Chase Drama, Intensity to Heat Up in Kansas

With five drivers essentially fighting for one Chase spot, the stakes have never been higher, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the intensity is going to ratchet up this weekend in America’s heartland, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway.

The green flag will fly on the Hollywood Casino 400 from the 1.5-mile track just past 2:30 p.m. ET. Jimmie Johnson is safe and onto the Round of 8 by virtue of his win last weekend at Charlotte. But for the other 11 drivers: the road ahead will be tough.

One year ago, Kansas played host to one of the most controversial finishes in the 2015 Chase, as Joey Logano spun out Matt Kenseth en route to his second straight victory. The move ultimately resulted in Kenseth getting revenge on Logano at Martinsville just a few weeks later. Will we see something of the same nature this weekend? Who knows.

What we do know is that Kenseth is pretty good on this racetrack. He won the pole for Sunday’s race with a third round qualifying speed of 192.089 MPH. He edged his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, by 0.001 seconds to claim his first pole of the season.

Two more Toyotas, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr., will roll off third and fourth with Alex Bowman rolling off fifth in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and AJ Allmendinger will roll off in positions six through ten, with Chasers Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott starting 11th-13th.

Some other notables include Danica Patrick in 19th, Johnson in 21st, Kyle Larson in 24th and Aric Almirola in 35th. Kurt Busch qualified 15th, but will be forced to start at the rear of the field due to crashing at the end of Saturday afternoon’s final practice session.

It will be intriguing, to say the least, to see how the bubble drivers approach this race. Harvick is the odds on favorite to win (9/2 odds, according to Las Vegas) along with Truex Jr. Logano, Hamlin and Elliott have also shown speed throughout the season, with all three saving their best for The Chase. Dillon is kind of the odd man out, as the No. 3 team hasn’t showed as much speed as the other cars in 2016. That being said, last season was proof that anything can – and will – happen. And with only two races remaining in this round, it’s getting good.

My pick to win is the rookie sensation and aforementioned Chase Elliott. I think that No. 24 car for HMS is way overdue, and he finally finds victory lane for his first career win in the NSCS. But the way my predictions have been going, I could be dead wrong.

NOTE: Kyle Busch won the Xfinity Series race on Saturday evening. The Kansas Lottery 300 was the first race of the Round of 8 for the NXS. As it stands right now, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Reed, Brendan Gaughan and Erik Jones (cut a tire while leading). They are off for two weeks before returning at Texas Motor Speedway for the third-to-last race of the season.