Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 Spongebob Squarepants 400 at Kansas

Who’s in the headline – The newest iteration of the Chase has made gambling much easier for those people who have a win or two under their belts. Saturday night, Jimmie Johnson put another notch in his as he stretched his fuel and tires to a victory. A late-race caution allowed Johnson and his No. 48 team to roll the dice and stay out on old tires while 2/3 of the pack came in to top off with fuel and add a couple of tires. Johnson’s track position and ability, which also saved him twice earlier in the race from calamity, allowed him to hold off the pack to take the lead in series wins at this point of the season.

What happenedJoey Logano led from the drop of the green flag to lap 30 when Kurt Busch passed him for the lead on the restart after the competition caution. Kevin Harvick passed Busch for the lead on the track and Martin Truex Jr. did the same thing to Harvick. That was the extent of the on track passes for the lead, but the race was filled with plenty of intrigue and exciting racing. A rain delay 95 laps into the event resulted in a 2:16 red flag. After that red flag, the racing was faster and cars were moving from the top of the track to the bottom. In the end, the rock-hard tire allowed for the strategy call at the end which let Johnson stay on the track and steal the win.

Why you should care – The more things change the more they stay the same. Johnson and Harvick are the dominant cars on mile-and-a-half tracks this season and they showed it again Saturday night, racing to the checkered flag with everyone else wondering what they have to do to beat them. Truex had the car to do it Saturday but pit-stop timing doomed his effort. The season is almost a third over, so there will be plenty of ebbs and flows of momentum but, for now, the Nos. 4 and 48 are the cars to beat for the 2015 championship.

What your friends are talking about – Another questionable caution flag possibly taints the outcome of a Cup race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got into the wall with 11 laps to go and NASCAR immediately threw the caution. The race was shaping up to be a fuel gamble for multiple drivers and instead came down to a tire gamble for those who chose to not to pit after the caution. Stenhouse was up against the wall and not leaving debris on the track yet the caution flew immediately. Last week a driver was sideways with cars bearing down on him and the yellow stayed tucked away. The consistency issue still hangs over NASCAR’s head and they need to figure out a way to fix it. The race would have played out differently but at least it would have come down to the drivers’ ability and not a pit call.

The Joe Gibbs Racing teams are feeling a bit targeted when it comes to cautions lately. Carl Edwards was upset last week when he spun in the middle of the pack at Talladega and the caution did not come out. This week, Denny Hamlin spun on the front straight and made contact with the outside wall. He spun down the racetrack for seven seconds before the caution flew, with many of the competitors flashing by him at full speed. Needless to say, Hamlin was less than pleased after the incident.

AJ Allmendinger just added five years to his contract at JTG Daugherty Racing, otherwise known as the little team that could made the Chase last season thanks to their win at Watkins Glen. Allmendinger has resurrected his career in the No. 47 and his fit with that team seems to be a marriage made in heaven. As they sit 15 points out of the Chase right now, they are competing with the big dogs. While they most likely will have to win their way into the Chase again if they make it, they are in even better shape to compete if they can manage to pull that off. Putting Allmendinger in position to be behind the wheel for half of a decade sets the entire organization up for continued success for the foreseeable future.

Richard Childress Racing had their final appeal for the tire tampering suspensions heard and denied this week. It was almost certainly a formality after the appeals board had already reduced the suspensions. There may have been some new evidence presented but, unless it was remarkably different from their previous case, nothing was going to change.

Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion had a heck of a week. There were rumors last weekend that the Tommy Baldwin Racing team had been sold or was merging. He then got a call and accepted a job to take over the No. 9 car of Richard Petty Motorsports with Sam Hornish Jr. behind the wheel. If that wasn’t enough change, he also walked down the aisle with his new bride. Read into it what you want with Manion leaving TBR, but one thing is for sure: RPM has been struggling this year and bringing in a successful chief like Manion to provide a new perspective cannot hurt.

RCR was also in the news this week for implementing new safety requirements for their over-the-wall pit crew members. Each of the six crew members have to wear a flame retardent head sock under their helmets. They are also considering changing the helmets and adding eye protection. RCR has been at the forefront of safety before, as far back as being the first to attempt to use Lexan windshields. Expect to see NASCAR mandating more safety requirements for pit crew members soon.

