Hollywood Casino 400 Preview: Cut to the Round of 8

Hollywood Casino 400 Preview: Cut to the Round of 8

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This week we come to the finale in the Round of 12 in the Chase for the Cup. For the 12 remaining drivers in the playoff field the pressure reaches the critical point as we travel to Kansas and take the last step in narrowing the current field of championship contenders to eight. Since so many drivers ran into trouble at Talladega this past week, this event will be one last opportunity and yet another chance to win and advance. For the sixth race in the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup, NASCAR pays its second visit of the season to Kansas Speedway just outside Kansas City for the Hollywood Casino 400. When we think of the Kansas oval we think of the many intermediate ovals on the circuit. This oval may not be exactly like Charlotte, Texas or Atlanta, but it could easily be the most important oval regarding the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup Series championship by the time we reach Homestead in November. As we visit the 1.5-mile oval in Kansas this weekend the schedule offers up a huge advantage to fantasy racing players and the drivers alike. For it was only five short months ago that the stars of NASCAR were locked in combat at this intermediate oval. The data from that race, the GoBowling.com 400, will be fresh and applicable to the field for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400.

The oval of Kansas Speedway is our third intermediate oval event in the Chase for

This week we come to the finale in the Round of 12 in the Chase for the Cup. For the 12 remaining drivers in the playoff field the pressure reaches the critical point as we travel to Kansas and take the last step in narrowing the current field of championship contenders to eight. Since so many drivers ran into trouble at Talladega this past week, this event will be one last opportunity and yet another chance to win and advance. For the sixth race in the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup, NASCAR pays its second visit of the season to Kansas Speedway just outside Kansas City for the Hollywood Casino 400. When we think of the Kansas oval we think of the many intermediate ovals on the circuit. This oval may not be exactly like Charlotte, Texas or Atlanta, but it could easily be the most important oval regarding the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup Series championship by the time we reach Homestead in November. As we visit the 1.5-mile oval in Kansas this weekend the schedule offers up a huge advantage to fantasy racing players and the drivers alike. For it was only five short months ago that the stars of NASCAR were locked in combat at this intermediate oval. The data from that race, the GoBowling.com 400, will be fresh and applicable to the field for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400.

The oval of Kansas Speedway is our third intermediate oval event in the Chase for the Cup. It is one of five races on ovals of this size in the 10-event Chase lineup that crowns our champion. That means ovals of this configuration make up a whopping 50-percent of the championship-crowning Chase for the Cup schedule. So pay close attention this weekend as trends from this 400-mile race will set the stage at upcoming intermediate ovals. While Kansas has been a track of manufacturer parity over the years, it's beginning to tilt in one direction. Our race in May of this year went back in favor of Toyota. Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. monopolized the lead in that event, with Truex eventually coming out on top. However, there were a handful of Ford suitors that were close behind this duo. Ryan Blaney led a career-best 83 laps in this event in his No. 21 Ford, and Kevin Harvick led 10 laps before ultimately finishing third in that race. All four of these drivers are still alive in the Chase for the Cup, but this weekend is separation Sunday. Four of the 12 drivers will be eliminated after this event, so the urgency to win will be in the forefront of all of their minds.

Since we're making our second visit of the season to Kansas Speedway, we need to take a brief look back at history at this intermediate oval. These numbers will be even more important than normal and even more relevant given that we've seen a lot of repeat winners at this facility. As you'll see in the table below, some of the hottest drivers in the series are making a very important start at Kansas Speedway this weekend. Here are the loop stats for the last 19 races at Kansas Speedway.

DRIVERAVG FINISHQUALITY PASSESFASTEST LAPSLAPS LEDLAPS IN TOP 15RATING
Jimmie Johnson8.58775635814,123 108.7
Matt Kenseth11.06613677603,949106.5
Kevin Harvick8.67023605113,902105.8
Martin Truex Jr.15.95153356223,27698.4
Ryan Blaney11.4148448896592.2
Kasey Kahne13.5713173633,36491.1
Kyle Larson18.42989931,28990.6
Brad Keselowski13.15961141592,82890.3
Dale Earnhardt Jr.16.25851511262,62188.6
Kurt Busch16.15911422603,08987.6
Kyle Busch16.75911272152,93687.0
Denny Hamlin17.063580693,10686.8
Joey Logano18.94641802942,34586.8
Daniel Suarez7.0470018885.0
Chase Elliott 23.06531431280.3
Clint Bowyer16.739449511,92178.6
Paul Menard18.837537242,10175.8
Austin Dillon18.019819288675.2
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.18.0162322679875.0
Ryan Newman19.348523112,05673.8

