Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Breaking Down NASCAR’s Kansas Chase Race

Key Moment – With 53 laps to go in the race Kevin Harvick thought he had a right front tire going bad. After the team swapped out all four skins on his ride it was determined that all four tires were good. The end result was Harvick slipping back into the upper 20s and having to claw his way back to a top 12 finish. Harvick was not out of the top 3 before his perceived tire issue and his drop back into the field took him out of contention for the win.

In a Nutshell – On a beautiful day in Kansas the racing was predominantly bland. As usual the chaos on restarts had three-wide racing for two or three laps. The field then spread out and the movement forward or backward was unimpressive. Three Chase contenders had tire failures that dropped them to the bottom of the twelve trying to get into the next round. Another caught up in an accident and there was some drama. In the end it was Joey Logano’s day as he led the majority of the last half of the race.

Dramatic Moment – With 28 laps to go, Logano beat Ryan Newman to the line on a restart when Newman was the control car and chose the preferred outside lane. Logano was clear by turn one and was able to run his desired line. Kyle Larson took some time to clear Newman and Kyle Busch which resulted in him failing to get close enough to try and make a move on Logano for the lead in the closing laps.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

The tires were the discussion again, this time at Kansas. Goodyear brought a very hard tire compound to the track and the resultant handling made racing difficult. The added unknown of random tire failures put some teams on edge and caused a couple drivers to come in when they felt something that might not normally have brought them to pit road. Goodyear was doing a fantastic job with tires early in the season but has slipped back into some old habits of relying on hard rubber instead of making tires that give up but last.

Hendrick Motorsports is one of the two best teams in the series right now with Penske Racing being the other. After Sunday’s race the four drivers who would be out of the Chase if it ended after this race include three Hendrick drivers and one Penske. It would be a remarkable turn of fortune if the two best teams in the sport had most of their representation removed from the Chase in this round.

Rumor is that the driver with the inside track to the seat of the No. 9 when Marcos Ambrose heads back to his home in Australia is Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish has the connection with Penske who is now a Ford team so there is a very loose relationship there. David Ragan, the originally rumored driver to take over the Ambrose ride, has been less than impressive on tracks that are not restricor plate engine tracks. Hornish was a Cup driver and has been less than impressive in quality Nationwide and Cup rides. It would be best to see someone like Landon Cassill get the ride. Cassill has done more with less than anyone in the garage for a long time.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a statement this week that he imagines finishing out his national touring career in cars created by his own JR Motorsports. Earnhardt said, when the time comes for him to stop Cup racing he hopes to run Nationwide for a while in his own cars. Some people were surprised to hear that Earnhardt, who often speaks of Rick Hendrick, as the father figure in his life now, had not indicated a desire to jump ship. It is just about how he envisions his future. In previous years he has mentioned that he would like to end his driving days by running Late Models for his team. He said he did not appreciate running at local short tracks when he did it so he’d like to go back and experience it again.

The list of unintended consequences from NASCAR decision to ban testing continues to grow. Gresham Motorsports Park announced this week that the facility is up for sale or lease. While the owner states he’s simply wanting to get out of the track ownership gig, it is surprisingly close to the announcement to ban testing. Gresham makes a large amount of money from testing by NASCAR teams and this cut in their revenue may have spurred this decision on. Now Nashville Superspeedway’s sale has been delayed as well at the behest of the purchaser. Part of their stated plan for buying the facility, back in May, was that there would be revenue from testing to help the bottom line. Now that testing has been banned, the proposed owner is reevaluating the purchase due to the immediate reduction of revenue.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

It was the wrong place, wrong time for Jimmie Johnson when it came to Greg Biffle misjudging Turn 2. But the bad vibes really started for Johnson when a qualifying spin left him 32nd. It was the worst starting spot for the No. 48, inside the Chase in nine years. With this rules package, at a newly paved track it takes half the race to recover from that loss of track position, you also need a little bit of luck along the way. J.J. got neither.

Ryan Newman appeared to be in position to score an unlikely win, a two-tire stop getting him out front. But one final caution closed the gap after the No. 31 car darted ahead, and Joey Logano’s strong restarts left him eating dust. Sixth was a disappointment when this team had a golden opportunity for more.

Jamie McMurray’s bump on Jeff Gordon, when both ran inside the top 5 threw the No. 24 car back in traffic. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy was so bad in dirty air, from that point on Gordon never recovered. His 14th place, for a driver that won here in May, had to be downright aggravating, especially when the car could have easily run top 3 with the right track position.

