Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Kansas: Progressive Banking Makes Progressive Racing 

What Happened?

An incredible, all-out, action-packed race at Kansas Speedway ended in a historic finish when Kyle Larson did his best Lightning McQueen impression to beat Chris Buescher to the finish line. 

Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. had their own battle as they closed on the lead duo, leaving Elliott in third and Truex in fourth. 

See also
Kyle Larson Wins Kansas After Closest NASCAR Cup Series Finish In History

With the victory, Larson bookended the Toyota stranglehold in the Heartland. Larson won in the fall of 2021 and snaps a four-race Toyota streak, beating a Ford to the finish. The insanely close ending set a new record for the closest ever NASCAR Cup Series finish.

What Really Happened?

From the drop of the green flag, the Cup Series race featured side-by-side racing at nearly every moment during the 268 laps. 

Entering the weekend, Kansas Speedway had really high expectations. With all of the discourse surrounding the Next Gen and its flaws, the best and brightest track has consistently been Kansas. Once again, it delivered a starry sky’s worth of bright and shining moments.

The progressive banking of the 1.5-mile facility deserves the most thanks.

The race refused to follow a typical flow, and drivers dueled it out with amazing battles early on. Ross Chastain earned the lead early and fended off Christopher Bell until Larson entered the chat.

Larson took the lead, but instead of driving away, Chastain fought tooth and nail to hold onto the lead in one of the longest battles you will ever see, thanks in part to aggression of the drivers and to the progressive banking.

Though the top line has become dominant, it has yet to reach the levels of the Homestead-Miami Speedway high line. Instead, drivers can still run a variety of lines while racing the higher banking, generating differing levels of momentum.

As Chastain and Larson battled, they could throw their car into the corners, starting low and drifting high, allowing the steeper banking at the top of the corner to help catch the car. Meanwhile, the opposite driver had the option to lift off the throttle ever so slightly and angle down the track, taking a straighter line off the corner that wasn’t affected by the lesser banking.

This incredible phenomenon showcased itself time and time again throughout the field as different drivers took turns making moves, throwing blocks and slide jobs and going three-, four- and even five-wide during the race.

The banking made no difference on a long run or a short run. It provided fantastic racing with multiple racing lines, helping minimize aero blocking. It begs the question: Should progressive banking be considered for the progressive future of NASCAR?

During the 2010s, Kansas joined the likes of Pocono Raceway, Michigan International Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway in having its surface repaved. Since then, it is the only track on the list that has not been touched by any sort of traction compound in the corners. On top of that, it arguably produces the best racing out of the group — and maybe out of all tracks.

Along with Kansas, Homestead, Bristol Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Speedway sit on the Cup Series schedule with progressive banking. Bristol is Bristol, and Homestead has grown into a fan favorite as well. The Cup Series will run on progressive banking at Iowa Speedway later this year, and Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park with its varied banking also holds a special place in the heart of fans.

Whenever an oval track reaches a moment when it needs to be repaved, there comes a moment of worry because new pavement usually leads to a narrow racing line for the coming years until age helps the track return to normal. 

Rather than looking at messing with the configuration like we’ve seen at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas and Kentucky, NASCAR should start to consider creating banking with slight variations. Too much difference might create a Bristol scenario, which NASCAR partially rectified with the traction compound. 

Not every track needs a repave, and not every track needs progressive banking, but after the action we’ve seen at Kansas and Homestead for the past decade, it certainly provides a blueprint for racing success.

See also
Chris Buescher P1 on the Pylon, P2 on the Photo at Kansas

Who Stood Out?

With the exhilaration of a thrilling victory comes the agony of a narrow defeat. Buescher made a block on Larson in turn 3 with two laps left that put the No. 5 in dirty air and helped the No. 17 pull away as the white flag waved. 

Buescher needed to force Larson low in the final corners again to try another block, but he gingerly entered the corner. The lack of commitment allowed Larson to force his way high before Buescher could shut the door. He still had a shot, but Larson’s two door-bangs drastically slowed the momentum as Buescher did all he could to not spin out.

Even so, Buescher stood out the most. In one race, Buescher led more laps than Ford has led at Kansas in the last four races. When other Dark Horses faded early, the RFK Mustangs galloped to the front. Buescher may not have won, but his race-long speed should give a shot in the arm to Fords.

While giving a nod to the blue ovals, Michael McDowell also snuck into the 10th position. This came after he made contact with Austin Cindric and spun during the rash of cautions that broke out at the start of stage three. On top of the his first ever top 10 at a track where he has recently struggled, McDowell had to flex his finish a little extra on social media.

