Compared to the other tracks in the Round of 16, the Kansas Speedway -- a product of NASCAR's track-building boom a quarter century ago -- cannot boast nearly the same depth of history or significance to stock car racing's fabric that Darlington Raceway or even Bristol Motor Speedway can. But in the 22 years it's been on the Cup Series schedule, it can boast that it's grown into a favorite annual stop in the fall, one of the midwest's great major speedways, and a worthy venue in determining the Cup Series championship.
The NASCAR playoffs moves on to Kansas for the Hollywood Casino 400, the second race of the Round of 16 and the second race of the season at this 1.5-mile speedway. After a thrilling race here back in May, the stakes have been raised considerably and even more is on the line as the playoff field tries to join Southern 500 winner Kyle Larson in advancing to the next round.
How to watch the NASCAR Playoffs at Kansas
Date: Sunday, Sept. 10
Location: Kansas Speedway -- Kansas City, Kan.
Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: USA Network
Stream: fubo (try for free)
What to Watch
The second race of the year at Kansas has an extremely tough act to follow, as the spring race at this speedway proved to be one of the best races of the entire 2023 Cup Series season. 37 lead changes occurred between 12 different drivers, with the final lead change taking place on the last lap as Denny Hamlin got into Kyle Larson on the backstretch, sending Larson into a slide along the wall as Hamlin drove away to victory.
As Kansas' current configuration has matured (the track was repaved midway through 2012, with the banking increased from 15 degrees to a progressive 17-20 degrees), its propensity for exciting racing and exciting finishes has increased. But this track has a long history of dramatic finishes since it opened in 2001.
- 2004: Joe Nemechek beats Ricky Rudd to the finish line by a carlength, picking up the fourth and final Cup win of his career. Nemechek's .081 margin of victory remains the closest in any Cup race held at Kansas.
- 2006: A fuel-mileage race breaks out in the final laps, with Tony Stewart running out of fuel in the race lead with half a lap to go. Despite running out of gas, Stewart's lead over second-place Casey Mears (who also ran out of gas) was so large that he was able to coast across the finish line on fumes and take the win.
- 2008: Long before the Hail Melon at Martinsville, Carl Edwards tried a video game move in the final corner, flooring it into the last corner and dive-bombing Jimmie Johnson for the lead. Edwards took the lead momentarily but scrubbed off too much speed as he hit the wall, allowing Johnson to drive past and take the win.
- 2012: After a dominant performance all day up to that point, Martin Truex Jr. spent the final laps desperately trying to take the lead back from Denny Hamlin, including several dive-bombs into Turn 3 that he couldn't make stick from the middle to exit of the corner. The last one comes on the last lap, with Truex sliding off Turn 4 as Hamlin drove to victory.
- 2013: Matt Kenseth held off Kasey Kahne over the final laps, winning by only .150 seconds despite a dominant performance with 163 laps led.
- 2015: Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth collide racing for the win, with Logano spinning Kenseth in Turn 1 following a block by Kenseth with five laps to go. Logano would go on to win, but the incident proved to be a pivotal moment in the 2015 playoffs as the ensuing feud culminated in Kenseth taking Logano out at Martinsville and arguably costing him that year's title.
- 2018: Kevin Harvick passes Truex coming to the white flag, pulling away on the final lap to take the win.
- 2022: Kurt Busch takes the lead for the final time with nine laps to go and prevails in a tight battle with Larson, scoring the 34th and final victory of his Cup career.
News of the Week
- After weeks of his contract status being a major storyline, Joe Gibbs Racing finally announced Monday that they have signed Denny Hamlin to a multi-year contract extension, keeping Hamlin home with the only team he has ever driven for. In addition to his own contract extension, Hamlin also announced on his podcast that 23XI Racing would remain with Toyota.
- Legacy Motor Club announced Wednesday that John Hunter Nemechek has been hired as the new driver of the No. 42 beginning in 2024. It'll be Nemechek's first full-time Cup campaign since 2020, when he competed for Rookie of the Year with Front Row Motorsports.
- During an appearance on NASCAR Race Hub, NASCAR Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson said that he would not run any more Cup races for Legacy Motor Club in 2023, but would return for another partial schedule in 2024. Johnson has competed in three Cup races this year, but none since a tragedy within his family prior to a planned start at Chicago.
- The Athletic has reported that Harrison Burton will return to Wood Brothers Racing for a third season with the team in 2024. Burton has one top five and four top 10s in his Cup career so far with a best finish of third at Indianapolis in 2022.
Driver to Watch
The beginning of May proved to be a turning point in Ross Chastain's 2023 season, influenced in large part by what happened at Kansas. One week after triggering an accident that angered both Kyle Larson and Brennan Poole at Dover, Chastain used up Noah Gragson on his way to a fifth-place finish and then had to defend himself from an angry Gragson in post-race, winning some street credit by warning Gragson to back off before delivering a well-executed punch to the face.
Things came to a head for Chastain the next week at Darlington, which led to car owner Justin Marks. And since then, Chastain's performance was noticeably off. If you take his win at Nashville out of the equation, Chastain's fifth-place run last week at Darlington was his first top five since all the way back in Kansas' spring race.
Chastain's swoon in the second half of the regular season, though, always had a feel like it could turn upon the start of the playoffs. And if Chastain backs up his Southern 500 finish with another run at the front this weekend, it could prove indicative of exactly how well Chastain and his team have prepared for the playoffs and exactly how deep they're capable of going.
Pick to Win
Kyle Larson (+500): A win at Kansas in 2021 put Kyle Larson in that year's Championship 4 on his way to his first Cup title, and he's remained among the best at this track since given that its multiple grooves -- particularly the speed you can gain by running the wall -- fits right into his skillset as a driver. In his last three Kansas races, Larson has two runner-up finishes as well as an eighth-place finish last fall, and he enters this weekend on the strength of his Southern 500 triumph.
Larson won back-to-back races twice during his championship season, both of which were three-win streaks. While I'm not going to go as far to suggest that Larson sweeps the Round of 16, I will suggest he earns his second-straight win to open the playoffs.