Kansas Speed­way is host as NASCAR’s Cup Se­ries en­ters first race in Round of 8

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY ALEX ANDREJEV aan­drejev@char­lot­teob­server.com Alexan­dra Andrejev: @An­drejevAlex

NASCAR’s Cup sea­son is down to eight driv­ers and four races, and a win Sun­day at Kansas Speed­way could be piv­otal for any of the re­main­ing play­off con­tenders. Twice in the past four sea­sons, the winner of the first race in the Round of 8 also won the cham­pi­onship race.

“I don’t think it’s a com­plete co­in­ci­dence,” Brad Ke­selowski said. “I think it’s a big ad­van­tage to win the first race in this semi­fi­nal round of the play­offs.”

The Hol­ly­wood Casino 400 (267 laps) starts at 2:30 p.m. Sun­day on NBC.

Ke­selowski said an early victory would give the team more time to pre­pare, re­lax and focus on a sin­gle car for the cham­pi­onship race at Phoenix. The No. 2 Penske driver is ranked in the top three in points (+13) head­ing to the 1.5-mile tri-oval be­hind Kevin Har­vick (+45) in first and Denny Ham­lin (+32) in se­cond.

Ke­selowski said that, based on Har­vick’s and Ham­lin’s points ad­van­tage, it feels like six driv­ers are com­pet­ing for two open Cham­pi­onship 4 slots.

Those six also in­clude Chase El­liott (+5), Joey Logano (-5), Martin Truex Jr. (-10), Alex Bow­man (-18) and Kurt Busch (-21). El­liott is start­ing on the pole with Logano also in the front row.

While Ke­selowski said he doesn’t think Ham­lin is com­pletely out of pointsreac­h for him, the +13 trans­lates roughly to a “two-stage cush­ion,” mean­ing he can only af­ford to place be­low the top 10 in two stages be­fore putting him­self in cut­off jeop­ardy.

“But I know 13 up is bet­ter than 13 down,” Ke­selowski said. “So I’m not com­plain­ing.”

He said his strategy for the Kansas City-based track is run­ning close to the wall, and the goal is to re­peat his first-place re­sult from ear­lier last sea­son rather than the 19th-place fin­ish he posted in the se­cond Kansas race last year.

Ke­selowski fin­ished se­cond at the track in July.

It was Ham­lin who won the past two races at Kansas and is look­ing to make it three. He said he was “ter­ri­fied” of the speed­way a few years ago, but broke that streak with a good-han­dling car.

“Once I cre­ate that good data­base for Chris (Gabehart) to work off of it seems like when we go back to tracks, he’s made the proper ad­just­ments for weather and con­di­tions and things like that, and car changes,” Ham­lin said.

Like Ke­selowski, Ham­lin noted the ben­e­fit of an early win this round.

“I know it’s an im­por­tant one for us,” Ham­lin said. “We could go the next two weeks and re­ally shift our focus from Texas and Martinsvil­le to putting all of our re­sources to­wards Phoenix …”

“And that cer­tainly would be a ben­e­fit for who­ever locks in right off the bat.”


There is another hur­dle looming over play­off driv­ers and a cham­pi­onship tro­phy this sea­son be­yond just their com­peti­tors.

With four races left, it’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to re­main healthy as COVID-19 cases and hos­pi­tal­iza­tions con­tinue to rise in North Carolina.

A pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus test has forced two Cup driv­ers, Jim­mie John­son and Austin Dil­lon, to miss one race each this sea­son, and as Ham­lin noted, “It could hap­pen to any­one.”

“You’ve gotta put your health first,” Ham­lin said. “But cer­tainly the stakes are higher at this part of the sea­son.”

Ham­lin said driv­ers need to be “ex­tra care­ful” at this time re­gard­ing ex­po­sure.

El­liott noted the dif­fi­culty in com­pletely avoid­ing the world, es­pe­cially with air travel re­quired for the up­com­ing races at Kansas and Texas.

“Be as safe and clean and san­i­tary as pos­si­ble,” El­liott said. “And from that per­spec­tive, I think that’s re­ally all I can do, and hope for the best.”

John­son told The Ob­server re­cently that he’d like to see a two-test re­quire­ment for both NASCAR’s pro­hi­bi­tion from com­pe­ti­tion for a pos­i­tive test the same way two neg­a­tive tests are re­quired to re­turn to rac­ing.

Ham­lin agreed that if test­ing pos­i­tive for the virus, he’d like to see con­sec­u­tive tests to en­sure ac­cu­racy be­cause, if forced to miss a race at this point in the sea­son, “It would be dev­as­tat­ing to say the least.”


Rrain is likely for the Sun­day af­ter­noon race with a 50 to 60 per­cent chance of pre­cip­i­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to Ac­cuWeather.com.

More than rain, though, the cold will be a new el­e­ment for the grid.

Tem­per­a­tures are ex­pected to reach a high of 47 de­grees, which would make it the coolest track this sea­son.


It wouldn’t be sur­pris­ing to see another Ham­linHar­vick bat­tle Sun­day.

Ham­lin has won the most re­cent races at Kansas, but Har­vick has the same number of all-time Cup wins at the track with three each, along with John­son.

Ham­lin starts sev­enth and Har­vick starts fourth Sun­day, and I’d sus­pect ei­ther driver will win at least one stage, if not the race.

JEFF SINER jsiner@char­lot­teob­server.com

NASCAR driver Denny Ham­lin leads driv­ers Chase El­liott, left, and Brad Ke­selowski, right, into Turn 7 dur­ing the Bank of Amer­ica Ro­val 400 at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way in Con­cord last Sun­day. El­liott won the race.

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