Hollywood Casino 400 Preview: Round of 8 Intensifies

Hollywood Casino 400 Preview: Round of 8 Intensifies

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This week the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Cup will reach a fever pitch.  For the eight remaining drivers in the playoff field the pressure continues to increase and so do the stakes.  This Sunday we travel to Kansas Speedway and take the next steps in determining this season's champion.  For the drivers that were fortunate enough to avoid trouble at Texas last week, the quest for the championship moves on to this well-known intermediate oval. 

The eighth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Cup, the series 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 NASCAR Cup Series championship by the time we reach Phoenix 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 just May of this year that the stars of NASCAR were locked in combat at this intermediate oval.  The data from that race, the Buschy McBusch Race 400, will be fresh and applicable to the field for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400.  

The oval of Kansas Speedway is our third and final intermediate oval event in the

This week the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Cup will reach a fever pitch.  For the eight remaining drivers in the playoff field the pressure continues to increase and so do the stakes.  This Sunday we travel to Kansas Speedway and take the next steps in determining this season's champion.  For the drivers that were fortunate enough to avoid trouble at Texas last week, the quest for the championship moves on to this well-known intermediate oval. 

The eighth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Cup, the series 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 NASCAR Cup Series championship by the time we reach Phoenix 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 just May of this year that the stars of NASCAR were locked in combat at this intermediate oval.  The data from that race, the Buschy McBusch Race 400, will be fresh and applicable to the field for this weekend's Hollywood Casino 400.  

The oval of Kansas Speedway is our third and final intermediate oval event in the Chase for the Cup.  It is one of three 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 significant 30-percent of the championship-crowning Chase for the Cup schedule.  We need to take heed of what's happened to this point in the playoffs on the similar ovals of Las Vegas and Texas.  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 at this facility went in favor of Toyota.  Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick waged a three-way battle in the closing laps of that event, but it would be the No. 18 Toyota of Busch eventually coming out on top.  With that victory, Toyota drivers have now won three of the last four 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 a big opportunity to capture a win that ensures a berth in the Championship 4.  So motivation to visit victory lane won't be in short supply in the Hollywood Casino 400. 

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 27 races at Kansas Speedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Kevin Harvick7.91,0556429015,863109.7
Martin Truex Jr.13.09134798035,080100.3
Chase Elliott 10.55451271452,24498.0
Ryan Blaney15.84491871712,76296.7
Kyle Larson16.65652842962,52696.7
Brad Keselowski11.39952503254,58695.1
Kyle Busch14.31,0103284044,87994.0
Denny Hamlin14.49621893494,79091.5
Joey Logano17.57062384783,65588.0
Kurt Busch15.09741612694,66187.8
Erik Jones16.85049031,78384.0
Tyler Reddick13.519030069983.8
William Byron17.6274523599780.2
Christopher Bell20.317923052478.7
Aric Almirola18.545271692,27877.1
Austin Dillon16.94512461,73373.9
Alex Bowman18.135678761,37472.8
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.19.931949721,29571.3
Cole Custer15.01153030170.7
Ryan Newman21.263634122,59570.0

The race earlier this year at Kansas Speedway was very entertaining.  It was Kyle Busch's second-career victory at the facility and Toyota's third win in the last four Kansas races.  The Joe Gibbs Racing star would love to make it three-career Kansas victories this Sunday and lock up a spot in this season's Championship 4 at Phoenix.  The final 22 laps of the Buschy McBusch Race 400 were punctuated with several accidents and cautions.  The driver of the No. 18 Toyota would wrestle the lead away from Kyle Larson during all that mayhem and lead the final 11 laps en route to the win.  Busch has been a consistent performer on these intermediate ovals this season, but not a huge threat to win.  

Runner-up finisher Kevin Harvick has been inconsistent all season long, and has been locked out of victory lane to this point.  He's looking to right the ship for a push into next season and beyond.  The driver of the No. 4 Ford is coming back to Kansas Speedway at the right time seeking redemption and rejuvenation.  For a handful of other hopefuls, it's another opportunity to win this weekend and keep their championship hopes alive or build momentum for next season.  With championship implications weighing heavily, we expect to see some real urgency in the racing, and some rebound performances for drivers that got roughed up in the frantic racing at Texas 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

Kyle Larson – It's difficult to visualize just how dominant Larson has been this season, but intermediate oval racing is an area where it becomes real clear.  The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet has led more than five times more laps (1,187 total) than his next closest competitor, Denny Hamlin, on these size tracks.  Larson has walked away with three victories, including this past week's dominant win at Texas.  This driver and team have been the gold standard in racing these cookie cutter ovals in 2021.  Larson has very little Kansas Speedway accomplishments to boast, including zero victories.  However, he has led a combined 192 laps in his last two Kansas starts.  It's time for the Hendrick Motorsports star to scratch the win column at Kansas.      

