Who’s in the headline – Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth are going to dominate the headlines this week. Kenseth led the most laps in the race but, heading into turn 1 with five laps to go, Logano made a move to the bottom of the track and tapped the left-rear corner of Kenseth’s car. Kenseth spun and lost the chance to advance to the next round of the Chase with a win. Depending on your allegiance, your view of the incident is that it was Logano’s fault, or maybe it was Kenseth’s fault. One thing is for sure, the debate will rage all week.
What happened – Coming off a race where there was not a single on-track pass for the lead, the action was better throughout the field in Kansas. Kevin Harvick, Logano and Kenseth all made passes for the lead by running down the leader and making the pass. Kenseth did it twice. Harvick, however, had a pit issue where his fuel can was carried out of the box and the subsequent penalty put him down a lap and brought him home 16th. Denny Hamlin didn’t lead all day but finished second, a bumper ahead of Jimmie Johnson. The racing in general was better, with seven cautions and not a single one for bogus debris.
Why you should care – First of all, Kenseth’s failure to win drops him from locked into the next round of the Chase to 12th among the contenders. Martin Truex Jr.’s 15th-place finish dropped him to eighth, just six points ahead of Kyle Busch. Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon are just one point ahead of Truex. Kurt Busch, who is third in points, is only seven points ahead of his brother in ninth. The end result is, Hamlin is only 18 points ahead of ninth, and he is second in the points standings. Barring drivers in the Chase being caught up in a big one, the seven remaining drivers to advance to the third round of the Chase will not be decided until the final couple hundred yards of the last lap.
What your friends are talking about – Logano and Kenseth getting together is going to be the primary discussion around the water cooler this week. Kenseth blocked, Logano could have backed off. In the end it seems to be one of those racing deals. Kenseth’s block crossing the start-finish line pushed Logano into the wall so he put his car below Kenseth’s and didn’t budge when the 2003 champion moved down. We’ll see if Kenseth’s retaliates when the series gets to Martinsville in two weeks; that will most likely depend on how the No. 20 finishes at Talladega.
Passing, passing, passing!!! After a race at Charlotte that had a grand total of ZERO on track passes for the lead, there were a plethora of passes for the front spot under green-flag conditions after restarts. There were also numerous passes behind the leaders as drivers were able to advance their lot in the race. After hearing how hard passing was going to be throughout practice and qualifying it was refreshing to see it actually happening.
Tires, tires, tires!!! How often do we harp on this in Thinkin’ Out Loud? With the low downforce package coming in 2016, Goodyear is talking about what they are going to have to do with tires to compliment the new rules. In 2015 they ran 30 different compounds across the three national series. Greg Strucker from Goodyear told the media at Kansas that they will probably make even more in 2016. Once again, these are tires, not nuclear reactors. Stop making this so difficult. Make a handful of tires that can be used across all of the similar racetracks and let the teams adjust to them. It will save teams money because they can use them at multiple tracks, and it will give crew chiefs some options for strategy.
Downforce, downforce, downforce!!! While the sanctioning body looks to be ready to completely kill the sport with franchising, they have at least pulled their heads out long enough to realize low downforce is the way to start fixing the racing product. The 2016 rules package was announced this week and, for the most part, it is the package that was utilized at Kentucky and Darlington. The exception is the radiator pan, which is going to be a little wider than those packages used, trying to more equally balance the car front to rear. The tapered spacer, which is robbing the cars of straightaway speed and resulting in more on throttle time is not going to go away. Provided the tires work and wear out appropriately the racing will be heading in the right direction. The nose still needs to get off of the ground but we have to get them to take baby steps.
Who is mad – Kenseth is unquestionably the maddest of anyone. He led 153 of 269 laps and looked to be headed to the next round until he spun in turns 1 and 2. He’s now 12th in the standings and is going to have to scratch and claw his way toward the front and hope that four drivers most likely get caught up in a big wreck or he can win to move to the final eight.
