seed Austin Cindric. As we saw at Darlington, all it takes is one bad race to completely lose a championship lead. We watched Regular Season Champion Chase Elliott have his lead erased with a DNF at Darlington. Elliott fell from 1st to 9th in the playoffs. Ross Chastain entered the playoffs as the 3rd seed, and fell to the 8th seed. Chastain ran into some troubles throughout the Southern 500 but managed a 20th place finish. No driver is safe, but no driver is also in that much of a hole that they must dig themselves out of. So, if you are a Stewart Haas Racing fan and you see your reps in 15th and 16th in the standings currently, don’t fret, there are still two races remaining in the Round of 16.
Let’s take a look at some drivers to be on the lookout for this weekend. I think Joe Gibbs Racing will back up a great performance earlier in the season at Kansas. Look at Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch to be the favorites this week. Bell finished 5th at Kansas in the Spring and has been the most consistent JGR driver over the past seven weeks recording five top tops in his last seven races. Kyle Busch after an engine failure last week will be on a mission to lock himself into the next round. While Busch’s future at JGR is dim, expect the 18 to be fast and up front at Kansas.
If you are a Penske fan this weekend, I wish you the best of luck. While I expect Logano to be fast, Ryan Blaney and his rookie teammate Austin Cindric could have a rough go of it. Blaney has an average finish of 19.6 over the past 8 races at Kansas. While that doesn’t seem awful, five of his last eight results at the 1.5 mile oval have been 20th or worse. Kansas is not a bad track for Blaney but I expect another 18th to 25th place finish for him. Cindric finished 11th here in May and was the highest finishing Ford driver, but after an average finish last week, Cindric could stay below the cutline until Bristol. I doubt we see a playoff spoiling victory, like we did last week in the Southern 500, but expect the 45 of Bubba Wallace and the 34 of Michael McDowell to have great runs as they did to open the playoffs.
Race 2/10 of the NASCAR Cup Playoffs will be Sunday, September 11th at 3PM on USA.
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