Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Martin Truex Jr. Shakes Kansas Monkey As Aric Almirola Sustains Serious Injury

Who’s in the headline – Handicapping Cup Series races is very difficult. With 40 cars in a full field, and 20 capable of winning on the right day, it can be like throwing darts to figure out a favorite. The odds at the drop of the green flag Saturday night had Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. at the top of the betting board. Blaney won a stage, but Truex won the race. Kyle Busch also managed a stage win, his second of the year.

The biggest headline of the night was Aric Almirola fracturing his back in an accident. Joey Logano and Danica Patrick got together after Logano had a part failure on his No. 22 car. Almirola piled into the wreck with such violence that his rear end came off the ground several feet into the air.

He was awake and alert but was cut out of his car and airlifted to a local hospital. He has a fracture of his T5 vertebrae, but is out of the hospital and is back in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.

What happened – Kansas Speedway did not disappoint. There was racing from the top of the track to the bottom. Drivers were utilizing multiple lanes to carve through the field.

13 drivers failed to make it through pre-qualifying inspection which meant they had to start in positions 29 through 40. Drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Erik Jones were among them. Those drivers charging through the field and some of the top starters falling back made for some tremendous racing from the drop of the green flag. Nine drivers swapped the lead 21 times with three of them being on track passes for the lead, and not on restarts. Truex Jr. led the most laps at 104. Blaney and Busch each led for 83 and 59 laps, respectively. They were the only three drivers who led more than once.

Why you should care – Truex continues to be strong on intermediates, as he has been for a while. Blaney is fast this year on the mile-and-a-halves, just like his Team Penske affiliates. With Busch running well at Kansas, the season is looking like it might start developing back to a 2016 feel. That said, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne all looked fast, but had penalties or missteps transpire against them. The season is shaping up to be a heated battle for the championship.

What your friends are talking about – Everyone is talking about the Almirola crash. There are so many aspects of it to diagnose. Why did he not seem to let off? Couldn’t they have extricated him more quickly? Should FOX have shown the pictures of his face as he was extracted from the wreckage? It will be hard to ever get real answers.

Elmo Langley always told the drivers to turn left and stand on the brakes. They’d live to drive another day. Not sure if that advice would have helped Almirola, but you have to think he’d have hit the incident at more of a sideways angle at least and probably received less of an injury. The extraction seemed to take forever although, since he didn’t seem to be in distress, it was probably better to err on the side of caution. As for FOX showing the shots, that is a production call that is made on the fly and can be dissected forever.

An interesting thought about the whole extraction: at one time the thinking was that the seats were designed so that the entire seat could be removed and the driver transported while still strapped in, minimizing the potential for further injury. For whatever reason, after removing the roof of his car the safety personnel worked him onto a back board as they extricated him from the wreckage. It would seem that leaving him in the seat until he got to the infield care center would have minimized the potential for greater injury to his back.

There was another technical inspection debacle at Kansas. The Laser Inspection System is designed to make the process quicker. Unfortunately it can sometimes return inconsistent results. With the new procedure that requires a car to start over at the beginning of the inspection process, failing the LIS can be a bigger penalty than it used to be. Thanks to the teams having to push every limit to get every thousandth of a second, they sometimes fail inspection and have to start over.

That said, there is far too much inspection on these cars. Check two or three items, let them qualify, then do a thorough inspection when done on the top five. Same with the race, check some random things before hand and then dissect the top five after the race. The amount of time and effort spent on tech inspection on a race weekend is ridiculous.

Carl Long came to the track for the first time since his suspension for an illegal engine in the 2009 at the Open before the All-Star Race. As part of his return, he

Carl Long made his first Cup Series since 2009, finishing 31st, 11 laps down. (Photo: Barry Cantrell / NKP)

submitted documentation of his sponsor and somehow misspelled a word that prevented NASCAR from realizing his sponsor was a marijuana vape company from Colorado. When Long showed up for technical inspection he was told to remove the logo of VeedVerks from his hood.

While NASCAR strives to develop their brand to meet some vision that they have, it seems rather counterproductive to chase away a sponsor that is a perfectly legal company. Long is taking all blame for the situation turning out as it did but it seems a bit silly when looking at it from the outside when the sport is chasing any new fans it can find.

Who is mad – Jones had a long night in Kansas. After failing to pass pre-qualifying tech, he had to start 32nd in the field. He spun shortly after the beginning of Stage 2 and still managed to claw his way back to a top 10 in the stage. He then spun two more times before the end of the event and came home in 22nd. For a car that looked fast early in the event, it was a frustrating way to wrap up the race.

Denny Hamlin had a car that was in the mix with an outside shot at a win coming to the penultimate restart of the race. Kurt Busch threw two hard blocks at Hamlin, the second after he had broken the plane of his back bumper, and it knocked the No. 11 car into Johnson. The contact resulted in a spin for Johnson, a caution flag and quite a bit of damage to the front of Hamlin’s ride. A car that finished in the top ten in the first two stages finished a disappointing 23rd.

Who is happy – Blaney has been strong on Intermediates this year and, having started on the pole, might be disappointed with just a top five finish. However, he led the second most laps in the race and gained valuable experience running with the leaders on multiple late-race restarts. He is working with Team Penske equipment and in an alliance with the two Penske teams. They are some of the strongest cars in the garage and Blaney will be knocking on the door of multiple wins this season.