Chase Elliott‘s primary sponsor for most of his 2016 debut season, and the following two years, will be NAPA Auto Parts. The familiar blue and yellow logo has been on his car for much of his career since making it to the national level and they are stepping up to continue that partnership as he makes the final step. into the Sprint Cup Series

Who is mad – Truex would have been happy a year ago to have a top-10 finish at Kansas. For the most part, he would have been happy to have a top 10 at any point in the first 11 races of the season. At this time last year, Truex had a single top 10 and had led a grand total of zero laps. What a difference a year makes. Truex has 10 top-10 finishes this season and led 95 laps Saturday night, the most of anyone in the race. When the final caution flag of the night flew, he was poised to make a run at Harvick for the race win. Truex came down pit road with most of the rest of the lead-lap cars, but opted only to take fuel. Unfortunately for him, a handful stayed out and they made the gamble work. Truex ended up being swallowed up by those who took two tires on the final stop and came home in ninth position. Truex has been banging on the door of a win all season, and Saturday night very well might have been his best chance yet. Being mad about leading the most laps and not getting the win is a good thing.

Joey Logano‘s night looked like a National Lampoon movie on Saturday night. His team was penalized for having the gas man come over the wall early without the gas can. They then received a second penalty for pitting when the pit road was closed after a spin by Clint Bowyer. Logano’s team has been fast, but mistakes like that will torpedo a run at a title in a heartbeat. It is early in the season and they have time to work out the difficulties before Chase time gets here, but it is going to start undermining team morale if they continue to have these mistakes.

So far in 2015, Tony Stewart has almost had a permanent spot in the “Who is Mad” section. The start to his 17th season in Cup has been far from memorable. Saturday night, Stewart looked to be a contender for a top-10 run early in the event but a poorly-timed pit stop put him back in the pack that ultimately saw him get caught up in a melee. The damage from contact with the wall during the mishap put Stewart multiple laps down. The end result was 39th-place run and another memory that Stewart would rather forget.

Who is happyJeff Gordon had a difficult weekend at Kansas. Like the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, the car was not up to snuff in qualifying, although Gordon did make the final round before qualifying 11th. He spent much of the race in the back of the top 10-15. Alan Gustafson made a call similar to Chad Knaus at the end which put Gordon in strong track position. The four-time champion took full advantage, finishing the event in fourth. Gordon certainly hopes to finish his final season with a title, and he’s had cars capable of winning his way in this season. Saturday night wasn’t one of those nights, but his team made the most of it in the end. That is the kind of run that can lead to a swing in momentum and a run toward a title.

Erik Jones finished the race in 40th thanks to a late-race incident that saw him spin off turn 4 and plant the nose of his car in the outside wall. Before that incident, Jones was running near the back of the top 10 for most of the race, affording himself very well in his first official start in the series. Jones impressed many of his fellow competitors with his ability and is building a foundation for a long and distinguished career in the series.

Aric Almirola came home in 11th place Saturday night, tying his best finish of the season. Almirola put himself just outside of the top 10 with 70 laps to go and maintained that position for the rest of the race. The RPM teams have been struggling this season, but Almirola has been running in the teens for much of the year. He just hasn’t made his way into the top 10 yet. Heading to another mile-and-a-half track for the Coca-Cola 600 just might finally give him his first top 10 of the season.

When the checkered flag flew

Johnson’s triumph on Saturday night was his 73rd in 482 career starts. Johnson moved one race closer to Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list. Johnson is three away from tying Earnhardt for seventh on that list. This was Johnson’s third career win at Kansas Speedway. It is also his third victory of 2015. Johnson has the most wins on mile-and-a-half tracks all-time with 23 trophies on those intermediate tracks. Johnson is the only active driver in the top 10 on the winning percentage list all-time. Johnson takes the checkered flag first 15.15% of the time he takes the green flag.

Harvick’s runner-up finish was his third career top-two result at Kansas. This was Harvick’s eighth top-two run of 2015. Harvick has 37 career second-place finishes. That ranks 16th on the all-time list.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s podium finish was his fifth top-three run. Four of those runs are third-place finishes. The other was his win last week. Earnhardt’s third place was his second career top-three at Kansas. This was Earnhardt’s 84th top-three finish. That puts him 28th on the all-time list.

Brett Moffitt finishes 34th and won the Rookie of the Race award.

