Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2015 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

It has to be difficult to know that you’ve run well almost everywhere you’ve raced, despite running for a part-time, underfunded team, and to still not know where you’ll be racing next year. That’s Ryan Blaney‘s reality; unless he’s picked up by an established team like Roush Fenway Racing or his current team goes full-time next year, he could be out in the cold, and despite his stellar racing this year, he doesn’t have funding for a full-time run in Xfinity or Trucks either. Blaney was impressive Sunday, starting and finishing in the top 10, outpacing a handful of championship contenders.

What… beyond the drivers’ control affected the action?

There was a round of green-flag pit stops. Then penalties put two top title contenders a lap down. Then a late-race caution changed things up. And while the rest of the field pitted for tires, Jimmie Johnson stayed on track. That move gave Johnson the race lead, and it also trapped Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. a lap down to the race leaders, who included two of Johnson’s teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, both of whom were struggling and needed to gain points to make the next cut. The question that then blazed across social media was did Johnson stay out to help his teammates?

A couple of things here. One, on the intermediate tracks, clean air is king, and Johnson had a fast car all day long but couldn’t quite get the track position needed to win the race. His team likely gambled that clean air would be more important than fresh rubber and lost. But two, even if they didn’t, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that type of teamwork.  Johnson didn’t bring out the caution, intentionally or otherwise. He didn’t take anyone out so that his teammates would benefit. He didn’t roll over on the track to let them pass him for a point. He made a move that could have benefited them, but also himself. Had the gamble paid off, Johnson could have had his fifth win of the year and a Kansas sweep. It’s pretty hard to call that kind of a move dirty pool. If the Chase has gotten so over-arching that a driver not in contention shouldn’t try to win a race lest it interfere with the championship battle, the sport has a much bigger problem than a driver being a team player in a harmless manner.

Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Brad Keselowski took the pole on Friday but on Sunday wasn’t quite as strong. Keselowski led the first 28 laps, but was never able to get back to the front afterward, and by mid-race was mired between 11th and 13th for much of the run. He rebounded to finish ninth, but hasn’t looked like a title favorite for some time.

Joey Logano, on the other hand, picked up right where he left off a year ago, winning the race for the second straight time and taking a guaranteed bye into the next round of the Chase away from a competitor in the process. As strong as the Joe Gibbs Racing stable is, it’s Logano who’s starting to have that championship look.

When… did it all go sideways?

There were a lot of drivers with issues this week: Austin Dillon with a single-car, race-ending crash; Earnhardt Jr. with another loose wheel costing him; Harvick and Truex both with costly pit road penalties, and Clint Bowyer with a wicked crash that lifted his wheels clean off the ground. But the driver for whom Kansas mirrored a dismal season was Tony Stewart. Stewart, who hasn’t been the same driver since a devastating leg injury over two years ago, was simply looking for a solid top-15 finish to build from after qualifying 17th, but a lap 64 spin knocked the wind from his sails; Stewart went on to finish six laps down in 35th, and the three-time champion dropped to 27th in points, behind drivers he used to beat handily on a weekly basis.

Why… did Joey Logano win the race?

That depends on your point of view. Logano got into the back of Matt Kenseth‘s dominant racecar in the closing laps, sending Kenseth spinning. While it didn’t look intentional, it did look avoidable, and Logano didn’t appear to do anything to avoid it. But to call Kenseth blameless isn’t accurate either. Logano did have a faster car on that crucial run, and Kenseth forgot an important fact of racing life: you usually have one chance to throw a block. If you try to throw a second one, it often ends in disaster. Kenseth blocked Logano low and then blocked him back all the way to the top groove. Disaster ensued for Kenseth, who was already in an almost certain must-win situation to make the next cut in the Chase. Logano could have backed off and avoided sending Kenseth around, but he’s racing for the title and is smart enough that if Kenseth didn’t win, a major obstacle to the title would be eliminated. Should he have backed out anyway? He likely had time to make another run at Kenseth. Was it a dirty move? It was certainly an aggressive one, but dirty is a bit of a stretch.

How… did the little guys do?

The three best:

Ryan Blaney: Wood Brothers Racing: Blaney has been quietly impressive on a limited schedule; this week he made a real statement. The bitter pill for this team to swallow is that if franchising happens (and it’s almost a certainty that it will), they’ll be forced to either race full-time in 2016 and stretch their limited budget if more sponsorship is not found, or have to race for one of about four spots in what may well also be a reduced field. That’s tough to take for the sport’s oldest still-operating team, and means real uncertainty for Blaney. And even if Team Penske expands, Blaney may be no better off; it’s been rumored that franchises will be awarded by a team’s (not the organization’s) longevity in the sport, which once again would leave Blaney hanging.