2014 Kansas II CUP Jaff Gordon Carl Edwards racing CIA
Jeff Gordon, before things went south (credit: CIA stock photography)

Kasey Kahne was supposed to cash in on a golden opportunity with these 1.5-mile ovals. Instead, a 22nd-place effort, after some bad tires caused him to pancake the wall puts him under pressure when he shouldn’t be.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Everything that can happen to Kyle Busch, on-track has happened in Kansas. Revenge… blown tires… blown temper… bad strategy… you name it. So simply a top-10 effort, at a place where he had never finished inside the top 5 before Sunday’s race would have been a “win” inside the Joe Gibbs Racing camp. Instead, Busch did one better, coming home third with a car that at one point appeared to have speed capable of challenging leaders Logano and Larson. Busch likely won’t win the Chase this year, between lacking speed and internal turmoil at JGR but slaying this demon was a big step towards winning a title in the future.

An electrical fire inside the dashboard Denny Hamlin’s Toyota threatened to derail his day. It’s a problem that’s popped up in the Chase before (Martinsville, anyone?) but this time, the parts held together and the No. 11 Toyota finished the race in seventh place.

Carl Edwards ran like junk most of the day but benefitted from some timely pit calls late. Somehow, a car that struggled to simply run 20th, for most of this 400-miler ended the day solidly inside the top 5.

Let’s give a shout-out to Landon Cassill, who caught cautions, Lucky Dogs, and wave arounds at the right time. Typically, “cookie-cutter” tracks leave the small teams running on seven cylinders but somehow, Cassill took the small, underfunded No. 40 team and brought Hillman Racing home on the lead lap. A 21st-place effort was Cassill’s best on an unrestricted track this year.

While rookie Kyle Larson nearly stole the show by thieving a victory from Joey Logano, young Austin Dillon showed he’s improving. An eighth-place effort, running solidly inside the top 10 all day was his best outside the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega.

Worth Noting

  • Joey Logano’s  win is his eighth in his career in 213 starts.
  • Logano now has five wins this season. He had three wins total in his five-year Cup career prior to 2014.
  • Logano’s average finish in his last three Kansas races (all post-repave) is an impressive 3.0. Before that? It was 26.1 in eight starts, without a top-10 finish to his credit and only two lead-lap finishes.
  • Logano is now tied with Clint Bowyer and Kyle Petty for 62nd on the all-time wins list.
  • The win is Logano’s first career triumph at Kansas
  • Kyle Larson (second) now has two runner-up finishes during the Chase. He has three total during his rookie season but has yet to cash in on victory lane.
  • Larson’s averages this season have been quite consistent. His average start is 14.2 and his average finish is 14.1.
  • Kyle Busch (third) earned his first top-5 finish at Kansas in 15 career Cup races there.
  • It is Busch’s seventh top-3 finish of the season, his first since Indianapolis.
  • Busch’s podium run is his 78th of his career which ties him for 27th on the all-time list with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. He is seven behind his teammate Matt Kenseth for 26th on that list.
  • Martin Truex, Jr. (fourth) earned his first top-5 finish of 2014 with Furniture Row Racing. It was his best run since the season-ending Homestead race last year.
  • Ryan Newman (sixth) led his first laps since Michigan in August.
  • Tony Stewart (17th) has now gone eight races without a top-10 finish.
  • Jimmie Johnson (40th) had his worst result, inside the Chase since the season-ending Homestead race in 2005.

What’s The Points?

With the Chase points reset, for the final 12 entering Kansas Logano’s victory launched him into the championship lead. He’s got a six-point lead over Kyle Busch, with two races left in this segment along with an automatic ticket to move on. Ryan Newman and Carl Edwards are tied for third, nine points back while Denny Hamlin rounds out the top 5.

Kevin Harvick sits sixth, while Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth are tied for seventh, respectively. There’s an eight-point gap between them and ninth-place Kasey Kahne for that final transfer spot. Brad Keselowski sits 10th, 39 points out of the lead and 22 behind the cut line. Then comes Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 42 back while Jimmie Johnson brings up the caboose with 44.

  1. Joey Logano 3048
  2. Kyle Busch 3042
  3. Carl Edwards 3039
  4. Ryan Newman 3039
  5. Denny Hamlin 3037
  6. Kevin Harvick 3033
  7. Matt Kenseth 3031
  8. Jeff Gordon 3031
  9. Kasey Kahne 3023
  10. Brad Keselowski 3009
  11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3006
  12. Jimmie Johnson 3004
  13. AJ Allmendinger 2110
  14. Greg Biffle 2101
  15. Kurt Busch 2075
  16. Aric Almirola 2074

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – Kansas is a mile and a half track that has relatively fresh asphalt that has been aged over a handful of winters. The folks at Goodyear are of the mindset that it still needs a rock hard tire. The result was a race where the field was predominantly spread out with a few cars being able to move forward if they fell back. Mix in a handful of right front tire failures and a few other cut tires from contact with competitors and you had a typical Intermediate track race. That said, we’ll give this one three tepid bottles of Hubrew Rye IPA.

