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 field of championship contenders to eight.  Since so many drivers ran into trouble at Talladega last 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 Digital Ally 400, will be fresh and applicable to the field for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400.

The oval of Kansas Speedway is just our second 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 field of championship contenders to eight.  Since so many drivers ran into trouble at Talladega last 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 Digital Ally 400, will be fresh and applicable to the field for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400.

The oval of Kansas Speedway is just our second intermediate oval event in the Chase for the Cup.  It is one of four 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 40-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 Ford.  Kevin Harvick and Alex Bowman monopolized the lead in that event, but it would be the No. 2 Ford of Brad Keselowski eventually coming out on top.  Ford drivers have now won two of the last three Kansas events.  That's a trend that we'll pay close attention to this weekend.  For the drivers still alive in the Chase for the Cup playoffs, this race will prove to be step up and advance or go home time.  Four of the 12 drivers will be eliminated after this event, so the urgency to win will be paramount.

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 23 races at Kansas Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick8.68435738074,890109.5
Jimmie Johnson9.61,0255775814,698103.2
Martin Truex Jr.14.26494067264,03198.6
Chase Elliott12.929184931,22794.2
Ryan Blaney15.12591101541,76694.0
Kyle Larson16.64531721042,02293.1
Brad Keselowski12.27611752153,63891.9
Kyle Busch16.07782263283,93590.8
Kurt Busch14.87391522673,85488.4
Joey Logano17.55752244003,02087.8
Denny Hamlin15.777292743,83686.1
Erik Jones18.53104331,14884.8
Clint Bowyer16.057866632,84780.2
Aric Almirola18.735762691,77077.5
Paul Menard18.749950242,64975.9
Austin Dillon16.93042161,30474.9
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.17.925543481,12774.8
Ryan Newman20.360025112,54173.3
Daniel Hemric18.019007868.7
Chris Buescher18.412351042867.4

The race earlier this year at Kansas Speedway was very entertaining.  It was Brad Keselowski's latest of three victories this season.  The Penske Racing star hasn't visited victory lane since that event, and he will be hungry to sweep Kansas and advance in the Chase.  Keselowski took the lead late from Alex Bowman and held on to grab the victory in the Digital Ally 400.  Keselowski has been a consistent performer on these intermediate ovals this season, but not a huge threat to win.  Runner-up finisher Bowman has been very impressive lately.  He's posted runner-up and third-place finishes recently at Charlotte and Dover, and looked like a contender to win at Talladega this past week before crashing out.  The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet is on fire, and coming back to Kansas Speedway at the right time seeking redemption.  

For this duo and a handful of other hopefuls 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. If the Joe Gibbs Racing star hopes to win a second championship, a victory at Kansas Speedway will go a long way to that end.  He's not been quite as dominant on intermediate ovals this season, but he's still been pretty strong.  A recent win at Las Vegas, and a victory earlier this season at Charlotte indicate that this team is still dangerous on these style ovals.  Truex led a whopping 148 laps combined in those two events.  Truex's last visit to Kansas earlier this season was forgettable, but his recent history at this facility is very impressive.  He has two victories and one runner-up finish in three of his last five starts at this Kansas oval.  The confidence level of the No. 19 Toyota team entering this event must be sky high.    

Kevin Harvick - The Stewart Haas Racing star is a three-time Kansas winner, and he boasts a strong 30-percent career Top-5 rate at the oval coming into this weekend's action.  When the Monster Energy Cup Series was last at Kansas Speedway, the driver of the No. 4 Ford won the pole, led 104 laps, but didn't get the finish he deserved.  Harvick will be looking for redemption this Sunday, and the automatic pass a win grants into the next round of the Chase.  The driver of the No. 4 Ford was razor sharp in our last intermediate oval race, which was at Las Vegas to kick off the Chase.  Harvick led 47 laps that afternoon and finished runner-up in the South Point 400.  He'll be hungry for the win this Sunday afternoon in Kansas. 

Brad Keselowski The Penske Racing star comes to the heartland oval this weekend with tons of motivation after his Talladega disappointment.  Keselowski currently sits seventh in the Chase ladder and somewhat in jeopardy of being eliminated from the playoffs if he has a bad race at Kansas.  So the motivation and desire to win will be greatest with the No. 2 team than any of the other top contenders.  Keselowski is normally pretty strong on these style tracks.  He won at Kansas Speedway in 2011 and he won the Digital Ally 400 there earlier this season.  That makes him a two-time winner at the Kansas oval.  Keselowski finished third at the intermediate oval in Las Vegas to kick off the Chase a few weeks ago, and that's a good indicator of potential.  He's been a 63-percent Top-5 finisher this season on 1.5-mile ovals, and that's a very strong rate.   

