Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
From the “where did he come from?” department—Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon put together another strong finish, and he was certainly quiet about it. Dillon wasn’t talked about much during a race that was dominated by the Joe Gibbs Racing group and affiliate Furniture Row Racing, and included Tony Stewart leading some laps, but he was in the hunt when it counted: at the end. Dillon finished sixth Sunday, and his sixth top 10 of 2016 is already a career best for an entire season, just 11 races in. Dillon has come on strong as RCR has shown real improvement this season (Ryan Newman and satellite driver AJ Allmendinger also finished in the top 10 in RCR equipment) and for the first time, the third-year driver is looking like a contender to win at the Cup level.
What… is the takeaway from this race?
At the end of the night, one thing was clear: at a track with far too little tire wear, clean air still matters too much up front. Nobody was able to contend with a lead car for most of the night once that driver got in front of the pack. Goodyear needs to develop a tire that will wear out at a newly-paved track at night…a fairly tall order, but tires have to play a bigger factor than they did on Saturday for the racing to be as good as it has been at tracks where the skins did wear out well before the end of a fuel run.
Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Martin Truex, Jr. absolutely dominated the weekend until a pit road issue with 55 laps to go when something caught in the wheel well, which didn’t allow the team to get the right front wheel on tightly during a critical stop. Truex was rightfully heartbroken after finishing 14th—he should have won and won handily, but he was right about one thing: if his team can bring cars with the speed this one had every week, the wins (yes, that’s plural) won’t be far off.
Jimmie Johnson had a good car but was never a contender, and a speeding penalty on the last caution of the night sealed his fate in 17th place. Johnson has been the driver to beat on tracks where the low-downforce cars and tire wear combine to make a slick, difficult racing surface that puts the race in his hands, but when it comes down to the car as it did Saturday, Joe Gibbs Racing clearly has a leg up on the competition, including the once-dominant Hendrick Motorsports.
When… did it all go sideways?
Night races on intermediate tracks aren’t going to produce the excitement of a short track or a restrictor-plate superspeedway, but Saturday’s race featured some very heated action in the pack, thought most of the time, drivers were able to keep the wheels pointed in the right direction.
However, late in the race, with things heating up at the front of the pack, Denny Hamlin tried a bold three-wide move and it didn’t work. Hamlin jumped in the middle of a battle between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson, triggering a multi-car crash.
“I was going for it,” Hamlin said afterward.
Hamlin pinned Keselowski low, taking the air of the No. 2 car, which went around, and then couldn’t hang onto his own No. 11 in the side draft from Larson’s machine. Joey Logano was also collected in the accident. Only Keselowski was able to recover from the incident. There was nothing wrong with Hamlin’s move, though in retrospect, he’d have been better off backing out in the center of three-wide, but it was perhaps unnecessary.
Why… did Kyle Busch win the race?
Let’s be honest here. As good as Busch has been in defense of his 2015 title so far this year, he won Saturday night because Martin Truex, Jr. had a wheel issue late enough in the race that he didn’t have time to get back through the field to the front. Still, Busch did the one thing every race winner has to do—he had his car in position to capitalize when Truex’s problems arose, and from there, he cruised to his third win of the year. There is no such thing in racing as an undeserved race win, and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Saturday was one of those nights.
How… did the little guys do?
The three best:
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing: In their first-ever trip to Kansas in the spring, the No. 21 team put up their best finish at the track in more than a decade (Ricky Rudd finished second driving for the Woods in 2004). While they do have a technical alliance with Team Penske, they are racing on a much smaller budget, and there are no guarantees that another driver’s setup will work for Blaney. Apparently, the information they got from Penske, and from Blaney from practice and qualifying, was pretty good—it landed Blaney in the top 5 and with Rookie of the Race honors.
AJ Allmendinger, JTG Daugherty Racing: While the No. 21 team is getting more headlines this season, the No. 47 bunch is quietly becoming a top-10 threat at just about every track the Cup Series visits, and is well in the hunt for a Chase berth on points. It’s a little early to peg them as the next Furniture Row Racing, as they’re not quite threatening to win just yet, but they’re getting there. Nobody would be surprised to see Allmendinger grab a win on a road course this season, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to see him win on an oval, either.
Clint Bowyer, HScott Motorsports: Bowyer was once again vocally upset with his team’s lack of performance on Saturday night, and while he’s never been in a small-team situation before, the team had a decent run at Kansas, all things considered. Justin Allgaier, who drove the car last season, had just 10 top-20 results in 2015.
Teammate Michael Annett is struggling so hard this season that he’s unlikely to be of much help to the No. 15 group. It seems as though the team would have benefited much more from keeping Allgaier in one seat and putting Bowyer in the other, but the sponsor money Annett brings from Pilot Flying J is also vital to the team. While Bowyer has every reason to be frustrated considering the top equipment he’s enjoyed previously, a top 20 is a good finish for this team right now on an intermediate track.
All the rest:
|No.||Driver||Team||Car||Start||Finish / Notes||+/-||Points Position|
|21||Ryan Blaney||Wood Brothers Racing||Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford||7th||5th
Had a top-10 car all night, avoided trouble and brought home another strong finish
|47||AJ Allmendinger||JTG Daugherty Racing||Scott Products Chevy||29th||8th
Brushed the wall midrace but another top-10 effort.
|15||Clint Bowyer||HScott Motorsports||5-hour Energy Chevy||33rd||19th
Team continues to struggle hard at intermediate tracks; Bowyer vocal on the radio, but a top 20 is a decent effort for this team
|13||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||GEICO Chevy||31st||21st
Made a lot of gains during race; still not getting the finishes they should
|7||Regan Smith||Tommy Baldwin Racing||APC Chevy||32nd||23rd
Racing the Nos. 10 and 13 for position at the end-that’s a solid effort from this team
|34||Chris Buescher||Front Row Motorsports||Dockside Logistics Ford||25th||24th
Good qualifying effort; outran two RFR cars
|95||Michael McDowell||Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing||WRL General Contractors Ford||30th||28th
Asked for team to loosen car up on long runs; made gains during the race
|23||David Ragan||BK Racing||Dr. Pepper Toyota||34th||29th
After 2015, top 30s are a start. Team needs to look at next step
|83||Matt DiBenedetto||BK Racing||Cosmo Motors Toyota||24th||30th
Very good qualifying effort
|38||Landon Cassill||Front Row Motorsports||MDS Transport Ford||35th||31st
Handling remained elusive all weekend despite team’s efforts
|46||Michael Annett||HScott Motorsports||Allstate Peterbilt Group Chevy||39th||32nd
Struggled to find a line that worked for him; gained several spots over start
|55||Reed Sorenson||Premium Motorsports||Chevy||40th||33rd
Team is still far off the pace, even among the small teams
|32||Joey Gase||GO FAS Racing||DieselScales.com / Spark Energy Ford||38th||34th
Gase brought sponsorship money but team’s struggles continue
|30||Josh Wise||The Motorsports Group||Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy||36th||36th
Suspension failure sent Wise to the garage early
|98||Cole Whitt||Premium Motorsports||Chevy||37th||39th
Had mechanical issues that hampered effort, but team still needs to improve drastically.