Martin Truex Jr.: Furniture Row Racing: (Note: The No. 33, driven by Brian Scott, finshed 12th, but was a full Richard Childress Racing entry with Scott, though Joe Falk is still listed as the owner. They’re included on the chart for continuity but not featured here.) A pit-road penalty for an uncontrolled tire cost Truex a better finish; he’d been running in the top 10 before having to serve a pass-through for the violation, which happened during a green-flag stop. He’s still in the top eight headed to Talladega… but, well, it’s Talladega. Truex doesn’t deserve to be eliminated just yet, and he’s a good plate racer, but he’s not nearly as comfortable as he was just a week ago.

Casey Mears: Germain Racing: Mears and this team have become the cream of the small team crop this year with the exception of the No. 78, who has risen to elite status. Mears pounded the wall during his qualifying run, resulting in a 38th-place time for his warm-up lap, and adding insult to injury, the team was forced to pull out the backup and start dead last. Mears is a smooth, careful driver who rarely makes that kind of mistake. A year or two ago, going to the backup would likely have meant a backmarker finish, but this week, Mears raced back to finish 23rd. He’s ahead of better-funded drivers in points, including Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Stewart while looking for his best points finish since 2009, when he raced for RCR.

All the rest

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish +/- Points Position
21 Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford 8th 7th
Has consistently qualified very well and backed it up Sunday
+1 N/A
33 Brian Scott Circle Sport Shore Lodge Chevy 16th 12th
RCR entry when Scott is driving
+4 N/A
78 Martin Truex Jr. Furniture Row Racing Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevy 7th 15th
Issues with a vibration late in the race; uncontrolled tire penalty on stop with 50 to go
-8 8th
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 38th 23rd
Started last in backup car after hard crash in qualifying; led two laps; unhappy with Stenhouse during final caution
+15 22nd
51 Justin Allgaier HScott Motorsports Brandt Chevy 30th 26th
Battled a car that was loose, then tight; got into the wall, bringing out caution with under 30 to go
+4 30th
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Dillons/Bush’s Beans Chevy 27th 27th
Got into wall in practice; did not go to backup
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing VooDoo BBQ Toyota 34th 30th
Another young driver who needs experience and seat time… he’s very, very talented
+4 35th
7 Alex Bowman Tommy Baldwin Racing Accell Construction Chevy 32nd 31st
Bowman has shown promise this year for sure; team still needs resources
+1 34th
34 Brett Moffitt Front Row Motorsports Dockside Logistics Ford 35th 32nd
of a loose racecar; was unsure why the adjustments they made caused it
+3 33rd
35 Cole Whitt Front Row Motorsports Rich Logistics Ford 39th 33rd
Team worked to correct handling throughout the race
-6 31st
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports TMC Transportation Chevy 37th 34th
Fought handling coming out of corners
+3 36th
38 David Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Love’s Travel Stops Ford 33rd 36th
At one point reported that his car was hit with something thrown out the window of the No. 43
-3 32nd
23 Jeb Burton BK Racing Dr. Pepper Toyota 40th 37th
Have to feel for Burton; he needs more experience in lower series but is a very talented driver
+3 38th
98 Reed Sorenson Premium Motorsports Chevy 42nd 38th
Owner Jay Robinson needs to reevaluate this program; never consistently good in NXS; not Sorenson’s fault. Pit penalty for removing equipment
+4 41st
32 Will Kimmel GO FAS Racing Loss Prevention Group Ford 43rd 39th
Driver merry-go-round continues; team needs stability. Pit road penalties Sunday for speeding and uncontrolled tire
+4 46th
26 JJ Yeley BK Racing Honey Creek Outfitters/Maxim Toyota 36th 42nd
Swapping cars with Burton hasn’t changed results very much. Spun on lap 30; did get back on track to finish
-6 N/A
40 Landon Cassill Hillman-Smith Motorsports Carsforsale.com Chevy 41st 43rd
Disappointing day after engine failure just 127 laps into the race
-2 N/A
62 Timmy Hill Premium Motorsports Ford DNQ N/A


About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Bill B

” who included two of Johnson’s teammates, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Gordon, both of whom were struggling and needed to gain points to make the next cut”
Uhhh, Earnhardt was two laps down. So Johnson staying out only helped Gordon. It probably hurt Earnhardt. Basically Johnson’s team took a chance. They are out of the chase so they did the opposite of everyone else trying to win the race. It may have worked if the rest of the field hadn’t pitted and a few cars would have stayed out.


Exactly, Bill


My preferred interpretation was that Johnson stayed out to keep Happy Harvick a lap down. But the reality is he probably did it only for himself. Teammates helping teammates is highly overrated. Johnson wouldn’t do anything to help Gordon or Earnhardt. There is probably an unwritten rule that teammates shouldn’t wreck teammates, but rarely do they actually help them.


