Sing a song about the heartland because the NASCAR convoy is rolling into Kansas.
This week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400. It’s the 31st race of the season, fifth of the Chase and second of the Contender Round. The motto for this weekend is simple: Win this weekend, or race for your life at Talladega.
Kansas Speedway is a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) intermediate track located in Kansas City, Kan. It’s played host to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 2001. I recently re-watched that 2001 race and I forgot that it was a wreck fest. That first race had 13 caution flags for 70 laps (26.2 percent of the race), 19 lead changes among 11 different drivers, lasted three hours, 37 minutes and 19 seconds, an average speed of 110.576 mph and was won by one Jeffrey Michael Gordon – that is his middle name – on his way to his fourth Sprint Cup Series championship. It was also his last win for the next 31 races.
When NASCAR returned in 2002, it was just as much a wreck fest. There were 11 cautions for 52 laps (19.5 percent of the race), 13 lead changes among 10 different drivers, lasted three hours, 21 minutes and 16 seconds, an average speed of 119.394 mph and was won again by Jeff Gordon. This race stands out for two reasons: Sterling Marlin’s wreck on the backstretch that broke his neck and ended his time as a top level NASCAR driver and Jimmie Johnson became the first ever rookie to lead the Sprint Cup Series points.
Despite 19 races, Kansas hasn’t had that “marquee” moment that defines it or gives the track a personality. When you think of Daytona, you think speed, packs, carnage and glory. When you think of Bristol, you think small, fast and action-packed. When you think of Darlington, you think tradition, old school and black marks. But Kansas just doesn’t have the defining trait that makes it stand out. It’s basically just another track on the schedule.
However, I could argue that Kansas is close to being a track for carnage and mayhem. Since the in-season repave in 2012, the number of cautions we see in a race jumped into the double-digit average. In the last six races at Kansas, we’ve had 14, eight, 15, eight, eight and nine cautions for an average of 10.3 cautions per race. Of those 62 cautions, 51 have been for wrecks. The first caution of the race flies on average at lap 28. The earliest the first caution has come out in those six races has been on the second lap in the Chase race in 2013. The latest the first caution has flown has been on lap 72 in last year’s Chase race. The final caution flies on average with 35 laps to go. The furthest from the final lap the last green flag flew was with 64 laps to go in May of 2014. The closest to the final lap the last green flag flew was with six laps to go this past May.
It’s also worth noting that there’s only been one green-white-checker finish at Kansas Speedway.
As I mentioned in my piece on why the Contender Round favored Jeff Gordon, his top-10 average is his eighth best of any track and his top-five average is his third best. He finished fourth here back in May and I think Jeff Gordon could battle for the win this Sunday. Being at the bottom of the Chase grid, I could expect to see Matt Kenseth throwing caution to the wind and racing up front. I can’t discount Kevin Harvick. Hell, it would be wise for defending race winner Joey Logano to win this race to force his rivals to race for their lives next week at Talladega.
So who will win and not have to worry about Talladega? Find out this Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on NBC. You can also hear the radio broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.
Joe Moore, Jeff Striegle and Rusty Wallace will work the booth. Dave Moody will work Turns 1 and 2 from a billboard outside Turn 2. Mike Bagley will work turns 3 and 4 from a billboard outside Turn 3. Alex Hayden, Winston Kelley and Steve Post will work pit road.
*Lineup is always subject to change.