The race earlier this season at Kansas Speedway was very entertaining. It was Martin Truex Jr.'s second of six victories this season, and his serving notice of how strong the No. 78 Toyota team would be on these intermediate ovals in 2017. He led 104 laps that evening and overcame a very strong Ryan Blaney in the closing stages of the event in order to capture the win. Truex has been the top force on these intermediate ovals this season and he's setting the pace in the Chase coming into the sixth event of the playoffs. Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick were second- and third-place finishers that evening, and were denied victory lane even though they were given two shootout laps for the win at the end of the night. For drivers like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Harvick it's another opportunity to win this weekend and keep their championship hopes alive. With championship implications weighing heavily, we expect to see some real urgency in the racing, and some rebound performances for drivers that got rolled up in the carnage at Talladega this past weekend. We'll highlight the drivers you need this Sunday afternoon and the ones you need to avoid in order to dominate the day at Kansas Speedway.

The Contenders - Drivers in the hunt for the win

Martin Truex Jr. -
The championship standings leader has been the most dominant force in the series on intermediate ovals. Truex has stormed his way to six victories this season and five of those have come on these style ovals. That includes the last three-straight (Kentucky, Chicago and Charlotte). In his last visit to Kansas Speedway Truex led 104 laps and bested many contenders to take the win in the GoBowling.com 400. That was the Furniture Row Racing star's first win at the heartland oval, but certainly not his last. Although Truex already has a spot reserved in the next round of the Chase, he'll not pass up this opportunity to make a statement win and carry that momentum into the Round of 8.

Kyle Busch -
At five races into the Chase for the Cup, Busch is teetering on the brink of elimination in the Chase. His crash and DNF at Talladega last weekend has put this driver and team behind the eight ball coming to Kansas. The driver of the No. 18 Toyota may be one of the few on track Sunday that can upset the steamrolling Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 78 team. Busch won his first-career Kansas victory last year, and he's riding a five-race Kansas Top-5 streak into Sunday's action. His speed has been good on these ovals of late, with over 200 laps led at Kentucky, Chicago and Charlotte. The weakness has been finishing these races as strong as he starts them. That has been the disconnect. If there's a driver and team in the field that has the home-run potential to upset Truex it's this Joe Gibbs Racing star.

Kevin Harvick -
The Stewart Haas Racing star has been battling consistency issues all season long. They've seemed to subside since the start of the Case. With a pair of Top-5 finishes on the intermediate ovals of the Chase, Harvick has been strong of late at these ovals. If there's anything this No. 4 Ford team is good at its circling the wagons and making a huge comeback. The last three seasons have shown that Harvick has a knack for bearing down and claiming clutch victories when facing Chase elimination. That could be the case again this Sunday. Harvick is a two-time Kansas winner, and he's finished inside the Top-3 in four of the last five races at this facility. If Harvick hopes to contend for the championship he's got to break through for the win this Sunday afternoon.

Chase Elliott -
This will be Elliott's fourth-career Monster Energy Cup start at Kansas Speedway this weekend. The young driver has yet to make his mark on this oval, but this weekend is as good a time as any. Elliott has really turned it up a notch since the Chase for the Cup began. He's nabbed three runner-up finishes in the first five events and two of those have been on intermediate ovals. The No. 24 Chevrolet has been strong and the team has been qualifying well each week. With finishes of third-, second- and second-place in the last three intermediate oval events at Kentucky, Chicago and Kansas it's clear that this team comes to Kansas Speedway this weekend razor sharp and performing on these style tracks. Elliott's time to finally win may have arrived.

Solid Plays - Drivers who are near locks for the top 10 with an outside shot at winning

Kyle Larson -
Besides Martin Truex Jr. no other driver in the series has been more consistent on the cookie cutter ovals than Larson this season. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has five Top-5 and seven Top-10 finishes in the eight events to-date. While no wins have been in the offing on these tracks, the No. 42 Chevrolet has raced among the leaders and nabbed strong finishes. Larson is well alive in the Chase for the Cup, and good performance at Kansas Speedway should lock him into the next round based on points. It helps that Laron finished a strong sixth here in May's GoBowling.com 400. That's a good mark to expect for the team again this Sunday afternoon.