Harvick was runner-up at Charlotte and had a car that could win at Kansas until the fuel can did not disengage as he was leaving his pit during a green-flag stop with 50 laps to go. As a result, while he’s fifth in points, he is perilously close to the cut-off line. Talladega won’t be a must win for Harvick, but he would have felt much better with a win and no stress heading to northern Alabama.
Austin Dillon started the race 25th and methodically marched his way to the top five by the midway point of the race. While his car felt a little tight, it didn’t feel like he was abusing the right front. Unfortunately for Dillon, the right front failed, and his car pounded the outside wall on lap 155 and was forced to the garage thanks to the damage. Dillon has always been strong on mile-and-a-half tracks and was hoping to build some momentum toward the 2016 season. Instead, he ended with a 41st-place finish.
Who is happy – Kasey Kahne has had very little to be excited about this season. Charlotte was another disappointment last week but things were decidedly better at Kansas. After starting 24th he was quickly in the top 15 and broke into the top 10 before halfway. Through the remainder of the race he made slow progress en route to a fourth place run.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. might have felt like things were looking up for this weekend after qualifying 18th ahead of half of the Hendrick Motorsports contingent. He bounced around the teens and 20s for much of the race before getting his car right and moving forward over the final 100 laps of the event on his way to a 13th-place finish. When there is all sorts of conjecture swirling around the silly season rumor mill, it has to feel good to put in a finish that is best among the Roush Fenway Racing contingent.
Ryan Blaney has been bitten by rain multiple times this season when he had fast racecars. This weekend he qualified in the eighth position, slipped a little before rebounding over the last 90 laps to come home with a seventh-place finish. It was Blaney’s best career finish on a non-plate track. The young driver has to feel like, if he can get the opportunity to run a full season next year, he can make some noise in the Cup series.
When the checkered flag flew
Logano’s back-to-back wins gives him 13 for his career in 250 career starts.
Hamlin finished second for the second top-two run of his career at Kansas. Hamlin has finished in the top-two four times in 2015. This is Hamlin’s 20th career runner-up finish. That puts him in a tie with Fonty Flock for 40th on the all-time second-place list.
Johnson crossed the line third on Sunday for his eighth career top-three at Kansas. Johnson’s podium was his 10th of the season, his first since Daytona in July. The finish is Johnson’s 158th top-three run of his career, which puts him 11 behind Mark Martin for eighth on the list.
Matt DiBenedetto won the Rookie of the Race.
Round two of the Chase is two races old. Logano is locked into round three thanks to his victories at Charlotte and Kansas. The other 11 drivers have one chance left to lock their spot in round three with a win at Talladega. The remaining drivers and their points position:
- Denny Hamlin
- Kurt Busch
- Carl Edwards
- Kevin Harvick
- Jeff Gordon
- Brad Keselowski
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kyle Busch
- Ryan Newman
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Matt Kenseth
Takin’ it to the Bank
Cup winners this year have pocketed $10,392,364 in 31 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $2,413,563.
In the Xfinity Series it has been $2,142,274 for the winners and $391,115 for last place in 30 races.
After 18 Truck races the winner has $868,151 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $166,555.
What is in the cooler – The race at Charlotte had everyone geared up for another horrible race at Kansas considering how hard the tires are that they bring to the heartland. There were four on-track passes for the lead and drivers in the pack with better cars were able to move forward rather than being trapped by air. Throw in the racin’ deal between Kenseth and Logano with five to go and this was an interesting mile-and-a-half race. We’ll give it three cold Prime Extra Pale Ales from Cinder Block Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – It is the final race of the second round and the biggest wild card in the Chase. The longest track on the Cup schedule, Talladega, will most likely break the hearts of one or two Chase drivers and flip the outlook of others. To see the madness unfold tune into NBC Sports Network at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you would rather just listen or have alternate audio, tune your radio to your local MRN affiliate or lock your SiriusXM radio to NASCAR channel 90. It is also an option to watch the live stream on NBCSports LiveExtra.