Michael McDowell may not have received any bonus stage points Saturday night but his No. 95 Leavine Family Racing ride out-dueled several more well-funded teams and came home with a 13th-place finish. McDowell continues to finish races and exceed expectations in LFR equipment. One of these days he’s going to get to have a full season in a high dollar ride and show what he can really do.

When the checkered flag flew:

Martin Truex Jr. scored his second victory of 2017 on Saturday night at Kansas Speedway.

This is Truex’s ninth victory in 416 career Cup races.

Truex had never won at Kansas before Saturday.

Nine wins ties him for 60th on the All-Time victory list with Paul Goldsmith, Cotton Owens and Bob Welborn.

Brad Keselowski was the second place finisher for the second top two of his career at Kansas.

Keselowski has finished in the top two five times in 2017.

For his career this is Keselowski’s 40th second-place finish. That ranks him 41st on the All-Time list in a tie with Fonty Flock.

Rounding out the Podium was Kevin Harvick.

This was Harvick’s seventh top three run at Kansas in his career.

Harvick has two top three finishes in 2017.

On the All-Time list Harvick is 16th with 110 podium finishes.

With a seventh place finish Daniel Suarez grabbed the Rookie of the Race honors.

Eleven races into the season there have been eight different winners this year. With 15 races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are 10 new winners, someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners. For now you have Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. with two wins, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. In the eight winners Joey Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph being considered encumbered at Richmond. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory.

The remaining nine drivers in points and their position:

4. Chase Elliott

5. Jamie McMurray

6. Kevin Harvick

7. Kyle Busch

9. Joey Logano

10. Clint Bowyer

11. Ryan Blaney

12. Denny Hamlin

14. Trevor Bayne

The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:

Martin Truex Jr – 15

Brad Keselowski -12

Jimmie Johnson – 10

Kyle Larson – 7

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 5

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Kevin Harvick – 3

Ryan Blaney – 3

Chase Elliott – 2

Kyle Busch – 2

Joey Logano – 1

Matt Kenseth – 1

Denny Hamlin – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

For years, Kansas has had a stiff battle with watching paint dry on the entertainment scale. Saturday night it gave everything you could want from a race outside of fuel strategy. The race had multiple racing grooves, drivers carving through the field after pit lane mishaps and drivers trading paint on a track where they shouldn’t. In the end set the bar rather high for other Intermediate tracks who fill out the rest of the schedule. With that it receives five cold Groovy Pale Ales from the Big Rip Brewing Company.

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Where do you point your DVR for next week – It is time for the second non-points race of the season. The schedule turns to the first of two weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway with the All-Star and Opens. The race will be broadcast on FS1 Saturday May 20th at 8:00 p.m. ET. It will also be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.motorracingnetwork.com 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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Almirola’s got a compressed fracture in his back. when i saw the wreck i figured he’d end up with a back injury from the force and how they’re strapped into the seat. thankfully he’ll heal.

i see where jr had another stellar outting.

i’ve said it before and i’ll keep saying it, calibration records for those lasers. i cannot believe they pack them up and move them across country every week with no problems and remaining in spec.

ok, so will jr be in the all star race without having to race into the main event?

wonder when princess will announce her retirement? she truly is not having fun in cup series. she was out for logan before even seeing or hearing what happened.

hope brain fart is happy with his series.


When I saw the wreck I thought it was either his feet when he hit or his back when he landed. I was afraid they might do more damage as they got him out, which happens sometimes.

The Diva has stated she will drive until she wins a race. I guess they’ll bury her in a car.

Brian’s happy because the wreck probably made every sports show in the country and will be on every “highlight” package for years.


Well, 27 cars made it through LIS. Maybe the 13 that didn’t weren’t, what’s that word… LEGAL.

Make sure your car is within spec before you leave the shop and you’ll probably move right through inspection and get to qualify.


Why the hell would I want to watch Junebug in a Dew commercial? Another reason to switch programs and not to watch what DW wants to show.


Junebug gets more on air time during race from his commercials.


I watched that wreck and expected that Danica would have sustained some real injury as well. But she didn’t – surprised by that, though her ego was bruised – and as such we all saw it play out in her distasteful interview. I was stunned that she didn’t mention Aric, until prompted on “glad you’re safe” by Jamie Little. In general – i think it’s great to see that while they all may not like each other, they all care for physical well being. To see her ramble on about “how good her day was until more bad luck” i’m like “you’re WALKING AROUND – this guy is being CUT OUT OF A CAR….GET OVER YOURSELF” Ugh – all in all – great racing – JJ passed about a billion cars and still didn’t win (awesome). Happy Mother’s Day (a day late) to all the mom’s out there.


Yep princesses interview was priceless. All about her.

Kevin in SoCal

You said it youself:

“Thanks to the teams having to push every limit to get every thousandth of a second,”

*THAT* is why NASCAR has to check everything before every race. If they only checked a few things, then the teams would be pushing the limits and go out of bounds on the things they didn’t check.

NASCAR needs to start the inspection process sooner, even on a Thursday if they have to.


14 drivers have scored points in the TV timeouts for the events so far. It’s probably the same 14 from last week. Yep. There’s a whole lot of battling for those top ten positions. At least we know the THIRTEEN cars that can win every week, a far cry from 20. I’m excluding Ricky and probably should include Blaney too. Kyle , Denny and Matt will get a lot more. Another one of Brian’s “brilliant” ideas that’s a dud.

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