Enterprise: Race in and get the same deals drivers and teams use
NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2020 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

What happened?

Joey Logano won the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday (Oct. 18) to clinch the first spot in the Championship 4. 

Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five finishers.

How did it happen?

Pole-sitter Chase Elliott pushed ahead of the field and led the first 25 laps until the competition caution. Early on, the racing was fierce. The No. 9 couldn’t pull away as Logano, Harvick and Kurt Busch battled closely for second.

On the ensuing restart, Harvick shoved Elliott to the lead before getting around him and leading for a stretch. Slowly but surely, Elliott ran him back down and regained the top spot. He captured stage one while struggling with radio issues and being unable to hear crew chief Alan Gustafson for most of the day.

Denny Hamlin took the lead on pit road under the stage one caution. He and Ryan Blaney separated themselves from the field on the next green flag run, which lasted until an incident involving Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

With just over 10 laps to go in stage two, there was a mixed strategy coming to pit road. Elliott pitted for two tires after he couldn’t hear Gustafson’s request to stay out. Harvick also hit pit lane, while most other leaders kept their cars on track.

One of those cars was the No. 11 Toyota. After the final restart of the stage, Hamlin held off a hard-charging Harvick for his 10th stage win of the year.

This time on pit road, everyone came except Kyle Busch. Everyone took four tires, too, except Logano and Aric Almirola. Almirola quickly dropped back on the restart, but Logano was able to maintain second after Harvick got by.

Stuck back in some traffic, Hamlin kissed the wall and pitted due to a right rear tire problem, putting him a lap down.

Logano and Kyle Busch stayed in the top five for the entire run when Kurt Busch lost power and blew an engine after running inside the top 10 all day. This caution allowed Hamlin to take the wave around and get back on the lead lap.

Harvick pulled away on the restart, but the run was short-lived after Tyler Reddick hit the wall. This caution allowed Hamlin to stay on the lead lap and gain a ton of track position.

Logano then passed Harvick on pit road, regaining control of the restart. He would wind up leading the final 42 laps of the race.

The No. 4 made numerous charges; he just couldn’t get next to Logano at any moment. Every time Harvick closed to the rear bumper, clean air made the difference and caused the No. 22 to pull away.

The victory was Logano’s third of the season (first since Phoenix Raceway in March) and 26th of his career. The Championship 4 appearance marks the fourth of his career (2014, 2016, 2018) as the even-numbered year run continues.

Who stood out?

Did Logano have the best car Sunday? Absolutely not. He didn’t even have a top-five car. Still, crew chief Paul Wolfe made the call to put him out front and Logano delivered once he got there. Until then, the No. 22 team finished outside the top 10 in stage two and appeared to be in trouble points-wise until a two-tire call sent them to the lead. The race package is certainly flawed (I’ll get to that later) but it was impressive to hold off Harvick for so long.

Now, after not winning since before the pandemic, Logano can start preparing for Phoenix, the site of his last win prior to Kansas. Perhaps it’s better for the rest of the playoff contenders that Logano won’t enter Martinsville Speedway needing a victory, as we know what he’s willing to do in that situation.

Harvick is still pretty safe on points, and he had the best car at Kansas. Instead of moving Logano out of the way, he played it clean and kept himself on Logano’s good side. It was a long-term play for Harvick, who is clearly thinking about the big picture. Coming down to it at Phoenix, none of the championship drivers will give each other anything. Still, he’s better off not having Logano mad at him.

Next week, Harvick heads to Texas Motor Speedway, where the No. 4 team has won the last three fall races. If he has the speed he had at Kansas next weekend, we’ll probably be looking at Harvick as the second driver locked into the Championship 4.

OK, it’s kind of boring to pick the top three finishers for this category. I could easily go with Keselowski or Elliott, but I just have to highlight Bowman. Left for dead by many after a slow summer, the No. 88 has been one of the most consistent teams in the playoffs. Bowman’s worst finish is 16th and he has five top 10s in seven races.

