Toyota drivers have won four of the last five NASCAR Cup Series races at Kansas Speedway. Will it happen again?
Phil Allaway: I don’t see why it couldn’t happen again. Then again, it is not a foregone conclusion. Yes, Toyota has won four of the last five races at Kansas. That doesn’t mean that it’s dominating. The last couple of times the Cup Series was at Kansas, Hendrick Motorsports seemed to have the best cars for much of the races. Kyle Larson is coming off a triumph at Darlington Raceway, and he led the most laps at Kansas in the spring. I don’t see why one of the Hendrick drivers couldn’t win. That said, the Toyota teams should be strong.
Brad Harrison: The odds are very good, that’s for sure. Intermediate tracks have been very good to 23Xl Racing, and it’s hard to expect that to change. In truth, the opening round could not have set up any better for Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick with Kansas being part of of it. When you also consider Martin Truex Jr. being prone to get hooked up when his car is dialed in, it’s not a stretch to expect a Toyota win at Kansas.
Andrew Stoddard: Yes, it will, and it will come from Denny Hamlin. With the monkey of contract talks off his back, Hamlin will bounce back from a disappointing Darlington to complete a sweep of the Kansas races in 2023. Including his win in the spring, Hamlin has four victories at Kansas, the most of any active driver, and his average finish of 12.9 is fifth among full-time active drivers. The No. 11 team will lock up its Round of 12 spot on Sunday.
Taylor Kornhoff: Kansas is Toyota’s playground. Its drivers are the undisputed favorites. That said, there are other very fast drivers at Kansas. Now that Larson has secured himself a playoff spot, he can comfortably take risks, and I think that you can expect him to want redemption from losing the spring Kansas race to Hamlin.
With the 2024 Cup Series schedule not expected for at least two-three more weeks, what is one race date you would most advocate for?
Mark Kristl: I previously argued for this, but NASCAR should be racing on Father’s Day Weekend and not Easter. NASCAR ought to move the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race weekend from Easter to Father’s Day weekend with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing on that Friday night and the Cup Series racing on Saturday night. Bristol dirt is an event loaded with more potential; this move would begin to tap into that potential.
Luken Glover: There are many options that intrigue me. Two Bristol concrete races again, North Wilkesboro Speedway becoming a points race, Indianapolis Motor Speedway returning to the oval and a Richmond Raceway doubleheader are all ones to watch. As a side note, I would really advocate for one of Richmond’s dates to return to being a night race, but let’s save that for another time. One rumor that has flown under the radar is the potential for the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL to go back to the oval. The ROVAL was a nice innovation when the Gen 6 car underwhelmed on the Charlotte oval. However, with a Next Gen car that has performed well on intermediates, with the past two Coca-Cola 600 races being instant classics, it’s time to return to the oval. The ROVAL has worn out its welcome, and there are too many road courses on the schedule. Charlotte deserves two oval races once again.
Caleb Barnes: So far, all of the schedule changes look really good for next year. There looks like a much-anticipated return to the Indianapolis oval. A trip across the border to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal is on the table. Though I personally enjoyed the Bristol dirt track races (go ahead, make fun of me), returning to concrete for two events would definitely be the right call. The one schedule rumor I would love to see pan out is adding Sonoma Raceway to the end of the West Coast Swing in the spring. The scenery of a vibrant green wine country might add some much-needed color back into this race and provide new track conditions for one of NASCAR’s most-tenured road courses. Additionally, sliding Sonoma to the spring could result in moving the race at Circuit of the Americas back or even open options for a new West Coast race sometime in the summer.
Vito Pugliese: While a second Michigan International Speedway date isn’t in the cards, a Cup race in Montreal would be my vote. The NASCAR Xfinity Series races there were always something special, and the laps took forever, which changed the direction and outcome of the race a few times per circuit. Beyond that, returning Indy to an oval and laying Bristol dirt to rest would be a close second.
Joy Tomlinson: I would advocate for Road America to come back and replace one of the road courses on the schedule. If the oval comes back at Indianapolis, then let Road America take its date and move Indy to another date. The NASCAR Xfinity Series race had a good amount of viewers, though the race was on NBC. Plus the fans show up there at the track, and that’s always a good thing.
Did Denny Hamlin make the right call re-signing with Joe Gibbs Racing?
