Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2022 AdventHealth 400 at Kansas

What happened?

Kurt Busch tracked down and passed Kyle Larson in the closing laps of Sunday’s (May 15) AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway to capture his first win of 2022 and 23XI Racing’s second win as a team. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell completed the top five in third through fifth, respectively.

2022 now marks the ninth consecutive season Kurt Busch has earned at least one NASCAR Cup Series victory.

How did it happen?

Before taking the lead for the final time in the last nine laps of the 267-lap event, Kurt Busch had already led a race-high 107 circuits. There was little doubt he had the speed to win and even less doubt he had the ability.

However, when the final caution flew after possible fluid on the track on lap 230, the field came to pit road for one last pit stop cycle. The No. 45 Toyota boasting the Michael Jordan brand had a mostly infallible day up to that point, but when it came to the money stop, Kurt Busch not only lost the top spot to Larson but fell behind his younger brother Kyle Busch as well.

After the restart, it appeared Kansas would be the site of the latest issue of the Kyle vs. Kyle show – a common sight for NASCAR fans throughout the last decade – as Kyle Busch and Larson have been known for their late-race duels to decide the winner of many Cup races.

Yet as Larson began to distance himself from Kyle Busch, older brother Kurt came into the picture – or, more accurately, the rear-view mirror.

After slowly getting around his sibling, Kurt Busch began working on Larson, using the patience the 43-year-old has learned over decades of racing experience to begin chipping away at the lead, little-by-little. Eventually, he reached the rear bumper of the No. 5.

The No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota then raced the reigning champion hard in a side-by-side battle that left the rim-riding Larson scraping the wall and surrendering the lead. Kurt Busch went on to win the race, his 34th career Cup victory.

See also
Kurt Busch Takes Lead Late for Kansas Victory

Who stood out?

It may be its second win, but there was a first for 23XI at Kansas on Sunday. It was the first race both of its cars finished inside the top 10. Bubba Wallace rallied to a 10th-place result, his second of the year.

But it’s not that Wallace finished 10th, it’s that he ran 10th the whole day. Actually, he often ran higher.

It was the kind of race the new race team had been looking for since the green flag waved at Daytona International Speedway in February. It was clear both cars had speed, and the No. 23 ran in the top 10 often, but just as often failed to capitalize. Whether it was being collected in a crash or making a mistake on pit road, Wallace did not seem to be posting the results that matched his average running position.

After finishing seventh in stage one and 10th in stage two, it almost seemed like it was going to happen again.

Wallace suffered not one, but two pit penalties that were not of his own doing. One of them was an uncontrolled tire penalty on lap 198, incurred when he was running up in fifth.

Despite the adversity, Wallace still charged back to a top-10 result over the final 70 laps. Was this recovery, combined with Kurt Busch’s victory, the result of some newfound speed in the cars of 23XI?

Maybe. Or maybe it was the fact those Toyotas had some serious speed on Sunday across the board.

Just look at the four Joe Gibbs Racing cars.

Despite three of the four also experiencing pit road penalties at one point or another, all four JGR Toyotas rallied to each finish inside the top six. In fact, each Toyota in Sunday’s race at Kansas finished inside the top 10.

Whatever Toyota poured into their Kansas corn mix, they need to get more of it.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2022 AdventHealth 400

Who fell flat?

On top of everyone’s tires? Tyler Reddick. Oh, and his tires, too.

The 26-year-old hasn’t won his first Cup Series race yet. But on Sunday, he looked as though he was on another path to do it – or at least come close once again.

The Richard Childress Racing driver was running well inside the top five after starting the event second, finishing fourth in stage one, and leading 24 laps. Yet, on lap 116, mere moments after William Byron had his own tire failure while running in the lead, Reddick hit the wall.

The resulting damage flattened the Californian’s rubber and forced him to pit road for repairs.

It wasn’t enough to fix it completely, as Reddick’s car was never the same. Struggling throughout the day, he finished 30th, four laps down. It was far and away from what could’ve been a fifth top-five result of 2022 or perhaps, even better – a win.

What did this race prove?

Tire degradation is something we want to see in racing; that often leads to better competition and strategy calls. But there’s a point where it simply becomes too much.

See also
Tire Problems Plague Kansas Cup Weekend

On Sunday, it was getting close to those levels, and maybe it is time to address the issue.

As mentioned before, the Next Gen car has been having plenty of problems when it comes to its wheels. Whether they blow out easily, prevent somebody from driving away after a spin, or just completely fall off altogether, wheels and their dilemmas have been arguably the only negative effects of the transition to the Next Gen car.

Up to this point, most in the industry have been overlooking the downside as the tradeoff has been some competitive racing. But on Sunday, tire blowouts were common. Almost too common.

