Following Chase Elliott‘s fourth straight road course victory, NASCAR heads west to Kansas. The third round of the NASCAR playoffs kicks off at Kansas Speedway with the Hollywood Casino 400. Let’s jump into this week’s preview, as championship weekend is only four weeks away.
Then there were eight. Post-Roval, the playoff field has been shaved off by four once again. This time, two-time Cup Champion Kyle Busch was part of the refuse, all but sealing an improbable season for the No. 18 team. Joining him on the outside looking in are Texas winner Austin Dillon and SHR teammates, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer.
With the field reset, Kevin Harvick sits atop the field of eight with 4,067 points. Trailing by 13 is Kansas winner Denny Hamlin, sitting 27 points to the good. In third is Brad Keselowski, 8 points above the cutoff, while Chase Elliott holds the final transfer spot, 40 points behind Harvick. The rest of the playoff field goes Joey Logano (-5), Martin Truex Jr. (-10), Alex Bowman (-18) and Kurt Busch (-21).
As the playoff field shrinks, so the gap increases between making and missing the final round in Phoenix. However, with a win this weekend, we could see one of our eight playoff drivers lock their spot into the final four in the desert. While this round has no high-variance tracks like Talladega or Roval, if business isn’t settled at Kansas, that only leaves them Texas and Martinsville to either win or make their way in via points.
It’s Been a While
Thanks to the COVID-19 schedule shakeup, sans Las Vegas, it’s been a while since we’ve seen another intermediate oval. If you’re like me and don’t count Darlington (it’s own unique beast) or Michigan (superspeedway), then the last time we raced at an intermediate oval was 13 races ago at Kansas, which in of itself is funny because that Thursday night race marked the third straight race at a 1.5-mile long oval.
So, when looking for corollary races, we really don’t have anything recent to look back on. You very well could look at that odd Las Vegas race, won by Kurt Busch, but there will be stark temperature differences, as in Sunday’s projected high looks to peg out at 57 with clouds. Meanwhile, that Vegas race was nearly 50 degrees warmer with full sun.
Yes, temperatures can make a big difference in race conditions and driver performance. For example, drivers should see a substantial increase in grip versus that Vegas race thanks to the drop in temperatures and clouds.
Las Vegas in February
As I look upon this 2020 NASCAR schedule it’s hard to find an intermediate oval race with any sort of similar conditions. Both Kentucky and Texas were run under hot temperatures. Homestead ended up becoming a night race after the multi-hour rain delay. Atlanta was a warmer race, plus you can’t compare Atlanta and Kansas when considering tire wear. Both Charlotte races started in the late afternoon and finished under the moonlight.
That leaves us with the first Las Vegas race way back in February. However, while the temperatures sort of line up, we have the factor of practice impacting how cars were set up that day. Of course, this weekend will see teams continue to attempt to do their best at the shops. If they get it wrong, then they practically spend the first segment as an impromptu practice session fixing those errors.
That all being said, I will glean something from Vegas, and that’s driver performance. The race ended rather oddly thanks to pit strategies, as your top six were Joey Logano, Matt DiBenedetto, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson and Bubba Wallace. That top six was in no way representative of how the actual race panned out. Go back and check who was running where at the stage breaks. It flips your understanding of how this race finished if you just box score hunt.
It’s Good to be the Pole Sitter
The stone unturned yet is prior Kansas races themselves. If you jump to the Race Sheets “Laps Led Data” tab you’ll see a very compelling case for the pole sitter. In fact, if you add the spring night and fall day races together, we saw seven straight races since 2016 where the driver starting first either led the most or second-most laps. 2015 was the anomalous year where the pole sitter struggled to either led just 28 or 29 laps. However, if you go beyond that year to races in 2014 and 2013, then we see the pole sitter back in the top two lap leaders once again.
|Race||Starting Position||Final Position||Place differential||Total Laps Led||Fastest Laps|
So what’s been the issue in the past 2 Kansas races? Last year in this race, Daniel Hemric won the pole while David Ragan started second. That is not your typical front row by any means. Hemric led a grand total of four laps before fading through the field and finishing 23rd. In case you forgot, 2019 was the year Childress decided trimming out his cars for qualifying was more important than what happened in the actual race. The 2020 spring Kansas race saw Kevin Harvick on the pole — oddly the one place we continue to not want Harvick starting.
NASCAR DFS Lineup Construction
Solving the pole sitter question is perhaps the most important part of your DraftKings and FanDuel lineups. After that, it’s a matter of what to do with dominators in a 267-lap race.
Above is a visual of how the laps led have broken down in every Kansas race since 2013. Save for the spring race of this year, this has consistently been a two-dominator race at the minimum. We have at least eight races where a third driver led at least 10% of the race. However, that laps led number averages out at just 45. Therefore, depending on salaries, that third dominator could price themselves in our out of the optimal lineup.
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