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Race Weekend Review: October 19-20, 2019

Race Weekend Review: October 19-20, 2019

NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway
• Hamlin wins; Elliott comes second and moves on to next playoff round

Kansas City, KS, Oct 20/19 (GRW): There were two contests here at Kansas City today. The first was the competition to determine the race winner. The second was a contrived, convoluted puzzle to determine which eight of the 12 remaining playoff drivers would transfer to the next – and final – elimination round, the so-called ‘Round of Eight’. The race winner was Denny Hamlin while the eight drivers who remain in contention for the season’s championship and who will transfer to the next playoff race are Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney.

First let’s look at the race. Qualifying did not tell us much, given that some crew chiefs opted for a low-downforce setup to win the qualifying and others opted for higher downforce (but less speed) believing that more downforce would help them win the 400-mile race. For example, we saw two of the Penske Fords – Blaney and Brad Keselowski – qualifying on the second row, while Logano, in the third Penske car ended up way back in 39th place on the grid. It was a meaningless exercise and the faster – higher-downforce cars soon moved up towards the front after the green flew.

The first Stage ended on lap 80 of the 267-lap race. Logano, who was trying to make it up to the front, had to pit with a loose wheel and this put him a lap down. The first two Stages were 120 miles long, too long for a run without stopping for fuel, so we expected a cycle of green-flag pit stops in each of the first two Stages. In the first Stage, the race’s first caution came on lap 76, after everyone had made a green-flag pit stop. This caution brought Logano, who did not pit, back up onto the lead lap and racing for position.

Although the Stage was going to end a couple of laps later, most of the front-runners pitted now but a few stayed out for the track position. This saw Logano flagged as the Stage winner ahead of Elliott and Daniel Suarez.

Now Truex came to the fore on lap 93 and he led 33 laps before Hamlin showed his stuff and ran him down for the race lead. Hamlin led the next 93 laps, through the cycle of pit stops at the end of the second Stage. Of course, there had to be another cycle of pit stops during this last Stage and, given that this happened under green-flag conditions, the stops were staggered over several laps which saw Alex Bowman and Ricky Stenhouse each lead briefly until the lead cycled back around to Hamlin on lap 227.

Hamlin led the rest of the way, through two overtime restarts, to the checker which, in the end, flew on lap 277, ten laps beyond the advertised distance.

PHOTO MENCS KS Hamlin Sticker 102019Denny Hamlin poses with the winner's decal on his car in Victory Lane after winning the Hollywood Casino 400 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“This is a great feeling,” said Hamlin. “That car was awesome to dominate that whole second half. I have to thank everybody who pushed me on the restarts, Kyle (Busch), the 9 (Elliott) at the end. Good to see him make it by points anyway. But, hey, I’m just really happy for this whole FedEx team. It’s been great. Been running really good. Cannot wait to get to Martinsville Speedway (next Sunday’s Round of 8 opener).”

The broadcasters followed their script and focused on the battle among the playoff drivers who were hoping to transfer to the next elimination round. Their attention was on Logano, Elliott, Keselowski and Byron. They made the obvious comments that if any one of the playoff drivers who were in jeopardy on not making the cut were to win the race, this would automatically move them on to the next round.

Much attention focused on Elliott, who was running in the top ten and Keselowski who was about 11 places behind him. This created a points situation which, if it stood to the end of the race, would place these two very close to the cut line, one above and one below. On lap 252, Blaney hit the wall and left tire debris on the track. This brought out a caution and dropped him back to 15th place.

Coming off that yellow, Elliott was in eighth place and Keselowski in 19 place. This would have produced a points allocation which would have seen Keselowski make the cut and Elliott not. But, soon after the restart, Darrell Wallace tangled with Matt Tifft bringing out the yellow and sending the race into overtime. About the same time, Elliott had moved up from fourth place to second, giving him enough points to put him ahead of Keselowski, above the cut line.

When the race restarted, Hamlin continued to lead but Kyle Busch got past Elliott into second place. Meanwhile, Logano tangled with Suarez and the yellow flew just before Hamlin crossed the finish line. Had it come a few seconds later the race would have ended. Now we had another overtime restart. When the checker flew, Elliott was back up to second and Keselowski had fallen to 19th place, not good enough for him to displace Elliott from those who would transfer to the next round. Logano’s car was damaged quite a bit but he was able to keep going and he finished in 17th place. That result, combined with his points coming into this race was good enough to move him on to the next playoff race. Much as the broadcasters talked about Byron’s prospect to make the cut, he would have had to win the race (he has yet to win a Cup race) and that did not happen; he finished in fifth place, good, but no cigar.

The next race, the first race in the final elimination round will be held next week at Martinsville Speedway, on Sunday, October 27.

Click HERE for the RESULTS of the Kansas race.

Click HERE for the official driver points standings after Kansas (top 22 places only).