Long-term, Kansas is a huge run for Bowman’s career. He now has a career-high 13 top 10s on the year and has a legitimate shot to make the Championship 4. Signing just a one-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports means he’s racing for his life again next season and with a move to the storied No. 48, Bowman has to perform. If this playoff run is any indication, that won’t be a problem and he’ll be sticking around for a long time.

Who fell flat?

Kurt Busch looked strong for most of the day until a faulty engine literally sent his day up in smoke. Entering the Round of 8, Busch already faced a must-win situation. With fewer playoff points than any other driver, the No. 1 team had to be flawless to make the Championship 4 on points.

Going forward, Busch has to win. Plain and simple. He mentioned before the round that Kansas and Texas were his two best chances. If Busch can’t get it done next weekend, the elimination race at Martinsville will be a struggle, as he hasn’t won there since 2014 and has just three top 10s in his last 12 starts.

GABLE: Chip Ganassi Racing Wasting 2020 Potential?

The only other playoff driver to finish outside the top 10 was Hamlin, and he now has to be a little concerned. We’ve covered it nearly every week – Hamlin just hasn’t been himself during these playoffs. Just two top 10s in seven races marks his worst seven-race stretch of 2020.

Hamlin is still 20 points to the good, but another winner below the cutline like Logano could spoil his career year before Phoenix. Elliott, Bowman and Martin Truex Jr. have all shown they are capable of winning and their speed has to scare Hamlin.

Lost in the shuffle of Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer’s last season is Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, a legend in his own right, has struggled mightily since getting the call to run the No. 42. Sunday was no different, as his wreck subjected him to a 40th-place finish.

It’s a shame Kenseth won’t get the type of goodbye he deserves. He was booted from Joe Gibbs Racing before he wanted to retire, then his short second stint with Roush Fenway Racing was under-the-radar. Now, he’ll exit Chip Ganassi Racing for Ross Chastain and likely won’t be given another chance.

What did this race prove?

NASCAR, please get rid of the massive spoilers. For the better part of 40 laps, we watched a car that dominated most of the race in second place, unable to pass a car that was around 10th all afternoon. Not only that – he couldn’t even get to his door! Of course, some of the credit has to go to Logano. He did a masterful job of blocking and didn’t make a single mistake.

It’s just tough to see better cars that can’t make a pass simply because the air won’t allow them to. Does this package create closer racing? For sure – no car really pulls away at 1.5-mile tracks anymore. But does closer always equal better? Definitely not. Kansas proved that. There was no instance where Harvick even had a chance to get by Logano, and that’s the problem.

The regular season matters… a lot. So much of this playoff system seems random. Winning a single race can put you into the next round even if you finish 40th in the other two races. None of what you did during the regular season matters if you win a playoff race.

That said, Kansas showed why the regular season still has so much importance. Look at Hamlin. With his playoff points, he’d be on the outside looking in after a 15th-place finish. On the flip side, Kurt Busch had a series-low playoff points and now must win after one bad race. As much as certain moments in the regular season don’t seem important, they all add up. The potential five playoff points Hamlin lost when he wrecked from the lead late at the Brickyard? That could be the death of his chances. Every moment matters.

Nearly every week, we see a driver forced to the rear after his car fails pre-race inspection multiple times. And nearly every week, that driver is back in the mix midway through the first stage. Starting at the rear is such a minor inconvenience – it’s time to impose a stricter penalty for repeat offenders

This week, it was Truex racing to the front after starting in the back. He weaved through traffic with ease and was in 12th by the lap 25 competition caution. The four Joe Gibbs Racing machines now have a combined 17 instances where they dropped to the rear due to a pre-race issue. Hamlin has six, Busch has four, Jones has four and Truex has three, per FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass.

When a single team surpasses three failures in a season, it has to come with a points penalty. Starting at the back just isn’t enough when it happens so frequently.