Pugliese: Well let’s see … he’s a perpetual championship contender, has created generational wealth for his daughters and helped springboard himself to the ranks of Cup Series car owner aligned with Toyota. So yes, it has seemed to pan out for him. Unless you’re jumping ship to replace Chase Elliott or Larson, there’s no better car than the one he was driving. The one car in the field that hasn’t needed a slate of sponsors to keep it afloat for most of the last 17 seasons isn’t the one I’d walk away from. While Ford may have been trying to lure him away through an affiliation with 23XI Racing, he’s in the best position possible, not unlike the one Dale Earnhardt Sr. found himself in driving for Richard Childress while building Dale Earnhardt Inc., into a winning organization.
Barnes: As much as I would love to see Hamlin become an owner-driver for 23XI, he definitely made the right call to re-sign with JGR. The duo truly does seem to get along well, and Hamlin has made his intentions clear that he wants to drive for Coach Gibbs until he retires. The right call in this re-signing is that Hamlin no longer has to overcome the mental gymnastics of thinking about 2024 and can focus on the next nine races of 2023. It’s hard to compete in a lame-duck situation, so now that the rumors fade, Hamlin and the No. 11 team can fully focus on a championship.
Harrison: Was there any better option? With 23XI remaining in the Toyota camp, where else would he go? Running a third car for his own team would not be an option … yet. There may come a time when a third car may be a good option for 23XI to pursue, but there’s something to be said for not overextending yourself early, and that is exactly what 23XI appears to be doing in sticking with two full-time entries at this time.
Tomlinson: Yes. Where else would he go? He probably could’ve driven for his own 23XI team, but then that would mean adding a third car. Staying with JGR is better than going to another team, especially since he already has a good rapport with the No. 11 group. He’ll continue to be successful there.
Stoddard: Absolutely. Hamlin has won 50 races in the No. 11, the second-winning driver with that car number behind Cale Yarborough (55). Hamlin in the No. 11 Toyota with FedEx on the hood has become a consistent symbol in NASCAR over the past 15 years, a time period marked by dramatic changes to the sport. He may not be a popular driver, but Hamlin has without question earned the opportunity to finish out his career with JGR on his terms.
Which two drivers will be eliminated from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series playoffs this weekend?
Glover: Matt DiBenedetto deserves a load of credit for what he’s done with Rackley W.A.R. In just its third season as a team and second with one full-time driver, DiBenedetto got it into the playoffs for the first time. However, sitting 20 points below the cut line, it will be a tall order for DiBenedetto to out-point the drivers above him, and a win is a longshot. My other pick is Matt Crafton. It is hard to bet against a three-time series champion, but based on the spring Kansas race, Crafton could be in trouble. Ben Rhodes earned nine stage points and led 17 laps, though he didn’t get the finish he wanted. Nick Sanchez finished sixth, and with more experience under his belt, he should have another solid race. Crafton never cracked the top 10 in either stage, nor did he finish inside the top 10 either.
Kristl: DiBenedetto is winless in 2023 and only has one Truck Series win with Rackley, so he will be eliminated. The second driver to be eliminated really comes down to ThorSport Racing teammates Crafton and Rhodes. Crafton has only one stage win and two playoff points in 2023, whereas Rhodes has one victory, one stage win and 13 stage points. Yet in the past 10 Truck races at Kansas, Crafton has been far better than Rhodes there. Ove the past five, they are evenly matched. Given Crafton enters this weekend with a nine-point advantage, I’ll give him the nod to advance, thereby making Rhodes the second driver to be eliminated from the Round of 10.
Kornhoff: The two drivers that will be eliminated will be DiBenedetto and Sanchez. DiBenedetto made a statement making the playoffs this year, but it’s pretty much a guaranteed first-round exit unless some very specific scenarios go down this weekend. Meanwhile, Sanchez has definitely had a stellar debut year, but when stacked up against his competition of Crafton and Rhodes, he simply cannot compare. He lacks experience, and I think that he will not perform under pressure as well as them.
Allaway: DiBenedetto, for sure. I can’t see him making up 20 points on Sanchez (and jumping Rhodes in the process) without something significant happening that is outside of DiBenedetto’s control. The Rackley team really hasn’t been close to winning this year, so the likelihood of bailing himself out is not high. As for the other driver, recent form would suggest Zane Smith, but it’s probably going to be Sanchez since Rhodes is right on his tail and doesn’t have to do anything too spectacular to make up a couple of points tonight.
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