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin had a bit of a subpar performance at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday.  He'll be happy to continue his quest for the championship at an intermediate oval where he's a three-time winner.  It's a great setup for a track that's been good for the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran over the years.  Hamlin has three victories and eight Top 5's for his career at Kansas Speedway.  He's won two of the last four events at this facility, and will be a top contender in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.  This driver and team have been pretty strong performers on intermediate ovals this season.  With a win at Las Vegas and four Top-10 finishes to-date, Hamlin has been one of the stronger performers outside of Kyle Larson at these style ovals.

Kyle Busch – Busch is still alive and well in the Chase for the Cup, but he'd like a championship round spot that a Kansas win would guarantee.  The driver of the No. 18 Toyota won earlier this season at Kansas Speedway, taking the victory in the Buschy McBusch Race 400.  That makes the Joe Gibbs Racing star a two-time Kansas winner, with over 400-career laps led at this facility.  Four of Busch's last six starts at Kansas Speedway have netted Top-5 finishes for a sizzling 67-percent Top-5 rate.  He is teetering just above the current cut line for points in advancing to Phoenix and the championship round.  That urgency could push him to a great Kansas performance and perhaps the win. 

William Byron – Byron was able to shake off some recent tough luck and turn in a brilliant runner-up performance at Texas this past weekend.  That effectively served notice that the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet we saw earlier this season is back.  If there's anyone else in the Chevy camp that can compete with Kyle Larson it currently appears to be Byron.  With a win, a runner-up finish and six Top 10's on the intermediate oval circuit in 2021 for a strong 75-percent Top-10 rate, this driver and team have flexed their muscles on the cookie cutter ovals.  Byron rides a four-race Kansas Top-10 streak into Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.  He likes this track, and it appears he's poised to post a career-best Kansas finish this weekend. 

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

Kevin Harvick – The Stewart Haas Racing star is a three-time Kansas winner, and he boasts a strong 36-percent career Top-5 rate at the oval coming into this weekend's action.  When the NASCAR Cup Series was last at Kansas Speedway, the driver of the No. 4 Ford raced to an impressive runner-up finish in the Buschy McBusch Race 400.  Harvick now has two consecutive runner-up finishes at this facility and rides a four-race Kansas Top-10 streak into Sunday's event.  Harvick has been pretty sharp in his intermediate oval racing this season with six Top 10's in the eight races to-date.  However, victory lane has been a bit elusive.  He should be a major threat to crack the Top 5 in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400.

Brad Keselowski – The Penske Racing star comes to the heartland oval this weekend with tons of motivation after his fourth-place finish at Texas.  Keselowski currently sits sixth-place in the championship points, but needing to finish well at Kansas if he hopes to race for the championship in Phoenix.  The motivation and desire to win will be high with the No. 2 Penske Racing team.  Keselowski is normally pretty strong on these style tracks.  He's a two-time winner at Kansas Speedway, the latest coming in 2019.  The veteran driver also finished third in May's Buschy McBusch Race 400.  Those efforts have elevated his career Top-10 rate at this oval to a strong 57-percent.  Keselowski's last three Kansas starts have netted Top 5's so he's been dialed-in recently at this facility. 

Chase Elliott – Elliott got off to a slow start this season on intermediate ovals, but he's come on strong during the Summer and Fall months.  He's grabbed two runner-up and five Top-10 finishes in his last five 1.5-mile oval events.  Elliott is leading laps and racing among the leaders each start at these style tracks.  This driver and team are focused and intent on advancing into the championship round of the Chase.  The Hendrick Motorsports youngster has 11-career starts at Kansas Speedway, and owns one victory and seven Top-10 finishes.  He won this event three years ago in a surprising performance, and he has five Top-10 finishes in his last six Kansas starts.  The pressure is on in terms of advancement in the Chase for the Cup, and Elliott should respond in Sunday's 400-mile playoff battle.

Ryan Blaney – The Penske Racing youngster is fresh off a strong sixth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway, and looking to stay alive in the 2021 playoffs.  The other good news for the No. 12 Ford team is that Blaney has been one of the more consistent finishers on the cookie cutter ovals this season.  Five of his eight starts this season on the 1.5-mile ovals have fetched Top-10 results, including a win at Atlanta.  The driver of the No. 12 Ford has led just 36 laps this season on these size tracks, but still managed a good 10.6 average finish.  Blaney has some work to do this Sunday at Kansas Speedway if he hopes to stay alive in the Chase.  Blaney's 46-percent career Top-10 rate at Kansas Speedway is an assuring statistic for a driver looking to round out 2021 strong. 

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Kansas & solid upside

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 fourth-place finish at Las Vegas, and a third-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in July indicate that this team is still dangerous on these style ovals.  Truex and the No. 19 team have been just a "tick off" at these intermediate ovals in 2021, but could quickly figure out what it takes to get over the top in the playoffs.  The veteran rides a four-race Kansas Top-10 streak into this weekend.  Truex's sixth-place finish in May's Buschy McBusch Race 400 is just a sample of his potential.