Harvick, Logano, Brad Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Busch and Earnhardt Jr. all have wins in 2015. Harvick and Johnson are locked into the Chase, assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events, thanks to multiple wins.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 11 races without wins and their standing in points:

  1. Martin Truex Jr.
  1. Jamie McMurray
  1. Jeff Gordon
  2. Kasey Kahne
  3. Aric Almirola
  4. Paul Menard
  5. Ryan Newman
  1. Clint Bowyer

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $4,644,293 in the first 11 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $922,850.

In the Xfinity Series, the number is $722,297 for the winners and $152,204 for last place after nine races.

After four Truck races the winner has $238,257 and the last loser has banked $42,855.

What is in the cooler – As mile-and-a-half tracks go, it was a race. Early on there were passes, on track, for the lead. After the rain, not so much. With the laps winding down it was playing out like there was going to be some intriguing fuel mileage gambles. Unfortunately the Stenhouse caution killed that. As a result we’ll give it three room temperature 5k IPAs from Rock and Run brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – It is time for the All-Star break in the Cup series. The race teams will be where most of them call home for the first race weekend of the year at Charlotte Motor Speedway. There are two events at CMS next weekend. The Sprint Showdown will run on Friday night. Drivers who are not eligible for Saturday night’s All-Star event have two final shots to race their way into the event. The Showdown consists of two 20-lap segments. The winner of each segment of the Showdown will race in the All-Star Race. The green flag flies at 7:15 p.m. ET on Friday, May 15th.

Saturday, May 16th will see the 31st running of the All-Star Race. Winners from 2014 and 2015, past series champions and past All-Star Race winners will battle it out for the big bucks. They will be joined by the two segment winners from the Showdown and the fan vote winner. The green flag drops at 9:00 p.m. ET. Both the Showdown and the All-Star Race can be seen on FOX Sports 1. They can also be heard on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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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refused to watch the nascar jumps the shark presented by a nearly irrelevant children’s cartoon that used to be good (just like nascar)
who’s in the headline?
nothing even close to nascar. maybe another idiot just announced he or she is running for president…maybe some people tried to get into italy or greece or someplace in an over crowded boat because they were fleeing hopelessness…. or some idiot blew him or her self up thinking that if thy killed some innocent people that they would get them into heaven
what happened?
not much in kansas besides weather related stuff. i’m sure there was a nba or nhl playoff that rated higher than the product that nascar put out.
what will they be talking about?
not nascar that’s for sure.
why should i care??
good question…
who is mad???
me. bet your axe. the racing is lame and the coverage is abysmal.
i want to see racing. not this crap.
when is the next modified race on tv so i can watch some real racing?
dang, i’m crabby.
who is happy?
the france family.
they laugh at us all the way to the bank.


Actually, it’s Monday morning and you’re talking about NASCAR.


Regarding the Logano comment….Well, just calling out the reporting as I see it so here it goes, what exactly is “if they continue to have these mistakes”? Seriously what exactly does that mean in regards to ONE RACE? If one needs a refresher, Martinsville was due to a spinout with no where to go. Talladega the same nonsense! This race…yes the teams fault..as far as I can tell the only one this year. While certainly no excuse whatsoever what happened, Logano and team DID recover very nicely not once but twice and held a track record of 147 green lap passes. Something to be proud of, maybe,maybe not. It does show a “don’t give up attitude” to rally to 5th. Yes, his car was poised to win, it didn’t happen. Just asking how many times this year has HMS started in the back and ran up front quickly ONCE and they were praised by this staff as “Supermen”, Logano, same thing many times and crickets..just putting it out there. And the true “title” run doesn’t mean a damn thing unless it the last race..the only race that counts.

J Smith

Sliced bread is now toast. The media did the same thing to Harvick & crew last year and he was able to win the so called championship while Logano had pit trouble in that race that cost him a chance.

Bill B

LOL… I guess not everyone sees things through a fan’s eyes.


…No kidding……:)

J Smith

Thanks Mike for mentioning the BS cautions. It carries more weight than me posting about it. Another big story to me is the continued lackluster drama that this Chase format is producing in the regular season. Where is Newman bulldozing someone for the win. When your “Who Is Mad” section only contains Truex because he didn’t win, the format is not working.


J Smith – you are so right! The “chase” doesn’t make the majority of the season exciting at all. It is just an exercise in seeding for the final 10 races down to the contrived drama that Brian hopes will be a game 7 moment.