Next Up — From one Intermediate track to another, the series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the only night race during the Chase. The Chase contenders look to have a strong finish and solidify their standing in the top 8 so that they can race easily at Talladega. In reality, unless they win the race they won’t be that comfortable at ‘Dega. The coverage for Charlotte begins at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, October 11th on ABC. The race can also be heard on your local PRN affiliate and Sirius XM NASCAR satellite radio.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Carl D.

There was enough action to keep my interest this week, but the race certainly was no barnburner. I’d give it three slightly chilled Shocktop Belgian Wheat Ales. Watching JJ slide into the inside wall was was worth an additional Jaeger Bomb (since he wasn’t hurt).

It will be interesting to see which of the four drivers currently 9th-12th can claw their way into the next round. All four drivers have run well at Charlotte in the past.

Not so sure it’s wise to count Kyle Busch out just yet. Yes, he and Hamlin will probably choke at some point, but natural talent can take a driver a long way.

Bill B

While my driver escaped a “worse case scenario” scenario, the fact that so many did and know that it could just have well been my driver, shows how ridiculously stupid, unfair and arbitrary this new chase format is going to be. So Brad has been at the top all season, has one blown tire and now, without a win at Charlotte will be at the mercy of Talladega. Same with Johnson and Earnhardt.
The race itself was OK but the crapshoot nature of the championship is a major turn off for me.


I’m not a fan of this “chase” format at all, but then I haven’t been a fan of the chase since its inception and this iteration is worse than the other versions. There is no other sport where teams not in the “playoffs” can affect the outcome of the game and NASCAR needs to pull their head out of the orifice it is stuck in and stop trying to pretend this is “great”.


didn’t see much of the race too nice of a day in ga to stay inside, and then watched the o’s/tiger’s game. i think the fans in detroit were given ambien on their way in, as i’ve never seen a playoff game that was so quiet and lacking fan involvement. caught about 15 min of the pre-race, but did see jr’s interview about tires and the track.

one thing i thought was pathetic was someone who is in the armed forces not knowing the lyrics to the national anthem.

i think brad will move up and make it to next cut, but wonder what will happen at the hendrick brain trust if 3, or even 4, of their drivers get cut this time? i guarantee the chase format will change next year if this happens.

harvick can’t buy a win lately.

princess and mr. princess had top 20 finishes

i’ll say congrats to ryan and martin truex jr for their runs.

onto charlotte on saturday night, i know i’ll end up falling asleep.

Bill B

Hopefully the chase format will change because it’s so stupid not because HMS cars had problems. I will also add that since the chase format has changed in some manner almost every year it’s a pretty safe bet they will monkey around with it next year too.

Eric LaGesse

As a long time a supporter of Kansas Speedway, maybe I’m biased, but I thought the racing was pretty good this week. Lead changes, multiple grooves, some wrecks, a close finish. I thought it was one of the better mile and a half races of the year.


I don’t know much about yuppie fad beer so I can’t relate to rating races that way. I do agree with you, it was a good race for all the reasons you state. Aside from that first bogus caution it was all I want from NASCAR. Pssst, the Chase is a disaster. Pass it on.

Jim M.

Hey Carl- 100% agree….and it you need any help with those Shock Tops, I am offering my services.


NASCAR has to quietly not like what they see in the standings. Three of the bottom 4 are teams expected to make the next round. That was a wacky race. Logano won but the three other favorites all had trouble. I am going to be truly shocked if Keselowski doesn’t advance. Unless they win next week, it looks like the 4, 24 are also going to have to survive Talledega to advance.

If the standings hold, then the 2, 88 and 48 don’t advance. That won’t be good for business. There is no a realistic possibility a team could steal this title that has no business being in contention. Kansas is exhibit B next to Michigan for taking downforce off these cars and allowing Goodyear to bring a softer tire.

Bill B

I agree. If the guys with the best average finish through the first 32 races are out because of this arbitrary, crapshoot chase format, I can’t see how anyone (even NASCAR’s top dogs) can call it either successful or a good way to determine the champ.

If Jeff can’t win, I hope Kenseth wins it with 0 wins. That would sure bring it around full circle wouldn’t it?


I think we can all agree that its great to see that point racing is a thing of the past. (lol)


Surprised not to see a mention of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the foul fortune category. Qualified 8th, had one of the fastest cars, a spectacular 3-wide pass for the lead, and then loses a tire and hits the wall while leading. End result: a 39th-place finish and in danger of elimination from the chase in two weeks. Sunday was a major disappointment for many drivers, but Earnhardt got the worst of it.

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