I agree, blaney’s really has had to work harder than most to get the little credit he gets for his accomplishments. Seems like most of the media already has their “boy” picked for next year. Dillon fizzled, Elliot doesn’t have much cup experience… if only there were a decent to good ride for blaney next year.

regarding the clean air, i was quite surprised to see joey stay so closely in touch with matt after seeing the leader drive away the whole event.

thank god again for the dvr. i have yet to figure out how to try and perfectly time when i start watching it to when the race gets to be about 20 to go. i know i’ve said that my interest is waning but i just can’t stay away… i ask myself if it’s the “train wreck” mentality. I seem to be enjoying the negative posts more than the few positive ones. but here’s where the rubber meets the asphalt, i’m thinking franchising will be the real end of it for a lot more people than just me

oh by the way…

i have some questions of my own.
Q. why didn’t matt jump joey in the hauler area?
A. joey saw that move from last year and didn’t present himself as a target.
Q. where was harvick and why didn’t he do anything to instigate a fight?
A. wifey wasn’t close enough to protect him.
Q. why aren’t most people talking about how matt’s blocking (perfectly fine imho) actually got joey into the fence and was most likely a very big consideration to joey mind in the heat of it (also fine in my book)?
A. duh…

Q. i wonder how the amount of cautions in the last ten or so laps during the “new car” era compares to the “classic era” or even the area of the “twisted sister”
A. I’ll leave this to one of the frontstrech’s best and brightest but i bet it’s telling.


Ha, I love it!


oh & then there’s the title of Summer’s column – Kenseth wouldn’t have spun Logano? Really? Since I don’t read her columns, I’m going off of the title alone.

I guess she forgets Kenseth spinning Gordon at Bristol some years ago. Let’s face it, none of these guys are saints. Given the chance and if they are ticked off enough at the moment, any and/or all of them will spin someone or worse in retaliation.


Waylon was right. What goes around comes around, putting a different spin on things.


Remember then Gordon got him back at Chicago, spinning him for the win. Loved that one.


I do and yes, I loved it too.

Carl D.

Since when does Johnson do anything to help his teammates? Johnson stayed out because it was in Johnson’s best interest, not anyone else’s.


Was there a race yesterday? After church, my wife & I worked on a rental house rather than watch the Kansas bored-to-tears 400.

I have questions of my own:

Q: how does she get paint on the floor –even with a drop cloth?
Q: why does Ohio State command #1 votes when their schedule is weaker than most local high schools?
Q: why don’t owners of local tracks band together (channeling Humpy Wheeler) & run local / national series on the same night (eg. Southern All Stars + ARCA/ProCup/other)?
Q: how long will it take to revise the viewership numbers after the initial release?


With the announcement that Regan smith won’t be back to JRM next year, could Blaney snag a ride there? Junior likes to help out young drivers…if Ford will give him up.


The issue is sponsorship money. Sadler brought a sponsor, Smith didn’t. Junior also said he would like to help Josh Berry. I don’t see him doing anything for Blaney and I don’t see Penske letting Blaney go.


While understanding “business” perfectly. I am no fan of Regan Smith and he has been lackluster..but Elliot Sadler has had no pulse. He has been around long time, has driven for every team. Because he has a sponsor he gets a ride. He stinks! And then you have the 330 million dollar man Junior stating he wants to help Mr. Berry but he cannot find the money to do so. Whaaaa? If you believe in his talent so much, pony up some of your own money. Why is that so hard to do? This business model doesn’t seem to be sustainable, and it does not bring out “the best”. I laugh at these millionaire, billionaires wanting 100% of OPM. Junior saying he couldn’t afford him was just pathetic sounding. Elliot’s gift of a sponsor will not go to much other fixing his normal screwups. Elliot is a poster child for retirement.


yeah, Jr could do more but he won’t.


Would love to see Blaney get a break, always thought his dad was very able but only ever had a shot with startups & D level teams…Can’t see why JR would sponsor a driver …Whats he marketing , whats the product?..The profit isn’t in the prize money so how do you get a return on investment…Makes no sense…Sad that Sadler brings a sponsor & we will see another mediocre season in top level equipment when a younger, more talented up & comer has to sit but business is business & the sponsor must be seeing a value to it…Sadly Penskes the way to go as Roush has become a place to kill careers (very sad for a once Great organization)


Personally, I can see Ryan Blaney staying with the Woods. The team has done a lot better since aligning themselves with Penske, than they did being aligned with Roush. Too, if push were to come to shove, I wouldn’t be surprized if the Wood organization was absorbed into the Penske organization as a third team directly, or Roger step up and get the required sponsorship so the Woods and Ryan can run all 36 races. That way, The Wood organization can be a stronger satellite team for Penske, much like Stewart-Haas is to Hendrick. Any way you look at it, I honestly believe the 21 will be around for quite a while.

Hey, here’s a prediction! A non-chaser wins at Talladega next Sunday! In particular, a red-and-white Ford with the number 21 on it! Why not, he ran good there in the spring! That would make up for being fast all those times and not making the race because of bad weather.


Oh man! Wouldn’t that be awesome, to see Blaney wheel the 21 to VL next week? Here’s hoping you are psychic, Ken!


Boy wouldn’t that piss Nascar off. Not just a non chaser win, but a part time team at that throwing a huge kink in their prized chase. Brian France would be on suicide watch.

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