By Cole Cusumano
Often a byproduct of unfortunate scheduling, Kansas Speedway’s ascension as one of the most entertaining 1.5-mile tracks has silently been skyrocketing. Hot off the heels of its 20th anniversary, there’s good reason to believe the circuit could be in store for a weekend of thrills in the Sunflower State.
This season marks a decade since Kansas Speedway was last repaved. The widespread belief among teams across the sport is the 1.5-mile track is finally coming into its own and developing some much needed character.
“I think it’s just now getting optimal,” William Byron told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It’s amazing it takes that many years, but Kansas is just now becoming a really good character race track that is challenging for the drivers, for the crew chief to have the right set-up, changes throughout the race — all those things that you want in a race track that make the best teams rise to the top.”
While it’s doubtful we’ll see anymore “video game moves” like Carl Edwards attempted in 2008, the yellow-brick road to triumph is paved in uncertainty with nine different winners through 10 races, and race surface transformation.
NASCAR Cup Series
It seems like each passing week there are talks about Denny Hamlin “breaking out.” Coming off his first finish outside of the top-five in six races, there’s still no reason to doubt the No. 11 team’s ability to put their Toyota Camry in victory lane as one of the active winningest drivers in Kansas.
Hamlin has a pair of victories over the last two years at Kansas, but it’s been win or bust in that span. Although failing to place higher than 15th in races he wasn’t victorious, he’s also led a series-best 268 laps in this time.
It’s not often you hear of drivers, let alone teams turning things around after Talladega Superspeedway, but this could be the case for Stewart-Haas Racing. The organization had two cars finish inside the top-10 for the first time since November 2020, and even more shockingly, all four teams placed top-15 after going eight months without doing so.
Kevin Harvick is in a similar situation to Hamlin, where he’s one of the most consistent drivers, but hasn’t won yet. Tied for the most wins at Kansas with Hamlin and Joey Logano, this could be exactly what the 2020 titans need to catch fire this season.
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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
John Hunter Nemechek has been the class of the field all season for the Truck Series, and the weekly question becomes who can take him down? Both wins this year came accompanied with the statement the No. 4 will be the one to beat come November.
Nemechek was able to successfully hold off his team owner and one of the best in Truck Series history, Kyle Busch, for his pair of wins. The two-time Cup Champion will have a shot at redemption in Kansas running the No. 51 again, but this is another track that caters to the young driver, as his only NASCAR Xfinity Series win came here.
This season has been must-watch TV when Busch straps in his Tundra, due to the fact he’s been chasing his driver. It’s odd seeing him enter each week as the challenger, but it’s a breath of fresh air that makes for highly entertaining racing.
Busch won’t be the only Cup Series regular getting additional track time at Kansas. Chase Briscoe is slated to drive the No. 04 for Roper Racing after scoring his best career finish at Talladega (11th) in Cup. Ross Chastain will attempt to provide a spark for a struggling Niece Motorsports program in the No. 44 for the second time in 2021.
Finally, Jennifer Jo Cobb seeks retribution after being denied her Cup Series debut for Rick Ware Racing at Talladega. What better place than home for the 14-year Truck veteran to get things steered in the right direction? This weekend she’ll be the sole competitor through all three National Series representing Kansas and this should provide a much needed spark during tough times.
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We’ll get our first look at the continued wear-and-tear transformation from Kansas Speedway May 1 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Wise Power 200 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Can Hamlin or Harvick emerge as the 10th different winner in 11 races? Find out the following day in the Buschy McBusch Race 400 at 3 p.m. ET with both events being aired on FS1.