Who’s in the headline – Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch is doing his best to put himself in position to repeat. Busch started the race in sixth Saturday night and was a top-10 mainstay outside of green-flag pit cycles.
Busch moved into the second spot on lap 175 after a restart and was inside the top two for the remainder of the event. The No. 18 car then took the lead from Tony Stewart, who utilized fuel strategy, on lap 231. That was it; Busch held the point while potential challengers faltered behind him to score his series-leading third win of the season.
What happened – Martin Truex, Jr. was fast from the moment he unloaded this weekend. He won the pole during qualifying, then proceeded to dominate the race until a loose wheel hampered his efforts on lap 212. Truex led 172 of 211 laps, but once he lost a lap with the loose wheel and was back in traffic after a Lucky Dog, he was not a factor and finished 14th.
Busch then inherited the lead, and – aside from a late rush by Kevin Harvick – was basically unchallenged over the final 37 laps. There was a grand total of one on-track pass for the lead over 400 miles, when Busch ran down Stewart and passed him on fresher tires.
Why you should care – The tire that Goodyear brought to Kansas wore out some, but with a surface that is just over 3 years old, they weren’t going to bring one that wears out like what we’ve seen at the other 1.5-mile tracks this season. We also have teams that have been working with the new aerodynamic package for eight races and have figured out how to get much of the downforce back that was taken away.
The end result was the same ol’ Kansas. Two drivers led all but 26 laps, there was that one on-track pass for the lead under green and we had zero intrigue over the closing stages of the race. The aero package is a step in the right direction, for sure but they have a long way to go toward perfection.
What your friends are talking about – Most of the buzz around NASCAR this week was about the appeal filed by Teresa Earnhardt to a decision from the Trademark Trial and Appeals Board. The board threw out a lawsuit that the widow of Dale Earnhardt filed in an attempt to prevent Kerry Earnhardt, Dale’s first son, from using the name Earnhardt as part of a business venture.
The backlash was swift and vociferous; don’t expect the case to die down anytime soon.
It’s sad. Teresa Earnhardt has been very active in preventing anyone from trying to make money off the Intimidator without getting a cut of the profits since he passed away. She has also been adamant about not having any of Earnhardt’s memorabilia on display outside the walls of DEI. The contentiousness between Earnhardt’s three eldest children and the mother of his fourth child has been quite evident for years.
This suit screams of pettiness and vindictiveness versus protecting an image. Kerry Earnhardt’s last name is Earnhardt. He is not trying to use the Intimidator moniker or his signature. It is Kerry’s own branding and it is a housing project and lifestyle company, which cannot be confused for a racing product or one that relates to his father. It is not racing related and the entire business just paints Teresa in a very unflattering light.
The format for the Sprint All-Star Race was announced this week. There will be two 50-lap segments with mandatory pit stops. The final segment will have the top nine, 10 or 11 cars come to pit lane for a mandatory four-tire change; the remaining cars will be required to stay on the track with old tires for a final, 13-lap Sprint to the finish for the big prize.
Brad Keselowski was among NASCAR insiders instrumental in making changes they feel will increase excitement. In the end, though it is just more gimmickry to keep a night race on a mile-and-a-half track interesting. The key will be if someone can push from the back to the front in 13 laps. The reality is the two cars who restart side-by-side at the front of the field will battle for the lead for a lap; then, clean air will allow whomever is up front to drive away for the win.
Bruton and Marcus Smith have made it clear they are interested in purchasing the Carolina Panthers. Jerry Richardson mentioned last week he has an exit strategy that involves selling the team in the near future. The Smith family has made it clear they would like to be included in those discussions when the team goes up for sale. Those of you that don’t think an NFL game at Bristol Motor Speedway is already on the drawing board are in denial.
The convoluted financial situation surrounding Rockingham Speedway was clouded a little bit more on Saturday when Billy Silas bid $3 million for the property. Silas owns the note that is currently outstanding on the land and was also part of the initial purchase of the speedway in 2008. There is a 10-day window open now where anyone can bid over Silas’ current bid for the speedway. At this point, there is no word on what Silas’ intentions are for the track should he be the winning bidder for this historic landmark.
2017 NASCAR schedules were released this week and no new racetracks were included… to no one’s surprise. Fans desire to have the second round of the Chase finish somewhere besides Talladega were fulfilled as it was moved to the second race of the round. Texas Motor Speedway’s spring race is moving to the daytime on Sunday, hoping to capitalize on the success Richmond International Raceway achieved with the same switch in 2016.
Unfortunately, the Truck Series continues to kill any hope of gaining momentum at the beginning of the year with one race during the two months between its race date in Atlanta and Kansas. There is simply no reason for a national touring series to not hold a race for five consecutive weeks during its season.