Bill B

I was actually hoping to see how things worked out with fuel mileage. I think it would have been more interesting than what we ended up with.

On the plus side, at least there weren’t any blatant fake debris cautions. Why was that? Because rain was threatening and they wanted to make it to halfway ASAP. I’d bet $100 that if rain wasn’t a threat there would have been at least one or two in the pre-rain part of the race. No way NASCAR would have let there be only 15 cars on the lead lap before the halfway point. No effin way.

Of course the downside to that was a boat load of wave arounds. It’s amazing how a driver can work hard putting 2/3 of the field a lap down and then have that wiped out through NASCAR’s magical rulebook. I think 19 drivers took a wave around right before the rain started. That just might be a record. I think I might just hate the wave around rule more than the chase itself.

Overall the race was better than average as 1.5 milers go. Like I said, too bad that caution came out with 11 to go (even though it ultimately helped my boy in the 24) because I think the last few laps would have been very interesting with the fuel mileage aspect (well, at least it created and exciting ending in the truck race the night before).

Kevin in SoCal

So do you like it better with the leaders starting 5th, 10th, or 15th with several cars in front of them at the tail of the lead lap? Ask Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart back in Chicago 2005 how that works out.

Bill B

That’s a myth dude. You must not be a long time fan.

Prior to the wave around rule that was instated a few years ago, the occurrence to which you refer (cars at the tail end of the lead lap) only happened once every 5 races or so. Not every time the caution waved.
It was an issue when the cars on the lead lap were in a green flag pit cycle and the caution came out. When that rare situation happens I am all for those cars being waved around.

BUT, here’s where everyone seems to have become confused. If, 10 years ago, you were a lap down and you weren’t in the middle of a green flag pit cycle, and the caution came out, you would not get a lap back or placed at the tail end of the lead lap whether you pitted or not. To be clear, lapped down cars that didn’t pit WERE NOT place at the tail end of the lead lap. You remained a lap down regardless of whether or not you pitted.

Stop listening to the Waltrips and Frances that basically lie and re-write history to fit their own policies today.

Please, would someone that’s been a fan more than 10 years speak up and confirm that cars that were a lap down prior to a caution were not given the option of not pitting and getting waved around. This was a contrivance to try to get better ratings by keeping more fans’ favorite drivers on the lead lap so that fans wouldn’t start tuning out when they knew their driver was sucking that day.

Don’t believe me. Look at the average number of cars a lap down or more from 1995 to whenever the wave around rule was instituted versus afterward.

Tim S.

I’ll stand with you on that one, Bill. It happened every once in awhile and they’d use a telestrator or the GPS tracker to point out the leader in a sea of tail-end cars.


Me, too, Bill B. You are correct. Under the “old” rules, you were still a lap down. You had to pass the leader to get your lap back.


Stats to support your assertion?

Bill B

Sorry but I don’t have 6 hours to go through the last 20 years, wish I did.

Seriously, all you have to do is find someone that was a serious fan 10+ years ago and ask them if a lap down driver could be placed at the tail end of the lead lap if they didn’t pit. I’m telling you, it didn’t work that way. If you were a lapped car you might not pit to be the first lapped down car lined up on the inside lane. Remember, the double file restarts were lapped down cars on the inside lane, lead lap cars on the outside lane. The only benefit to a lapped car not pitting was having a shot to get by the leader on the restart.
And yes, once in about 5 or so races the leader would have to start 15th in line. As I said above, I have no problem with cars that are legitimately at the tail end of the lead lap being waved around. But if you were already a lap down long before the caution, I don’t think it’s fair to make it that easy for anyone to undue how much they sucked during the first part of the race. Likewise I wouldn’t want an NFL team who gave up 5 touchdowns in the first quarter to have an easy path given to them to get back within one touchdown.


The wave around is the NASCAR equivalent of welfare and every kid getting a trophy.
Bill, I wholeheartedly agree. Jeb Burton and subsequently, the rain took NASCAR off the hook. The race up to that point was screaming phantom debris caution with a lot of the big names about to be lapped.
I was happy that they let the Trucks finish a race under its natural conclusion, even if it meant a fuel mileage duel. I can’t remember the last Cup race that was won or lost on fuel mileage, maybe Brad some time last year (Vegas?).
What I also sort of miss are the single file restarts with under 10 to go, where you didn’t have the strange games being played at the end of pit road at certain tracks where there is a distinction advantage to being in a certain lane on the restart.