Denny Hamlin -
Hamlin has been really strong the latter half of this season on the 1.5-mile ovals. He rides a four-race Top-5 streak on these style tracks into Kansas Speedway this weekend. His last outing was a pole position, 45 laps led and fourth-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway just a couple weeks ago. Hamlin is a one-time Kansas winner, and while his consistency stats at Kansas haven't been that good over the years (28-percent Top-10 rate) he's visiting this track at a good time and with a lot of momentum. Fifth overall in the Chase for the Cup standings, he should easily advance into the next round if he racks up a Top-10 finish in the Hollywood Casino 400. Hamlin should deliver.

Brad Keselowski -
The Penske Racing star comes to the heartland oval this weekend with the security of a berth in the next round of the Chase based on his Talladega win this past weekend. Keselowski is normally pretty strong on these style tracks. He won at Kansas Speedway in 2011 and he has eight Top-10 finishes in 15-career starts at this facility. Keselowski battled with the leaders in May at this oval, before eventually finishing runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. Considering that the driver of the No. 2 Ford recently finished sixth at the similar oval in Chicago to start the Chase, he should be dialed-in for this similar track.

Ryan Blaney -
The Wood Brothers Racing youngster will be on the hot seat for Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400. Blaney currently resides seventh overall in the Chase standings, and cannot afford a poor finish if he hopes to advance to the Round of 8. The good news for the No. 21 Ford team is that Blaney had an eye-popping performance at Kansas Speedway in May. He led a whopping 83 laps and set the pace most of the night in that race. Blaney would fall back and eventually finish fourth that evening, but the impression was strongly made despite the lack of victory. The Wood Brothers Racing driver loves this facility and his one pole position, two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes in five starts shows it.

Sleepers - Drivers with good history at Kansas who can provide a solid finish

Jimmie Johnson -
Our seven-time Monster Energy Cup Series champion has three poles, three victories and 601 laps led in 22-career starts at Kansas Speedway. Johnson hasn't displayed the "winning touch" of late on these ovals since way back in the spring at Fort Worth. That's the primary reason for sleeper status this week instead of solid play. The Hendrick Motorsports star has been inconsistent on these ovals in 2017, up until just recently. Johnson nabbed eighth- and seventh-place finishes at Chicago and Charlotte to start the Chase, so there is hope for a Top-10 finish this weekend. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet had a forgettable outing at Kansas Speedway in May, but he should make up for that in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.

Matt Kenseth -
The Joe Gibbs Racing star comes to a great track this weekend. Kenseth has been somewhat consistent on these style ovals in 2017. He has four Top-10 finishes in the eight events to-date. That includes ninth- and 11th-place efforts at Chicago and Charlotte recently. The veteran driver has two-career victories at this facility and over 650 laps led. Kenseth checks in at a respectable 57-percent Top-10 rate at the Kansas Speedway oval. Considering that the veteran driver's back is to the wall in terms of the Chase and possible elimination, you can bet the No. 20 team will be on their "A" game this Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway.

Jamie McMurray -
The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has been incredibly consistent this season on cookie cutter ovals. McMurray's seven Top-10 finishes in the eight events on these ovals ranks him among the four-best drivers in the series. Yes, McMurray has been right up there with Truex, Larson and Harvick in terms of consistency on the intermediate ovals this season. That level of performance comes at a discount for this driver and team when considering him in weekly lineup fantasy leagues. Many will discount McMurray this weekend because he has only four Top 10s in 21-career starts at Kansas, but we say look more closely at his last outing at Kansas. That was an eighth-place finish at the oval in May, and more representative of what to expect this Sunday afternoon.