Chase Elliott Intermediate ovals have not been the best tracks for the No. 9 Chevrolet team this season.  However, everything is turning to gold for Elliott of late.  He's converted two victories and seven Top 10's in the last 10 races entering this weekend.  Elliott is leading laps and racing among the leaders each week.  This driver and team are focused and intent on advancing in the Chase.  The Hendrick Motorsports youngster has seven-career starts at Kansas Speedway, and owns one victory and four Top-10 finishes.  He won this event one year ago in a surprising performance, and he returned this spring to lead 45 laps and finish fourth.  Elliott is warming up to Kansas Speedway with each start.  He'll use that confidence well in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Alex Bowman After last week's crash at Talladega, Bowman comes limping into Kansas Speedway.  He sits ninth overall in the Chase standings and at 18 points below the cutoff, his championship hopes are dangling by a thread.  A Hail Mary style win would put him into the next round this Sunday, but he could also race his way into the Round of 8 on points if the right things happen.  Regardless, Bowman and the No. 88 team know they have some heavy lifting to do in order to advance.  The intermediate ovals have been a mixed bag for the No. 88 team this season.  Bowman finished runner-up at Kansas in the spring, and he won during the summer at Chicago.  Outside of those two efforts, it's been an up-and-down affair.  However, we see great potential in Bowman due to his recent level of speed and performance, and that very noteworthy runner-up finish in his last Kansas start.             

Joey Logano Logano has been nearly as impressive as his teammate Brad Keselowski on these 1.5-mile tracks in 2019.  The driver of the No. 22 Ford has been incredibly consistent.  The Penske Racing star has five Top-10 finishes in the eight intermediate oval races to-date.  That includes the No. 22 team's victory at Las Vegas in the spring, and Top-3 finishes at both Charlotte and Chicago during the summer.  For Logano's career, he's a two-time victor at Kansas Speedway with over 400 laps led.  He also sports a respectable 40-percent Top-10 rate at this facility.  Logano sits perilously and uncomfortably eighth in the current Chase for the Cup standings at a mere 18 points above the cutoff to advance.  The margin for error is zero, and he'll race like it Sunday afternoon.

Kyle Larson Thanks to his big win at Dover a couple weeks ago Larson is inked into the next round of the Chase, but we don't expect him to relax this weekend.  He needs to build up his playoff points and carry those into the Round of 8.  The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has been improving on the intermediate ovals in the second half of the season.  After a rough start, Larson has picked up two Top-5 and four Top-10 finishes in his last five intermediate oval starts.  One of those was his eighth-place finish at Kansas Speedway earlier this season in the South Point 400.  The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet rides a three-race Kansas Top-10 streak into this weekend's action.  There's a very good chance Larson will extend that streak to four after Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.     

Ryan Blaney The Penske Racing youngster is fresh off a surprising Talladega win, and locked into the Round of 8 in the Chase.  The other good news for the No. 12 Ford team is that Blaney has had some eye-popping Kansas performances the last few seasons.  He has three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in nine career starts, and that includes over 150 laps led and one pole position.  Blaney finished seventh in this event one year ago, and that's a good indicator of potential for Sunday's 400-mile battle.  Recent intermediate oval efforts have yielded a sixth-place finish at Chicago during the summer, and a more recent fifth-place finish at Las Vegas to start the Chase.  Blaney is riding a good wave of momentum coming into Kansas Speedway.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Kansas & solid upside

Kyle Busch At five races into the Chase for the Cup, Busch is 41 points to the good in the overall standings.  His poor finish at Talladega last weekend didn't put him into much jeopardy as we visit Kansas Speedway this weekend.  The driver of the No. 18 Toyota hasn't been a top performer on intermediate ovals this season, so we're sliding him down to the sleepers list this week.  Busch is a one-time Kansas winner, but sports a pedestrian 44-percent Top-10 rate at the facility.  His visit here in May of this year yielded a forgettable finish, but that was the exception for him at this oval.  Still, the 16.9-career average finish ranks Kansas Speedway as Busch's least-performing track among the intermediate ovals.  He has Top-10 potential, but not likely Top-5 potential.      

William Byron The young Hendrick Motorsports driver has taken some big steps this season on the cookie cutter oval circuit.  With a pole position at Charlotte, 86 laps led and four Top-10 finishes it has been quite an eventful season for Byron on the 1.5-mile tracks.  His last intermediate oval start yielded an impressive seventh-place finish at Las Vegas at the start of the playoffs.  This will be Byron's fourth-career start at Kansas Speedway this Sunday afternoon.  He's seen this oval a few times now and learned a few things.  We're certain that he'll improve on his 20th-place finish here in the spring.  Given his position in the point standings, he may improve dramatically over that outing earlier this season.         

Kurt Busch He may be eliminated from the Chase for the Cup, but Busch did not race like it last weekend at Talladega.  He'll turn in another good outing Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  The intermediate ovals have been good to this driver this season with one win, three Top-5 and five Top-10 finishes in eight starts.  That's a strong 63-percent Top-10 rate.  His recent Kansas stats are good as well.  Busch has Top 10's in three of his last four starts at Kansas Speedway, including his seventh-place finish there in the spring of this year.  The driver of the No. 1 CGR Chevrolet is looking to end the season strong, and it begins with a good run at Kansas Speedway in the Hollywood Casino 400. 