With the repave of Watkins Glen, the discussion has come up again about running its infamous “Boot” for NASCAR competition. Track President Michael Printup said the race would have to be reduced by 30 laps since the Boot would add a mile to the length of a lap. There is no reason for that other than the race is set at some arbitrary distance. With the ability of Cup level drivers to run road courses at an all-time high, have them run the boot and run the race for 100 laps. The short length of road course races is ridiculous and unnecessary.
Who is mad – Truex and his No. 78 team shot themselves in the foot again. It seems like Truex is one of the most snakebitten drivers in the series and a lug nut behind the wheel during a late-race pit stop snatched defeat from the jaws of victory again. Eventually, you would think luck would turn around for Truex, but Lloyd Ruby never won the Indianapolis 500 even though he was one of the best drivers of his time.
Joey Logano was a strong contender on Saturday and led twice for three laps. He was near the front as the laps were winding down but was caught up in the final caution of the night when Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski went around pushing hard to get back to the front of the pack. Logano tried his best Days of Thunder move as he attempted to drive through the smoke when Hamlin went up the track. Unfortunately, Hamlin’s car was still spinning wildly when Logano got there. The No. 22 car was totaled and his night ended prematurely.
Kyle Larson was battling for the lead on the penultimate restart of the race and was running the rim when Hamlin and Keselowski spun in turn 3. While Larson’s car was able to roll back to the pits, it was ultimately retired and scored 35th in the race. Larson continues to struggle to recapture the magic from his rookie season. He’s beginning to show signs of having the speed to win a race but the time to shake off the bad luck is now. He remains on the outside of the Chase looking in through 11 races.
Who is happy – Ryan Blaney has a fourth-place finish in his short career, but it came at Talladega during a restrictor plate race. It is my belief that most anyone can luck into a top 5 during a plate race at some point. This weekend, Blaney came home in the fifth spot for the best non-plate finish of his young career. Blaney’s dad Dave was in a bad crash at Eldora in an outlaw sprint car but appears to be OK so it wound up a good weekend for the family altogether.
Matt Kenseth is a former champ who has led the series in wins in the past. He’s been in fast cars this season, but horrible luck prevented him from getting deserving finishes. Saturday night he led laps, bringing his total for the year to 350, which is among Sprint Cup’s best. This time, he was able to cash in and finished fourth for his first top 5 of 2016. Kenseth’s hung his hat on the fact that he’s been fast and it was just a matter of time before things turned around. Saturday may have been the first step in that direction.
Austin Dillon continues to knock on the door of his first Sprint Cup win. After a couple of tough races at Bristol and Richmond he had his strong run at Talladega last week and followed it up with a sixth-place run this weekend. Mile-and-a-half tracks have always been Dillon’s strong suit. The heavy numbers of intermediate tracks over the remainder of the schedule should bode well for Dillon to put his infamous No. 3 back in Victory Lane.
When the checkered flag flew…
- Kyle Busch scored his 37th career Cup series race in his 401st career start.
- Saturday night was Busch’s first victory of his career at Kansas Speedway. He has won on 21 of the 23 tracks currently on the Cup schedule. Pocono and Charlotte are the only tracks where Busch has failed to secure a trophy in his career.
- The win is Busch’s third of 2016.
- Busch is now tied with Bobby Isaac for 20th on all-time wins list.
- Kevin Harvick finished second at Kansas for his fourth career top-2 run at the track.
- Harvick now has 46 career runner-up finishes which ties him with Jimmie Johnson for 11th on the all-time second place list.
- Kansas was Harvick’s third top-2 result of 2016.
- Kurt Busch crossed the line in third place Saturday night. It was his second podium finish of 2016.
- Busch’s third place was his second career top 3 at Kansas.
- Busch has 78 podium finishes in his career. That puts him in 31st on the all-time top 3 list.
- Ryan Blaney was the Rookie of the Race thanks to his fifth-place finish.
Kyle Busch was already locked into the Chase thanks to two prior wins. Busch, Johnson, Carl Edwards and Keselowski are all locked in assuming they attempt the remaining 15 races before the Chase cutoff. Assuming there are not more than 16 race winners before the Chase, Hamlin and Harvick will also be locked in thanks to their 2016 victories. Those drivers without wins who would qualify for the Chase based on points are listed below with their current position in the standings:
- Kurt Busch
- Joey Logano
- Austin Dillon
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
- Martin Truex, Jr.
- Chase Elliott
- Jamie McMurray
- Matt Kenseth
- AJ Allmendinger
- Ryan Blaney
What is in the cooler – The low downforce package has brought some great racing so far this season. Much of it has been tied to tires falling off and drivers having more of their fate in their own hands instead of aerodynamicists. Unfortunately, the racing surface is too smooth so the tire that Goodyear brought was not as quick to fall off. The result was a pre-2016-esque parade with only one on-track pass for the lead, a true snoozer. It gets one lukewarm French Cider from Cinder Block Brewery.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The series heads to the first state for next weekend’s racing activity and the 1-mile cement oval of Dover International Speedway. The race coverage will begin on Fox Sports 1 at 1 p.m. Sunday, May 15. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.