Who… gets the shoutout of the race?
Kyle Larson was held up in pre-qualifying inspection on Friday at Kansas Speedway and never made a qualifying lap, resulting in the Cup Series point leader starting the race shotgun on the field.
Proving that it’s not about where you start, but where you finish, Larson ended up finishing third in Stage 1 and second overall. The No. 42 car would have had a shot at winning, but ended up getting stuck behind Kyle Busch in Turn 2 of the overtime restart. Even if the race had gone green, it didn’t look likely Larson would have had the time to get around Martin Truex Jr., even with fresh tires.
“I lost quite a bit of track position, had to restart, I think, four or five rows behind Truex and Kyle Busch,” Larson said, as he leaves Kentucky with a one-point lead over Truex in the regular season standings. “So if I could have restarted a row or two behind them, maybe I could have been aggressive on the restart and made some things happen to get in front of him and kind of try and set the pace, but just judging off of lap times and stuff, I don’t think it would have been easy to hold him off.”
What… is my takeaway from this race?
Brad Keselowski, after wrecking on lap 88 in an accident, also involving Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer, spoke the truth that I think a lot of drivers have wanted to say for a while now, but haven’t in fear of being penalized by NASCAR. Here’s what the 2012 series champion said about the Gen 6 car that wasn’t in the interview he gave to NBCSN, as quoted by Ford PR:
“It is a poorly designed racecar and it makes racing on tracks like this very difficult to put on the show we want to put on for our fans. You do what you can to gauge and claw on the restarts and get everything you can get. You have to put yourself in bad situations to do that and that is where we were. If you don’t make those moves on the restarts, then you run in the back. Or you have a bad day… It is time for the sport to design a new car that is worthy of where this sport deserves to be and the show it deserves to put on for its fans.”
This news comes off the heels of an interview NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell gave on the NBC NASCAR podcast this week, discussing the changes that will be coming to the Gen 7, which will come out in the next “two-to-four years.” Most drivers, even those as outspoken as Keselowski, don’t typically criticize something as big to the sport as the Gen 6 in fear of being fined by NASCAR; Denny Hamlin was fined for calling the Gen 6 bad just a few races into the first season of it. Now that NASCAR itself has basically came out and called the Gen 6 obsolete, we’re going to see more criticism in the months to come.
The Gen 6 really isn’t that terrible of a car. The racing is great behind the leader most weeks. But because the TV broadcast focuses so much on the battle for the lead, we at home don’t see all the great battles happening around the race track. All NASCAR needs to do is make it easier to pass the leader by making the cars less aero dependent. Getting rid of the splitter and giving the teams back the horsepower NASCAR took away from them a couple of years ago would be a good first step in the Gen 7’s design.
Where… did the pole-sitter and defending race winner end up?
Kyle Busch led most of the first two stages, but was passed by Truex fairly late in both stages and finished second in both. Busch was running third when the final caution came out and went pitted for two left side, but couldn’t make the car stick on the ensuring restart. Busch finished fifth after restarting second.
Brad Keselowski finished out of the top 10 in Stage 1, then in the opening laps of Stage 2, was involved in the aforementioned multi-car accident that ruined his day. Keselowski finished 39th after winning three of the last five at Kentucky.
Why… did Martin Truex Jr. win?
If Busch and Erik Jones hadn’t held up Larson and Chase Elliott on that last restart, it’s very likely Truex would have been blown away by one of the two. And honestly, the right car won the race; Truex was fast and dominant all night long, and will be the favorite heading into the playoffs. Truex already has 28 playoff points that he’ll carry all the way to Phoenix, presuming he makes it through the first two rounds of the playoffs. At the rate he’s winning stages and races, it’s very possible he crosses the full race barrier (40 points), especially if he gets the bonus 15 points for leading the points after Richmond.
Where… will “Bubba” end up?
One driver that’s looking for a ride for this season and beyond is Darrell Wallace Jr. The former Roush Fenway Racing XFINITY Series driver got his first taste of Cup Series racing over the past month, and has performed admirably well in the No. 43 Ford. But now, with regular driver Aric Almirola testing at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week and coming back to the car at any moment now, it’s looking like Wallace will have to go back on the free agent market.
Wallace finished 11th at Kentucky, his best finish in four starts for Richard Petty Motorsports. The young driver was well on his way to making the XFINITY Series playoffs before the No. 6 team shut down due to a lack of sponsorship, which seems to be Wallace’s biggest problem right now.
When… does silly season start?
Matt Kenseth confirmed on Friday that he would probably not be returning to the No. 20 Toyota next season for Joe Gibbs Racing, making an already interesting silly season even crazier with the addition of a former Cup champion on the market. Kenseth finished 17th in the race and currently sits 11th in point standings, seven points above Joey Logano for the final playoff position. Jones, who many presume will replace Kenseth in the No. 20 car, finished sixth and is currently 52 points behind the playoff bubble.
Meanwhile, Kasey Kahne continues to struggle, getting in a wreck early in Stage 2, finishing 38th overall. A season Kahne was supposed to come back and improve after two down seasons has instead seen the opposite occur. Kahne’s average finish of 20.3 is his worst in a season since 2007, and unless he wins, he isn’t anywhere close to making the playoffs. It’s starting to look like Hendrick Motorsports might have two rides open next season, unless Kahne dramatically improves in the second half of the season.