Denny Hamlin Hamlin started the Chase off a bit cold, but he's really warming up as we get into the middle of the playoffs.  The driver of the No. 11 Toyota seems to have turned things around the last two weeks.  A brilliant Top-5 finish at Dover, and a strong third-place finish at Talladega have propelled this driver and team back into the thick of the championship battle.  It's a good setup for an intermediate oval that's been good for the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran over the years.  Hamlin has one win and seven Top 10's for his career at Kansas Speedway.  His start there in May was a subpar middle-teens finish, but he should be much better this time around.  Hamlin recently grabbed a brilliant fifth-place finish at the similar oval in Kentucky.  Given his current momentum, and his history racing at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin should be a pretty safe fantasy racing play with a good deal of upside.    

Clint Bowyer The Kansas homecoming should be a good one for Bowyer and the No. 14 SHR team.  Attempting to put their tough Talladega finish behind them, this driver and team should do well in the Hollywood Casino 400.  Bowyer's career stats at this facility are nothing special (32-percent Top-10 rate, 16.0 average finish).  However, he's been pretty dialed-in on cookie cutter ovals this season.  His Top 10's at Atlanta, Fort Worth, Kansas and Kentucky speak volumes, and his average finish of 14.8 on intermediate ovals is very consistent.  Bowyer finished a brilliant fifth-place here in May's Digital Ally 400, and we believe he can be just as sharp this time around.  A good finish Sunday coupled with some other Chase drivers having some bad luck could propel Bowyer into the next round of the Chase for the Cup.

Ryan Newman Despite being eliminated from the Chase during the Round of 16, Newman is still racing like the playoffs are on the line.  His runner-up finish this past week at Talladega is proof of that effort.  That was the Roush Fenway Racing veteran's second Top-5 and third Top-10 finish since the Chase began.  Newman had a pedestrian season going on the intermediate ovals until just recently.  Ninth- and 10th-place finishes at Kentucky and Las Vegas have boosted his season performance at these cookie cutter ovals, and also mirrored his improvement in performance since the late summer.  Newman is a one-time Kansas winner, but he hasn't cracked the Top 10 here since 2016.  We have a good feeling that could change in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Jimmie Johnson With his crash at Talladega this past week, Johnson put an abrupt end to his nice three-race Top-10 streak.  It was a tough blow for a veteran driver looking to build momentum for next season since Johnson has already been eliminated from the playoffs.  The seven-time champion will look to hit the reset button at Kansas Speedway, although it could be a tall order.  With so many other drivers and teams with so much on the line, the competition will be hotter than ever.  Johnson's last two cookie cutter oval outings have been a real mixed bag.  He grabbed a 30th-place finish at Kentucky, which is a very similar oval to Kansas.  He also labored to an 11th-place finish at Las Vegas a few weeks ago.  Johnson's outing here in the spring of this season was good, but this is a different set of circumstances now for the No. 48 team.   

Erik Jones Jones' recent meltdown has been of epic proportions, and really noteworthy heading into this sixth race of the Chase.  The Joe Gibbs Racing youngster has suffered a complete collapse since his Darlington win at the start of September.  The six races since have seen Jones DNF or disqualify in four, and fail to crack the Top 10 in all six.  He's plummeted from ninth-place to 16th-place in the points and was eliminated early on in the Chase.  The misery continued this past week with a crash and DNF at Talladega.  Jones has a good 50-percent Top-10 rate at Kansas Speedway although we fear that could be in jeopardy to go down this Sunday.  The rut that this driver and team are in is the worst kind, and trumps any real experience or track specific historical data.   

Darrell Wallace Jr. Another young driver who has struggled tremendously this season with the very handling-sensitive intermediate ovals is Wallace.  His eight starts on these style tracks has yielded no Top-20 finishes, and three finishes outside the Top 25.  The average finish across the span checks in at a lowly 25.1.  That's a bit worse than Wallace performed on these style ovals in 2018.  The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has finishes of 23rd-, 26th- and 29th-place (26.0 average) in his three-career starts at Kansas Speedway.  It's best to avoid the No. 43 Chevrolet team in weekly lineup and daily fantasy racing leagues this weekend.

Daniel Suarez The driver of the No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Ford is having just a terrible stretch run to close out the season.   Suarez is mired in a three-race Top-10 drought coming to Kansas, and he's drifted to 18th overall in the championship point standings.  Coming off a crash and disappointing finish at Talladega, the young driver will look to turn around his fortunes at Kansas Speedway.  It could be tough sledding though for Suarez.  He has just one Top-10 finish in his last five intermediate oval starts, and that after starting the season well on these 1.5-mile ovals.  This will be his sixth-career start at Kansas Speedway.  Suarez has just one Top 10 in his five prior starts, and an average finish around 21.8.  The cards appear to be stacked against the No. 41 team this weekend.

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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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