Joey Logano -
Logano hasn't been quite as impressive as his teammate Brad Keselowski on these 1.5-mile tracks in 2017. However, the driver of the No. 22 Ford has had some good performances none-the-less. The Penske Racing star hasn't been quite as strong on the intermediate ovals this year as he has been the past couple years, so that's the reason for the downgrade to the Sleepers list for this event. Logano still has five Top-10 finishes in eight starts on the intermediate ovals this season, and that includes a seventh-place finish at Chicago to start the Chase. The young driver has two-career wins and six Top-10 finishes at Kansas Speedway, so the potential is there for this to be a very good performance for the No. 22 Ford team.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. -
It's been a long time since we featured Earnhardt in the sleepers list this season. He's resided mostly in the slow down list in 2017, but he's beginning to turn the corner a bit. With finishes of seventh-, 12th- and seventh-place in the last three weeks, Earnhardt is finally beginning to overcome the problems that have plagued him and the No. 88 team most of the season. Intermediate ovals have proven tricky for this driver in his last season of racing, but one Top 10 and three Top 15s in his last four starts on these style ovals is encouraging. His last finish was a respectable 12th-place finish at Charlotte a couple weeks ago. Earnhardt sports a 43-percent career Top-10 rate at Kansas Speedway, and that's pretty good when compared to the average. He should rack up another Top 15 this Sunday afternoon.

Daniel Suarez -
Despite missing the Chase for the Cup this season, Suarez hasn't let that demoralize him nor the No. 19 Toyota team. In fact, since the Chase began, this has been some of the best racing of the season for the rookie driver. Suarez has four Top-10 finishes in the last six races entering the weekend, and finishes of 12th- and sixth-place at the intermediate ovals of Chicago and Charlotte. The young Joe Gibbs Racing driver is proving to be a quick study, and he's improving with his second start at a lot of these tracks. He finished a strong seventh here in May in his Kansas debut. It will be difficult to improve upon that mark, but given his current momentum and level of performance it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him crack the Top 10 again.

Slow Down - Drivers to avoid this week

Kurt Busch -
With his 25th-place finish at Talladega this past week, the difficult 2017 season rolls on for Busch and the No. 41 SHR team. The veteran driver has experienced a complete collapse of luck and performance since the Chase for the Cup began. Four finishes outside the Top 20 sealed his fate after the opening round. Things have been just a dim this season for Busch on the intermediate race tracks. With only three Top 10s in eight starts the veteran driver is batting a lowly 38-percent on these style ovals. He hasn't registered a Top 10 at one of these tracks since Charlotte in May of this year. Considering that Kansas Speedway has been his least favorite and least successful of these cookie cutter tracks (30-percent Top-10 rate) it's best to stay away from Busch in fantasy leagues this weekend.

Ryan Newman -
Historically speaking, this is not that great a venue for Newman. He has one-career victory and seven Top 10s in 23 starts. That works out to a lowly 30-percent Top-10 rate. Recent outings have further diminished this average. He has 12th- and 40th-place finishes in his last two Kansas starts. Newman limps into the heartland this Sunday. Despite his lucky runner-up finish at Talladega this past week, he has only that one Top 10 in his last five starts. Finishes of 23rd- and 40th-place at the similar ovals of Chicago and Charlotte during the Chase only add to our concerns. The No. 31 RCR team simply has not performed on intermediate ovals this season, and it's way too risky to deploy Newman in your lineups at this crucial time in the season.

Kasey Kahne -
Outside of what we would term an "anomaly" type finish recently at Charlotte, the cookie cutter ovals have been a disaster for the No. 5 team this season. Kahne has four finishes outside the Top 20 in the eight events on these style tracks in 2017. His average finish resides around 21.5 on these circuits. From a career perspective Kansas Speedway has been pretty good for Kahne. With nine Top-10 finishes in 20 starts he checks in around a respectable 45-percent rate. The veteran driver has been more of a mid-20s finisher than a mid-teens finisher this season on the 1.5-mile ovals. It's difficult to place much faith in Kahne performing this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Erik Jones -
After killing it for the first half of the season, the Furniture Row Racing rookie has finally fallen on hard times and hit the skids. He's only visited the Top 10 once in his last five races and his intermediate oval outings of the Chase have left a lot to be desired. Those were finishes of 33rd- and 17th-place at Chicago and Charlotte. To be honest, it's not been the intermediate ovals that have been the reason for Jones' success this season. The 12 Top-10 finishes to this point in the season have mainly came on short tracks and large ovals. These cookie cutter tracks have presented a real challenge in the No. 77 Toyota team. Jones finished 22nd earlier this season in his second Kansas start, and that's likely the territory he'll visit again this Sunday.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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