Who Fell Flat?

After topping the charts in lap averages, William Byron was a no-show for most of the race. Sure, he connected with the wall in qualifying and had to start in the rear. But he barely made his way into the top 15 before stalling out.

Byron broke inside the top 10 briefly in the final stage, but the string of cautions and varying pit strategies buried him in the back. He avoided a crash on the restart before the final long run, which cemented his position down the running order. 

For the second straight week, Byron’s early weekend speed advantage disappeared by the third stage, and Byron finished 23rd in overtime when all was said and done.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: A 0.001-Second Margin of Victory

Better Than Last Time?

If I graded this race like an essay, it would easily receive a 100%. The introduction had a great hook, especially while Larson and Chastain traded blows. 

The body more than satisfied an appetite for great racing. On short runs and long runs, drivers engaged in multi-lap battles, exemplifying the best of NASCAR racing. While some races rely on cautions and restarts to provide an eventful few laps, the enjoyment of watching guys work on making passes during the length of a run is really what sets NASCAR action apart.

The abundance of cautions at the start of the final stage began to bring the overall grade down, but it set up interesting strategies for the last long run.

The intrigue grew again as fuel mileage became an issue, and Truex lasered on stealing the win from Denny Hamlin, trying to return the favor from Richmond Raceway. 

On paper, the conclusion was written, then erased, and replaced with an even better finale. With poetic penmanship, Larson rewrote the story — and NASCAR’s timing and scoring — avenging his thrilling loss last season. 

Last year’s conclusion wrought controversy and slight unsettlement. This year has its own set of controversy but brings with it a triumphant satisfaction.

Paint Scheme of the Race

After picking three paint schemes last week, I’ll stick to just one actual paint scheme of the race. While the Busch Light Crocs scheme looked intriguing, to say the least, one other livery truly appeared like an art project on the racetrack.

Kaulig Racing and Derek Kraus partnered with ProjectWyoming.com, and the scheme brought a slice of the wild west to the Midwest. The bucking bronco and the shades of grass with the mountain silhouettes in the background made this race car into something from a Gunsmoke episode.

What’s Next?

The NASCAR Cup Series celebrates its history with throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway. Coverage for the Goodyear 400 begins Sunday, May 5 at 3 p.m. ET on FS1.

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Bill B

Certainly an exciting ending brought to you by a GWC finish. I was pulling for Buescher to prevail even though I do like Larson. It’s just that I’m tired of seeing HMS and JGR win every race. At least you know who didn’t win.

Overall a good race, although a few too many cautions in that final stage for me. I wonder what the procedure is if two cars finish exactly even. You know it’s going to happen one of these days.

DoninAjax

If two cars tie for the win, NA$CAR splits the prize money and cuts the trophy in half..

wildcatsfan2016

LOL DoninAjax, now THAT would be a better solution IMO but no one at NASCAR is King Solomon.

JD in NC

Good question. To break a tie, they may do something as simple as going back to the previous scoring loop.

wildcatsfan2016

I was pulling for Buescher too. I like Larson but I wanted Buescher to win it.

Echo

I’ve been a Larson fan since before Chip signed him but I was rooting for Buescher too.

Kevin in SoCal

I think they need a better high-speed camera at the finish. Does one even exist? Too much movement of the cars between frames to see something that close. The NHRA has the same problem at their finish line.

Steve

I have no dog in the fight, but I still am not entirely convinced that Larson won that race. Once you add in that section of the white line that doesn’t go all the way to the grass makes me question it even more.

Kevin in SoCal

I find it interesting that its called “drafting” at Daytona and Talledega, and its called “aero-blocking” everywhere else.

wildcatsfan2016

ha yeah NASCAR is all about semantics these days.

Kevin in SoCal

And I’m thankful this chat isn’t full of “tin-foil hats” thinking NASCAR gave the 5 the win cuz Hendrick paid them, like Facebook is.

Bill B

Wait for it…
Someone will before the week is up.

Steve

I don’t think anyone is saying they gave it to the 5 and Hendrick, but that section of the white line that doesn’t go all the way to the grass leaves some doubts as to whether Nascar got it right. The question becomes, what line did they use to determine who crossed the line first. Because the line Larson crossed and the line Buescher crossed are not equal.

Last edited 9 days ago by Steve
Kevin in SoCal

The painted line is just for the fans benefit. NASCAR uses a timing loop that is marked by a laser.

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