It wasn’t surprising to see the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota in victory lane Sunday (Sept. 10) at Kansas Speedway. Whether it’s Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch or Bubba Wallace behind the wheel, that organization has the handling package on this 1.5-mile oval figured out.
23XI has now won three of the four NASCAR Cup Series events held at Kansas with the Next Gen car. The other went to team co-owner and fellow Toyota driver Denny Hamlin, whose four wins at this place are the most of any Cup driver since the track opened for business in 2001.
Hamlin didn’t shy away from the fact of the teamwork Toyota brings here, his knowledge passed down to 23XI and vice versa, makes a major contribution to how both he and his Cup organization have a leg up here on everyone else. It wasn’t just Reddick, who led the final two laps, that was strong during the Hollywood Casino 400. Hamlin led 62 of the final 82 circuits while Wallace ran second for much of the first two stages before a flat right-rear tire took him out.
“It’s good to have multiple bullets in the gun,” Hamlin said, “When you’re in a late-race restart situation where you had one car dominating and then, next thing you know, you’re starting fifth and sixth. You’ve at least got a couple chances there to get the win.”
It’s exactly what happened Sunday when some late-race strategy before NASCAR Overtime jumbled up the field, turning a likely win from Hamlin into a runner-up finish. But both he and Reddick were able to slice through traffic, their speed shining through to give Toyota seven out of the last nine victories in Kansas Cup events.
How many other manufacturers have the edge like Toyota does at Kansas? We see this type of phenomenon on ovals more than road courses, as a singular handling package shared correctly can give a whole set of teams a distinct advantage that’s hard to overcome in this era of limited practice… and passing.
Pack racing has swung back and forth through the years, currently leaning in Chevrolet’s direction. Since Atlanta Motor Speedway was repaved, the Bowtie Brigade has won three of the four races held in the Next Gen era. It’s also swept three Next Gen races at Talladega Superspeedway and produced this year’s Daytona 500 winner in Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
What you don’t see at these tracks is a long list of Toyota winners outside Hamlin. Camrys have won just two of the last 14 pack races at Daytona and Talladega; at Atlanta, they failed to even post a single top-10 finish during the race in July.
Instead, Camrys tend to excel during the summer stretch of New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway. They’ve won two straight and four of eight at the Magic Mile, including with Martin Truex Jr. this year. At The Tricky Triangle, it’s arguably their best record outside of Kansas: pulling off eight of the last 11, potentially nine depending on how you feel about Hamlin’s post-race DNQ last July.
For the Ford fans out there, it’s its own backyard of Michigan International Speedway where it owns the competition: dead stop. Blue Ovals have won a track record nine straight Cup races there, starting with the final victory of Clint Bowyer’s career in 2018.
As for Chevy, one would argue the manufacturer (despite losing the 2022 championship) as been the most consistent during the Next Gen era. It’s won two straight at Auto Club Speedway, three in a row at Darlington Raceway (including two Southern 500s) and all three Cup races at Nashville Superspeedway (2021-present). Its 33 victories overall during the Next Gen era are more than any other manufacturer.
Chevy’s strength continues to shine through when you look at the eight remaining tracks within the NASCAR postseason.
|Bristol Motor Speedway||Ford: Won 3 of last 4|
|Texas Motor Speedway||Chevrolet: Won 3 of last 4|
|Talladega Superspeedway||Chevrolet: Won 3 straight|
|Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL||Chevrolet: Won 3 of 5|
|Las Vegas Motor Speedway||Chevrolet: Won 4 of last 6|
|Homestead-Miami Speedway||Chevrolet: Won last 2|
|Martinsville Raceway||Chevrolet: Won 4 of last 6|
|Phoenix Raceway||Ford: Won 2 of last 3|
Seeing those numbers, you’d give the nod to Hendrick Motorsports title contenders like William Byron and Kyle Larson to keep marching along. But you can’t discount the speed Toyota’s shown over the summer it hopes to translate to both short tracks and superspeedways down the stretch.
This much is clear for the Camrys: Kansas can’t be the last track they build a dynasty on. As the playoffs march on to the Round of 12 and beyond, they better start building a foundation for new ones somewhere else.
Stats To Keep An Eye On
Laps led for Chase Elliott at Kansas. No wonder why he got so angry at Kyle Larson after the duo made contact on pit road late in the race; it’s the most he’s been out front since leading 54 circuits at Martinsville in October 2022. Elliott remains in jeopardy of his first winless season since 2017 while his top-five total (seven) is also trending toward a career low.
Finishing position for Erik Jones at Kansas. It’s the first top five for Jones or any driver in his organization since Jimmie Johnson bought into the No. 43 team last offseason and renamed it LEGACY Motor Club. Legacy doesn’t even have a top-10 finish with its sister car, the No. 42, which was driven by rookie Noah Gragson for most of the year.
Position differential for Michael McDowell during five career playoff races in the Round of 16. He doesn’t even have a top-20 finish and this year, he’s blown two top-10 qualifying efforts while falling a whopping 40 points behind the cutline heading to Bristol.
Straight top-10 finishes for Brad Keselowski, tied for the longest active streak in Cup (Elliott). Keselowski hasn’t had three straight top 10s since September 2021, running inside the NASCAR playoffs for Team Penske.
As for RFK Racing’s No. 6 car? To find the last time it had three straight top 10s, you have to go all the way back to August-September 2019 when Ryan Newman did it in his first year with the program.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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