From weather and tires to a fire off track that was smoky enough to cause a caution, here is what else was surprising and not surprising from the 13th annual Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Surprising: Two ‘lame duck’ drivers who just happen to be future teammates scored the one-two victory punch in the land of Oz, with Kevin Harvick scoring the win from the pole and Kurt Busch coming all the way from the rear of the field to finish runner up.
“To sit on the pole and win the race is obviously a great weekend, and controlling our own destiny by doing that, we are putting ourselves closer to where we need to be with the championship race,” the driver of the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet said. “We’ll just keep having fun and keep doing what we’re doing.”
This was Harvick’s first win at Kansas and his third victory of the season. And with the win, Harvick did indeed help himself in the point standings, climbing into the third position, 25 points behind the leader.
Kurt Busch scored his fourth top-10 in 16 races at Kansas and his 15th top-10 finish in 2013. He moved up two positions to seventh in the Chase standings, 47 points behind the leader.
“Wow, what an unbelievable drive,” the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet said. “We battled hard to come from 41st and we did this in a backup car.”
“Today is a small little victory in my own mind.”
Not Surprising: With every driver on edge given the track conditions, it was no surprise that tempers flared just a little bit with some of the close racing. Four-time champ Jeff Gordon was one driver who had an issue after some hard racing with Kurt Busch resulted in his third place finish.
“It’s not a NASCAR race if you don’t have a discussion with another driver out there about an incident on the track,” the driver of the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet said. “Everybody is just trying to get every position they could.”
“I got in the outside lane there one time and he (Kurt Busch) just came up and the next lap I got to his bumper and got him loose,” Gordon continued. “I guess that kind of led to him wanting to run into me on the right side on my door.”
Gordon’s third place finish did, however, move him up one position in the Chase standings to the fourth spot, 32 points back from the leader.
Surprising: In spite of a speeding penalty, loose race car and an 11th place finish, Matt Kenseth was feeling incredibly lucky in the Hollywood Casino 400, particularly since he described his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota as the ‘evilest’ car he had ever driven.
Yet even with that ‘evilest’ car, Kenseth not only was the highest Toyota finisher but he also managed to maintain his points lead in the Chase, out front by three after Kansas.
“It was a struggle all day,” Kenseth said. “I was so loose I was ready to crash pretty much at all times of the race.”
“We drove back to 11th, which definitely isn’t what we wanted or what we need to contend for this thing, but it was a good save for as bad as we were.”
Not Surprising: While some drivers circle dates on the calendar for tracks where they cannot wait to race, others have tracks from which they cannot wait to leave.
Such was the experience at Kansas for Kyle Busch, who yet again was bitten by the Kansas demons that led to his Chase race demise, from third to fifth place, after his 34th place finish. This was his third straight DNF at Kansas Speedway.
“I have no idea what happened,” Busch said after his race ended in carnage. “All I know is we’re in Kansas, right?”
“Every other track except Kansas seems to be able to bode well for us,” the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota said. “It wasn’t meant to be.”
Surprising: Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson had a self-proclaimed surprisingly crazy, weird and wacky day that still had him passing cars, finishing sixth in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, and gaining points, now just three points back from leader Matt Kenseth.
“All in all it was just a crazy day,” Johnson said. “Weird restarts. Wacky restarts. A lot of chaos there.”
“These cautions kept coming out and they hurt us each time,” Johnson continued, “So we rebounded from all that and passed a ton of race cars, and then on the last lap with I guess two to go, coming down the back, the car started shaking real bad and I thought it was over.”
“We had so many things happen to us and still salvaged a very strong sixth place finish.”
Not Surprising: Richard Petty Motorsports, a team that has seemed to be steadily gaining and moving forward had another good run at Kansas with both drivers finishing top ten.
“It felt like a win because I thought our day was done,” Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 MAC Tools Ford said after finishing ninth. “It was a bizarre kind of a race.”
“The tire was super edgy and unpredictable and you didn’t know if it was the wind or the tire or the car that was making the difference.”
“I am just pleased that we finished and I fought hard all day.”
“We got a top-10 and I would have never told you that was possible,” Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 Farmland Ford said after finishing tenth. “We got off in the middle part of the race but salvaged a good finish.”
“I am proud of my guys.”
Surprising: Another team, however, that of Stewart Haas Racing, had a surprisingly ugly day at the race track.
Danica Patrick, SHR driver, wrecked hard on the first lap and finished 43rd, while Ryan Newman, SHR teammate, got tangled up in a wreck, finishing 35th and dropping to 12th in the point standings.
“I knew that going into the race that losing grip was going to be not that hard to do,” Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet said. “I said that before the race started.”
“Things just go wrong,” Patrick continued. “If I did something wrong, I apologize to everyone on my team but it’s just a shame.”
“There’s not much to say other than we were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in an accident not of our making,” Newman said. “It’s definitely a disappointing day for all of us on the Code 3 Associates team.”
Not Surprising: With the challenging track conditions, it was not surprising that restarts were especially challenging for each and every driver, whether a Chaser or not, in the field. In fact, one Chase contender defined the restarts at Kansas as simply ‘insane.’
“The restarts were insane,” Carl Edwards, driver of the No. 99 Fastenal Ford said. “Look up insane and that is the definition right there.”
“It is tough to be racing for points when you have those kind of restarts.”
“It was pretty crazy out there,” Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, said. “Every restart you had to be so aggressive to pass people because that was your best shot to pass them and everyone realized it.”
Logano finished the race in fourth while Edwards salvaged a fifth place finish. The two drivers are now in the tenth and eleventh spots in the point standings respectively.
Surprising: The end of the race was most surprising, at least for Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer, who got into each other coming to the checkered flag.
Bowyer, driver of the No. 15 Raspberry 5-Hour Energy/Living Beyond Breast Cancer Toyota, described his day in a tweet after the race, “What a frustrating day! Started out sh**ty, got a little better, got WAY better, put on 2 tires and s**t the bed…Then lost my mind.”
Almirola described the run-in with Bowyer in a slightly different way, “I beat him on that restart and I guess he was mad about it.”
“That is fine, I am not worried about it,” Almirola continued. “I beat him.”
Not Surprising: With the confluence of weather, tires, track conditions and the Chase pressure, it was not surprising that the record for the number of cautions was broken at Kansas Speedway with a total of fifteen. In fact, there were 71 laps run under caution, a new record for the season.
“We had a lot of gremlins this weekend,” Brad Keselowski, reigning champ and driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford said. “There were so many wrecks and so many yellows that we could never really get going.”
“Oh yeah, we couldn’t get in a rhythm out there.”
The Cup Series next travels to Charlotte for the Bank of America 500 under the Saturday night lights.