2008 Brickyard 400 common? It felt like it at times.

In all fairness, it certainly wasn’t that extreme, and it’s very unlikely any of these tracks will see tires perform so poorly that NASCAR will be forced to wave a caution every few laps as it did back then. But a predictable tire failure is not a healthy thing to see in any form of motor racing.

And it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon. Goodyear is pointing a finger at the teams, a strong indicator there won’t be any immediate revisions to their compounds.

Paint scheme of the race

It was teased earlier in the week Kurt Busch’s Toyota would feature the Jumpman brand synonymous with team co-owner and NBA Legend Michael Jordan. It was a long time coming to see the brand adorn one of the 23XI Racing cars. It’s yet another popular brand joining the world of NASCAR, albeit this time, it was sort of already here.

While grey and black are not particularly exciting colors to put on a race car, the design itself is not something that is common in the world of NASCAR. Instead, it looks more like something you’d see on, well, a shoe.

But the design itself is the sponsor, leaving all of that space NASCAR had so generously gifted at the beginning of the year behind the side panel numbers alone with nothing other than the camouflage-like pattern. Interesting.

Better than last time?

The last race at Kansas featured a staple race ending for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season – a Kyle Larson beatdown.

Furthermore, if it weren’t for Kurt Busch’s late race slug out with Young Money, Sunday would have probably ended the same. In fact, it was almost identical.

Similar to last October, the final caution flag waved with a little less than 40 laps to go, and again, like the series’ last visit to the Sunflower State, Larson almost rode his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet off into the sunset.

Of course, that didn’t happen this time. Instead, we got a wonderful battle between some of the best in the sport in the final laps of the race, and unlike last week, neither of them was wrecked, nobody called the other guy any naughty words, and no car co-owners have vowed revenge. Happy endings for all.

While the race for the win matters greatly when it comes to determining a race’s quality, one must also look at the quality of the racing overall. Thankfully, Kurt Busch’s pass on Larson was only a piece of the side-by-side racing we saw on Sunday.

There were 18 lead changes between 10 different drivers during the 400-miler. While that’s fewer lead changes than last year, it’s still an uptick in competition from October when there were 24 lead changes between eight drivers. In addition, the Next Gen car’s forward-handling style – and its blown tires – were on full display at Kansas, as there were six unscheduled cautions on Sunday. All of them were for spins – unless you don’t count Kevin Harvick‘s incident on lap 230. By comparison, there were four incident-related yellow flags in October.

Chalk it up as the Next Gen car if you wish – I know I do – but it seems as though the 1.5-mile intermediate tracks that NASCAR fans had been hem and hawing over for the last decade are seeing life return to its racing product. Kansas is no different.

But the ultimate test for NASCAR’s new vehicle lies next weekend. Can the Next Gen fix Texas?

What’s next?

NASCAR goes All-Star in the Lone Star.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the series’ annual All-Star Race. Cup qualifying for the All-Star Open begins on Saturday, May 21 at 7:35 p.m. ET with drivers who have already qualified for the All-Star Race making their qualifying runs at 7:55 p.m. The NASCAR All-Star Open will be televised live on FOX Sports 1 on Sunday, May 15 at 5:30 p.m. ET with the All-Star Race occurring later at 8 p.m. ET.

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: KANSAS

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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

5 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Bill B

What a messy race (not necessarily a bad thing). I do have to say that the whole tire/wheel/hub issues make me feel like the new single lug wheels have been a failure overall. Tire wear is good but the races have been plagued with failures to the point where they become detrimental to the overall quality of the races. Regardless of who or what is to blame something needs to change.

Congrats to Kurt Busch. Given his average of one win a year and the fact that he is likely to be in the booth in the next year or two, that might be his last win. Although, given the unpredictability of this season, anything is possible. Regardless, another playoff spot is taken. There must be a few drivers starting to sweat (Harvick, Truex, Blaney, etc,).

janice

when kurt got around larsen, i was cheering him one. a win for the old guys. i did get a nap in during the race. it was interesting watching them trying to get the tire/wheel off the 43.

Carl D.

I don’t know what you said about the #45 paint job before the race, Dalton, but I took one look at Kurt’s car during the pre-race and knew immediately it was the paint job of the race.

A very good race.

Last edited 1 month ago by Carl D.
johndawgchapman

You say, “that Goodyear is pointing a finger at the teams.” And while that’s true, I haven’t seen any statements from teams saying they were running the recommended pressures, & still had failures. This should have made believers of the crew chiefs.

It was refreshing to see two drivers racing each other as hard as they could, but doing it with respect. That was a class act, last win for Kurt he barely nosed out his brother. This time it was both Kyles. That’s some serious bragging rights.

DoninAjax

I wonder what would have happened if it was Hamlin racing Kurt at the end?

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

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