Kevin in SoCal

I’ve been watching since 2003. What you said in your reply to me is not the same as what you originally said.

If you stayed out and passed the leader, who pitted, then you got your lap back. But you couldnt pass the pace car, so you stayed at the front of the pack with the actual leader behind you. The current way, only the leader is at the front of the field and he/she dictates the start of racing again.

I dont care whether they were trapped a lap down during green flag pit stops or if they got passed by the leader on the track. If you pass the leader while he’s in the pits, you get a lap back. The wave-around rule only keeps the leader at the front of the field instead of in the middle, where more accidents happen, as in my example of the Chicago race.


I can understand people being upset about the lucky dog, but I’m not sure why everyone is so butt hurt about the wave around. Its not the freebee everyone thinks. Either the team was already on the lead lap, pitted and a yellow comes out immediately after they got back on track, or the team gambles and stays out, which means if the race stays green for a long period of time, they lose the gamble because they have to pit before everyone else does. (Call it a mid race fuel mileage gamble).

Sometimes I think people complain just to complain. There are far other issues to complain about with the “sport” besides the wave around rule.

Carl D.

Tony Stewart may be the most bitter human being on the planet. He really needs to take up meditation or yoga or whatever new-age practice will help him find some inner peace. Stock car racing sure isn’t doing the trick for him.

When the final caution came out Saturday night, I said to myself “the first car in line to stay out will win the race.” Then I said “that will probably be Jimmie Johnson.” Right and right.

That Sponge Bob trophy sure is ugly. If HMS wants to display it back at the shop, it should go on the toilet tank in the men’s room.

The race was better than I thought it would be. I can’t compare it to past races at Kansas because I’ve forgotten them all. Kansas hasn’t been a much-watch race track for me. Leaders pulling away in clean air is still a problem at the intermediate tracks, but the racing behind the leader was pretty exciting at times last Saturday night.

Now for the question on the minds of all Nascar fans this week…. will Danica Patrick race he way into the all-star race this weekend? If not, will the fans vote her in? Or maybe she should get a qualifying waiver.


it’s only a matter of time before mt. stewart erupts!


got tired of playing “search for the race”. fell asleep during rain delay, at 10:30 pm woke up, still some non-racing show on foxsports1, so went to bed. see i didn’t miss much. finishing order kind of like it’s been most of the season.

good run for princess sparkle pony, top 30 finish. a potential sponor’s delight!

wonder why they didn’t have the mom’s give the starting command?

oh well, on to charlotte. should we already decide that princess will make the show for the allstar race?

Carl D.

Is there some way I can vote for Cale Yarborough? Even at 76, I’d take him over most of the guys (and gals) in the qualifying race.

Tim S.

I couldn’t be bothered with this event. I’ll be relying on you regulars to fill me in this week.


I thoroughly enjoyed it. I…..I……really don’t have anything to complain about. Now what do I do with myself?


Went to bed at midnight with 100 laps remaining and Johnson running in the top 10. Wasn’t going to give up sleep to see the 48 win. Yawn.


I watched the race until the rain started and wasn’t particularly impressed with the racing so when it was almost 11 p.m. when they restarted, well, I opted for a good night’s sleep rather than watching what I assumed would be another boring race and I’d rather find out in the morning than stay up half the night. Glad that Gordon and his team were able to pull out a top 5, don’t give a rat’s patoot about the 48 winning on another mile and a half oval. All that does is make me less interested in watching NASCAR’s “product”. Yep, the 48 is locked in, they can mess around for the rest of the season, plus they are probably still ticked off over so many people saying they “let” Jr. win. Wonder how Jr’s fans feel about that?

IMO, I made the right decision.


for some reason I enjoyed the race until the last caution. turned off the TV on the last lap as I was barfing because jj won another race, yawn

tony stewart: I think you need an attitude adjustment, maybe go on a date



I did the same thing, Gary, Harvick’s Crew chief blew this one. They should have rolled the dice instead they handed one to Johnson. When will these guys figure it out?


I can’t really question the Stenhouse caution at the end. The replay showed he hit the wall good and was grinding along it while slowing down. I’ve seen cautions thrown for much less. It wasn’t that bad of a race as 1.5 mile tracks with new pavement goes. Man the 24 shot themselves in the foot again with that slow pit stop.

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