Paint scheme of the weekend

In the final race at his home track in Kansas, Clint Bowyer ran a car that just screamed “Kansas.” The Dekalb logo with an ear of corn was perfect. The yellow wing across the side of the car was clean. Bowyer might not have gotten the win he wanted in his final race at the speedway, but at least his car looked good on the track.

Honorable mention to Kyle Busch’s Halloween M&M’s scheme, which never disappoints.

Better than last year?

Last year, Kansas was the Round of 12 cutoff race. Similar to 2020, there weren’t many incidents. Hamlin dominated most of the race, and a tight points battle for the final spot between Elliott and Keselowski was thrilling – especially late. There were three cautions in the final 15 laps, including double overtime, and Hamlin held on for the win.

Most of 2020’s edition was similar to 2019’s. There wasn’t a ton of passing, as the package simply doesn’t allow it unless someone makes a mistake. Track position was crucial, as Harvick noted after finishing second. Honestly, Sunday highlighted just how impossible it is to pass when the leader is a capable blocker. For 42 straight laps, we watched a better car that couldn’t win. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think for a second that Harvick would have a chance unless there was a caution. For those reasons, I’ll put last season’s race a notch above this one.

Playoff picture

After a season dominated by Harvick and Hamlin, who would’ve thought Logano would be the first to clinch a Championship 4 bid? Logano started the day fifth in points, so his win certainly shakes things up. The line is now closer for Harvick, Hamlin and Keselowski, while Elliott is on the outside looking in despite winning a stage and finishing sixth.

The only driver facing a must-win situation is Kurt Busch, though Bowman and Truex are nearing that point barring an incident involving one of the contenders.

Heading to Texas, expect to see a similar race to what we saw in the summer. Track position will be everything, and the race-winning two-tire call for the Richard Childress Racing duo of Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick will likely be replicated by a playoff driver or two.

What’s next?

It’s time for the final 1.5-mile track of the season (and the crowd goes wild!) The Cup Series heads to Texas next Sunday (Oct. 25) for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at 3:30 p.m. ET. With one position in the Championship 4 now locked up, the remaining seven drivers will fight for the final three spots. The elimination race at Martinsville is looming, so Texas is sure to have maximum intensity.

Share this article

13 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

Can’t say much good about that race. I didn’t want to see Harvick win, but the fact that he couldn’t pass just because of clean air mattering more than anything else, ruined the race for me. I hate that.

Tom B

Me too. They should fix that, but then we would complain that being 2nd, not the leader has the advantage.

janice

seems like hamlin is having his typical choke at the end of the season event. i’m sure the bubba/michael jordan stuff is a distraction.

have a feeling it will be between harvick and logano for championship. unless truex can pull off a miracle and win at either texas or martisville.

John the Baptist

“What did this race prove?”

That this venue should be eliminated from the schedule altogether. Corn, soybeans, wheat, or canola should be its future.

Carl D.

I agree with the consensus here… it’s all about track positions and restarts. Drivers fight hard for the lead on restarts because that’s where the wins come from. That’s not good for the sport.

Joe D.

I’d put Bowman and Truex in the “must win” category already – look at Bowman – yesterday he had two decent stages and finished third and still lost 9 points to the cut line. Good finishes in the next two races alone probably won’t be enough.

Bill B

He said the exact same thing in his post race interview. I am OK with that. The guys that didn’t win a bunch of races like Harvick and Hamlin did, should have to win a clutch race to get a chance in the final championship race. Under the old system he’d have known he was out of the championship in August (and rightly so when compared to Harvick and Hamlin) so he should need to walk on water at some point to be champion.

DoninAjax

J-Jo believes he can.

Bill B

Not any more with that winless streak getting ever longer.

U64387

Either ditch the the aero-sensitive tracks, or ditch the aero package on the cars. Or, at least alter them so they don’t rely so much on “clean air”…

Tom B

Its one thing or another. We will never be happy unless our guy wins every race.

Bill B

I don’t have “a guy”. But I will know a good 1.5 mile race when I see it, just like I will know a unicorn when I see one.

DoninAjax

You’ll see the unicorn first!

Frontstretch