The top eight drivers on the list will transfer to the Martinsville race next week. Don’t ask me how they come up with their rankings (which do not correspond to the rankings the broadcaster showed throughout the race or to the ‘points report’ on the NASCAR media) – but I believe that these are the official standings.

PHOTO NXS KS Jones Leading 101919Brandon Jones (#19) races Chase Briscoe (#98) during the Kansas Lottery 300 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway
• A first Xfinity win for Brandon Jones

Kansas City, KS, Oct 19/19 (GRW): Brandon Jones has been racing in NASCAR since 2012, a total of 71 starts, but he had only one win in all those races. He won at Iowa in 2014 in the K&N East Series. But, here at Kansas this day, he beat out all the championship playoff contenders to win here. He held off Tyler Reddick by a margin of just 0.3 seconds to take the checker.

Chase Briscoe finished third while Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier were scored in fourth and fifth place. All the top five finishers but Jones are playoff drivers who are still fighting it out for the title.

For most for the race it was a contest between Cole Custer and Christopher Bell, two drivers who along with Reddick are the favourites to win the championship. Bell started the race from the pole with Jones alongside. And he led the first 47 laps of the 200-lap race, winning the first 45-lap Stage. Going into Stage 2, Bell continued to lead for the next 13 laps.

Custer closed on Bell and passed him for the lead on lap 62. A few laps later, Harrison Burton tangled with Austin Cindric bringing out the race’s third caution. This ended Burton’s day but Cindric was able to continue, taking the restart in 14th place. However, he came back into the pits almost immediately with a flat tire. A few laps later and he was back into the pits with more tire problems.

A few laps later and the second Stage ended with Custer as the Stage winner. Bell beat him out of the pits and the two of them lined up at the front for the restart to begin Stage 3. A few laps later and Custer dove under Bell to regain the lead and the battle between these two resumed.

Reddick hit the wall on lap 124 and he pitted for attention. Unfortunately, this pit stop was too soon and he was still going to have to make another pit for more fuel – putting him on a par with the other front runners.

When the final fuel window opened at about lap 140 (60 laps or 90 miles to go to the checker) Reddick was the first to pul down pit lane – but he did not stop because Michael Annett had hit the wall bringing out the fifth caution. So, now everyone was able to make their final planned pit stop under this yellow.

Bell had been running is second right behind Custer but he dropped back to fourth after this round of yellow-flag pit stops. Custer lined up for the restart in the lead with Briscoe alongside. However, on the restart it was a scramble for positions and Custer was the loser, dropping back to 11th place while Bell was able to move up to second behind Briscoe and ahead of Reddick.

The sixth caution came a few laps later, on lap 164, when John Hunter Nemechek, unassisted spun in turn 2. Given that the teams all had one more set of fresh tires left in their allotment, there was one more mass rush into the pits for these fresh tires. Briscoe came back out of the pits in the lead with Reddick and Bell right behind.

Now Custer was making a run for the front and during this run, he moved up from a night place on the restart to third behind Briscoe and Bell by lap 174. Now it looked like we were going to see a real race with Bell and Custer battling past Briscoe and fight it out each other for the race lead.

But then a catastrophe happened. As these two came around, battling for position, Garrett Smithley, who was already a lap down, was not paying attention and he pulled up in front of Bell. Bell was trapped between the lapped car and the wall and when he was slowed by this collision, Custer ran into him. Bell had so much damage he came in to the pits for repairs before they were opened. Briscoe pitted under the yellow, handing the lead over to Custer, who took the restart with Reddick alongside on the lower line.

Now there were just ten laps remaining in the race. On the restart Reddick slipped up into Custer, jamming him into the wall. Custer’s car was damaged and he slowed, dropping out of the top ten while Jones, who had started behind Custer, took over the lead and led the rest of the way to the checker. Reddick recovered from his faux pas and he was able to tuck in behind Jones and follow him around the remaining few laps to take second – while Custer was left with an 11th-place finish.

“My foot was literally shaking on the accelerator on that last lap,” Jones said. “I’m not even sure if I was wide open at the time that I was doing it. There was a lot of nerves and a lot of emotion going through my mind, but I saw it coming, and I was pretty pumped.”

After the race, Custer went over to Reddick, apparently to exchange pleasantries, but when he put his hand on Reddick’s shoulder, the gesture was taken it the wrong way and a scuffle ensued involving the pit crews as well as the two drivers.

This was the first race of three in the final elimination round. After the next two races – Texas and Phoenix/ISM, the bottom four playoff drivers will be eliminated and the top four will go on to the finale at Homestead to duke it out for the title.

Despite their disappointing results here at Kansas, Bell and Custer remain one-two at the top of the playoff standings.

Click HERE for the results of the Kansas NXS race.

The next race, at Texas Motor Speedway, will be held in two weeks time, on Saturday, November 2.

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