It was said that the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway might be the “wildcard” event in this year’s edition of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
I’m not so sure about “wildcard.” But there is no question the race was wild.
In the kind of demolition derby we’re accustomed to seeing at, say, Talladega, the race on the repaved and reconfigured Kansas track was loaded with incidents.
There were 14 caution periods, a record for Kansas, and nearly all of them were created by wrecks that involved one, or more, cars.
Matt Kenseth survived the mayhem to win for the third time this season and the second in the last three Chase races.
But even Kenseth did not escape unscathed. His Roush Fenway Racing Ford had its share of crumpled metal as it took the checkered flag.
“I thought it was over when I got in the fence when Aric (Almirola) wrecked under Mark (Martin),” Kenseth said. “I was watching them and trying to make sure I didn’t hit them and I flat sided it pretty bad.
“It ended up working in our favor. They fixed the body as good as it was when we started and we had to take less gas on that last pit stop and this pit crew put me out front.”
Kenseth, who will compete with Joe Gibbs Racing next year, took the lead on lap 219 and stayed there for the remaining 49.
The race was decidedly uncharacteristic for a 1.5-mile “cookie cutter” track, the type of which fans have often criticized for boring races.
But there was nothing boring about Kansas. Perhaps that was due to the repaving – which always increases speed – and the new graduated banking, which often produces a second groove.
“If they wanted that kind of racing they got it,” said Trevor Bayne, who was involved in an accident on lap 170 of 267. “It was good racing, I felt like, but if you stepped out of the groove too much you were busting your butt and that is what everybody did.”
Many drivers said that although the race was indeed a wreckfest, the changes made at Kansas were welcome
“This place is going to be awesome with the progressive banking,” said Martin Truex Jr., who finished second. “You could already feel it today coming in.”
As much as the accidents shook up the race’s finishing order, they didn’t do much to alter the Chase point standings.
Brad Keselowski, who finished eighth at Kansas, still holds the lead. He remains seven points ahead of Jimmie Johnson – the same margin he held prior to the race.
“Everybody has been asking all season long where have all the cautions been?” Keselowski said. “The answer is that they flew to Kansas because there was caution after caution and it seemed like every wreck today seemed to happen in front of me.
“I’m glad to survive the carnage and brought back a decent car.”
Johnson, who finished ninth, survived when in all likelihood he shouldn’t have.
His Chevrolet slammed the wall in the fourth turn on lap 137 and only a Herculean repair effort by his Hendrick Motorsports team kept the five-time champion in the race. In fact, he did not lose a lap.
“It is pretty tore up,” Johnson said of his car. “I’m definitely proud of this team and the fact that we never give up. We continue to fight to try to get every point that we can.
“But I crashed the car. I spun out trying to get inside the No. 56 (Truex, Jr.). He bobbled a little in front of me and I thought that was an opportunity to jump in the gas real hard.
“When I did that, my car took off and I couldn’t catch it. All in all a good day, but it could have been a lot better. I think we could have been in victory lane and stretched some points on these guys.”
Denny Hamlin finished 13th but remains third in points. However, he lost some ground. He’s now 20 points behind Keselowski, five more than he was after Charlotte.
Clint Bowyer remains fourth in points and his sixth-place finish allowed him to make up three points on Keselowski. He’s now 25 back.
Kasey Kahne, fourth at Kansas, remains fifth in points and he, too, gained ground. He’s now 30 in arrears.
So, going into Martinsville, the first of the final four races remaining in the Chase, the championship scrap remains pretty much what it was prior to the Kansas mayhem.
The top five drivers in the standings, separated by 30 points, are still the obvious contenders for the title.
“I see it coming all the way down to Homestead,” Keselowski said, referring to the last race of the season. “It will be decided there.
I’m happy with the season that we’ve had so far and the position that we’re in.
“But it’s going to come down to the last race. That’s pretty obvious after today.”