Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After The 2017 Hollywood Casino 400

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Chris Buescher hasn’t had a memorable season. The second-year driver followed up a surprise victory at Pocono Raceway and playoff berth last year with a 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season that has seen just three top-10 finishes and a 25th-place position in points entering this weekend.

Buescher went out on Sunday at Kansas Speedway and matched his best finish of the season, placing sixth after coming on strong in the closing laps following a huge accident on lap 199 that depleted the field.

After the race, Buescher emphasized just how close he was from being involved in the 14-car wreck.

“We were clean there all day,” Buescher said. “Made it through the big accident on the backstretch by a very small margin. I am going to say it was within inches, but you go back and look it was probably within several feet, but it felt close, it felt wild.”

One driver who gave Buescher props after the race was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished right behind him in seventh.

“Buescher had a great finish,” Earnhardt said. “I had seen him in practice fast all weekend, so, I think that was his best run all year, good to see.”

What… is the takeaway from this race?

What could very well turn out to be Matt Kenseth’s final shot at winning another championship will end because there was an extra pit crew member over the wall while the team was under the repair clock. NASCAR rules dictate that having more than six crew members over the wall in that situation is an automatic disqualification.

There are two things to take away from this incident. First and foremost, this rule seems a bit harsh. I’d rather have a rule where for every extra pit crew member who goes over the wall under the repair clock, the team is held on pit road for an extra lap if they repair the car in time.

For example, in this case, Kenseth had seven pit crew members over the wall instead of six, and so he’d be held an extra lap. This prevents teams from having 20 people over the wall under the repair clock without carrying what may be essentially a season-ending penalty.

That being said, NASCAR made the right call. The No. 20 team and crew chief Jason Ratcliff knew the rules, and they broke them. Rules are rules. To go back on them now or make a special case would lead to even more criticism than this outcome resulted in.

And so Kenseth will end his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing without a championship. What a season to go out on if it’s the 2003 champion’s final one. Kenseth seemed like the Toby Flenderson (from The Office) of NASCAR this season: an awkward 40-something-year-old working around a bunch of 20-somethings, plagued by bad luck and worse timing.

He could dominate a race, but something would happen and he’d end up being interviewed outside the infield care center 20 minutes later. How he entered the playoffs (Being the class of the field at Richmond before hitting an… ambulance? Really?) and the strange way he exited the playoffs encapsulated his season perfectly.

Where… did the defending race winner finish?

Kevin Harvick seemed to have the third best car on track today, falling a bit short of the Toyota’s of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.. When neither Busch nor Truex were up front at the start of Stage 2, Harvick was there to lead the field for 35 laps before being passed by Busch on the lap 198 restart. Harvick ended up eighth at the finish and advanced to the next round of the playoffs.

When… did it all go south for the four eliminated drivers?

In addition to Kenseth’s woes, just about every other playoff driver on the bubble had problems.

First, Kyle Larson blew an engine before the first stage could even end, seemingly eliminating him from the playoffs. Then, 100 laps later, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  blew a tire and practically ended his playoff hopes. On the following green flag run, Jimmie Johnson spun out but didn’t seem to occur much damage, if any, on the No. 48 car. Then, not a lap into the restart following the subsequent caution, Johnson spun again, but was able to beat the repair clock and make it out onto the racetrack.

On lap 198, everything changed. A 14-car accident took out longshot Jamie McMurray and Kenseth after Erik Jones over-corrected a loose racecar coming out of Turn 2 and hit the wall so hard the car went briefly airborne. All of the sudden, Larson had a chance to advance into the next round of the playoffs in spite of sitting on the sidelines. Alas for Larson, it was not the case; Jimmie Johnson did Jimmie Johnson things and recovered to finish 11th, ending the round of 12 with a nine-point cushion over Larson.

Why… did Martin Truex Jr. win?

The No. 78 team is really, really good at D-shaped mile-and-a-half racetracks. With this win, Truex has won every single Cup race this season held at the racetracks in Las Vegas, Kansas, Chicagoland, and Kentucky. Kentucky is a bit of an outlier, but the other three racetracks are very similar to each other. The bad news for Truex is that this was the final race of the season at those four racetracks. He should be fine to make it into the championship round thanks to a mountain of playoff points (69), but he’s going to need to perform at Homestead to win it all.

Busch is typically fast at Kansas, but often runs into trouble during the race. The final caution of the day happening almost right after he pitted was just another occurrence of this. He had to rally just to finish tenth and eliminated the only car capable of keeping up with the No. 78 from competing for a win.

Does… Dale Earnhardt Jr. have anything left in the tank?

Many assumed that Earnhardt’s last strong chance to win in his final season passed by him at Talladega Superspeedway last week, but never sleep on an Earnhardt. The No. 88 team backed up its seventh-place result last week with a seventh this week, his third top 10 finish in the last four races.

“I am just glad that we brought another good finish home,” Earnhardt said following his final Cup race at Kansas. “I think that is about where the car should have finished this weekend.”

The next three weeks will be interesting for the departing Earnhardt. Martinsville was the site of what may turn out to be his last win, and this race the No. 88 car will be using Buddy Baker’s famous “Grey Ghost” paint scheme as a salute to history. Texas was where Earnhardt’s first Cup victory occurred back in 2000 and the No. 88’s best non-restrictor plate track in recent years has been Phoenix, the penultimate race of the season.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share this article

3 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
kb

I cannot tell you my disappointment with Batty Matty out. It would have been glorious for him to make it to the final 4 without a win, and win the ONE RACE HOMESTEAD CUP! It would have brought the farce of the “Playoffs” full circle! I am now cheering for Clyde!

DoninAjax

I imagine Matt was on the radio saying “It’s that Logano again! Good thing it’s Martinsville next week.”

Now I kinda hope Matt wins a race since he’s eliminated from the “championship” farce.

kb

I am cheering for the lowest person on the stupid playoff totem pole. God, I hope one of them pulls off the HOMESTEAD CUP, one race win! A most excellent win, cue the cameras to Brian having a coronary with his no tie, disheveled drunk look. Priceless. I can dream, can’t I?

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com