Who…should you be talking about after the AdventHealth 400?
Sometimes you win and sometimes you dominate. Kurt Busch dominated the AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway, leading 110 laps and powering to the front after a late restart erased his advantage. Busch restarted third, behind Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson, but dispatched his brother and set sail after the No. 5. While Busch gave Larson just enough room to race, it wasn’t enough for the defending champion, and Busch snuck into the lead for the last time with nine laps remaining.
It’s the 34th career NASCAR Cup Series win for the 43-year-old Busch, who has won at the Cup level with four different manufacturers and five different teams.
It was certainly a Toyota kind of day. Kurt Busch’s 23XI Racing team works together with JGR, and all four JGR and both 23XI cars were inside the top 10 at the checkered flag. It’s the first time the manufacturer has shown that kind of collective strength this year.
23XI is also the second second-year team to win in 2022, and that bodes well for the sport. The new car has given new owners and teams a chance to win again.
There was a lot to like about this race on Sunday.
And don’t forget: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse quietly finished eighth in the AdventHealth 400. It’s his third top 10 in a row, tying his 2021 season mark.
It’s still a little early to say Stenhouse is finally finding consistency (or maybe a lot too late in his career to believe it). But his single-car JTG Daugherty Racing team needs the boost he’s currently giving them.
What Stenhouse is doing while posting these runs is staying out of trouble. His aggressive style has gotten him into scrapes that have hurt any chance of building momentum in the past, but he drove smart at Kansas without driving over his head.
What…is the buzz about?
There’s a fine line between tires that wear out and tires that don’t hold up. The first one is exactly what you want in racing: tires should have massive fall-off during a fuel run, forcing teams to make strategy calls. Drivers have to decide between conserving their tires for a long run or pushing it early for track position. That’s good because it keeps the racing interesting.
The second one isn’t so good. The cars should be slower halfway through a run, but they shouldn’t be bouncing off walls because a tire went down. That’s been a concern this year for a number of reasons. Not only has it been an issue in multiple races, the lack of an inner liner means almost certain damage to the cars.
While 18-inch wheels might be nice on passenger cars, the wheels have been a major issue this year. The narrow sidewall with low air pressure early in a run has proven to be a weak spot.
The single lug nut doesn’t give much protection from losing a wheel (and NASCAR’s major penalties are well and good if teams are cutting corners, but not when something breaks). There’s simply no failsafe in place on this car if there is a problem.
While Goodyear continues to blame the teams (and it is ultimately up to them to minimize the risk), failure is no occasional thing anymore (and these issues weren’t early in runs on low pressure). It’s not even limited to one part in particular — tires, wheels and hubs have all failed at above average rates this year. These wheels might look pretty, but they don’t hold up to the competition.
Where…did the other key players wind up in the AdventHealth 400?
Polesitter Christopher Bell started up front for the third time in 2022. He led 37 laps on the day only to become a victim of tire problems early on. Bell still worked his way back into the top five as the laps wound down, scoring his third top five of the year in fifth.
Last week’s winner Joey Logano struggled with handling from the get-go at Kansas. Logano started from the rear after being forced into a backup car following a Saturday crash. At one point, he was in danger of going a lap down, but as the team made adjustments, Logano gained positions, briefly cracking the top 10 for a ninth-place result in stage two. As the race wore on, his team fell behind with adjustments, and he slipped to 17th at the finish.
Defending Kansas race winner Kyle Busch was strong in the opening parts of the race, finishing first and second in the first two stages. A pit problem after stage two was costly and compounded with a speeding penalty, knocking Busch to 24th for the restart. His No. 18 came alive in the late going, and he not only made up the ground but contended for the lead before settling for third after the final caution killed his forward momentum.
Point leader Chase Elliott started 14th, but worked his way forward, led 10 laps, and scored top fives in the first two stages. However, like teammate William Byron, who cut a tire while leading in the second stage, Elliott’s left rear tire gave out, sending him into the infield grass, where his car got stuck in the mud from earlier rains. He was freed and finished the race a disappointing three laps down in 29th.
When…was the moment of truth in the AdventHealth 400?
As the laps ticked away in the AdventHealth 400, the race was shaping up to be a battle between brothers. Kurt Busch was dominating, but younger brother Kyle was trying to run him down. It was the caution for a Kevin Harvick slide across the track that threw a wrench in the works… and left the question of whether it was necessary hanging.
The reason NASCAR gave was possible fluid on the track, and while that would absolutely warrant a caution, there wasn’t any real indication of any. Harvick saved his car and there didn’t appear to be debris on the surface. NASCAR hadn’t thrown the flag for other incidents unless there was obvious debris, so why the overabundance of caution now?
In the end, it didn’t matter much. Kurt Busch won with what proved to be the best car. But the caution still seemed like a manipulation, a way to close up the field when the drivers couldn’t do it. I’ll be the first to say that the error should always be on the side of safety, but if there’s no obvious safety hazard, then consistency should be king, and across all national series as well.
Why…should you be paying attention this week?
This week, the Cup Series takes a break from points racing for the annual All-Star event. The race will be at Texas Motor Speedway for the second straight year.
The real question is whether the event is even relevant anymore. It’s always been a race for winners, but that’s been watered down by adding three entries from the Open as well as the fan vote winner (and I’m OK with a fan vote: fans make these drivers stars. If they do it, though there should only be one transfer from the Open).
It used to be as much about the teams as the drivers, but that’s no longer the case either. Not only is it now far from the teams’ homes and families, but the rule that recognized crews by allowing winning teams to race as well as winning drivers if the driver moved on has also been gone for a few years. The pit crew competition is gone, too.
What was once a true shootout has become more of the same. Maybe it’s time to give teams an off week instead.
How… many playoff drivers could come from outside the top 16 in points?
Given the number already, should NASCAR consider raising the bar, requiring a win and a top-20 points position to make the postseason? That’s certainly a valid question.
But the flip side of the equation is whether a race winner could be locked out of the championship battle. Kurt Busch is the 11th winner in 13 races so far, just the halfway point in the regular season, and there are plenty of drivers who could win by the cutoff race at Daytona: Tyler Reddick, Bell, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney among them. Someone like Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola or Erik Jones could sneak one in while Daniel Suarez has been getting closer.
2022 could be the year that a top 10 but winless driver misses the cut. It could also be the one where winners miss. Tight competition is a good problem to have.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-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 filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living 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.