Christopher Bell – One of the hottest drivers of the past couple weeks is Bell and his No. 20 Toyota team.  He rides a three-race Top-10 streak into Kansas Speedway this weekend and is coming off a strong third-place effort at Texas.  Intermediate oval outings have turned much more positive for this driver and team in the second half of the season.  Bell's eighth-place Atlanta finish was backed by his third-place Texas finish this past week.  The young driver has one Top 10 in three-career starts at the Kansas oval, so he's beginning to build some experience at this race track.  Bell's 10th-place finish in this event one year ago is his career-best Kansas mark.  There's a very good chance he exceeds that in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400. 

Tyler Reddick – The second-season RCR driver has been one of the better performing youngsters on the cookie cutter oval circuit in 2021.  Reddick has grabbed one Top-5 and six Top-10 finishes in his eighth intermediate oval starts of the season.  The average finish across the span stands at a very impressive 10.9.  Reddick has just four-career Cup Series starts at Kansas Speedway, but those results have been good.  He scored a surprising ninth-place finish in his debut at Kansas in 2019, and he nabbed a strong seventh-place finish here in May's Buschy McBusch Race 400.  Coming off a ninth-place finish at Texas last Sunday, Reddick looks tabbed to be a Top-10 finisher at Kansas Speedway.

Austin Dillon – The driver of the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet has not been dazzling on intermediate ovals this season, but he's been rigidly consistent.  Dillon is one of the few drivers to have posted Top-15 finishes in all eight of his starts on the cookie cutter tracks in 2021.  Three of those have resulted in Top 10's and have averaged out to a respectable 10.6 average finish.  That includes Dillon's 14th-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway this past Sunday.  We expect another strong, but not spectacular performance for the Hollywood Casino 400.  Dillon has just four-career Top-10 finishes at Kansas Speedway, but his last two efforts have been steady 11th- and 10th-place finishes.  We expect more of the same this Sunday afternoon. 

Erik Jones – The Richard Petty Motorsports veteran is looking to round out the campaign strong.  Jones has come on pretty well in the last few races with finishes of ninth-, 17th- and 12th-place the last three weeks.  Intermediate ovals have been a bit of an up-and-down affair for the No. 43 Chevrolet team in 2021, but a 10th-place finish earlier in the year at Las Vegas and Jones' 12th-place finish at Texas this past week are highlights.  He has a good history at Kansas Speedway with five Top-10 finishes in 10-career starts.  However, we have to understand most of that success came with his old No. 20 JGR team.  Jones has the current momentum and experience to crack the Top 15 in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400. 

Matt DiBenedetto – Another good fantasy racing candidate among the middle-to-lower driver tiers this week is DiBenedetto.  He's been steady and reliable on the intermediate oval circuit this season.  The veteran driver of the No. 21 Ford boasts two Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes this season on these cookie cutter tracks for a reliable 13.9 average finish.  DiBenedetto is fresh off a strong 13th-place effort at Texas Motor Speedway this past Sunday.  While his Kansas Speedway stats lack a lot of flash, DiBenedetto did turn in a career-best Kansas mark of fourth-place in May's Buschy McBusch Race 400.  He now has one Top-5 and three Top-15 finishes in his last four Kansas Speedway starts. 

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Joey Logano – Despite his playoff and championship hopes still being barely alive after Texas Motor Speedway, Logano is a high-risk driver for fantasy racing at Kansas this week.  The Penske Racing star has been an inconsistent performer on these style tracks all season long.  He has just one Top 10 performance in his eight intermediate oval events of the season for an inflated 17.9 average finish.  One of those disappointments was his engine failure and DNF at Texas this past week.  That performance has put him in jeopardy of not advancing in the playoffs.  Logano won as recently as 2020 at Kansas, but that brilliant performance has been surrounded by four other recent Kansas finishes outside the Top 15.   

Alex Bowman – After last week's 33rd-place finish at Texas, Bowman has raised our concerns about his potential to close out this season well.  His last two intermediate oval starts have been forgettable and have elevated his average finish on these tracks across the full season to 15.1.  Looking the pattern, Bowman is either a Top-5 finisher or outside the Top-20 finisher at these style tracks.  His Kansas history has a similar pattern of inconsistency.  Bowman has five Top 10's in 12 starts for a 42-percent rate.  However, his 18th-place finish here in May snapped a two-race Kansas Top-10 streak for the No. 48 Chevrolet team.  This driver and team have the potential to crack the Top 10 Sunday, but their unpredictable inconsistency makes them a high-risk fantasy racing play.  

Aric Almirola – It's been a tough season of racing for Almirola and the SHR No. 10 team.  His 18th-place finish at Texas this past weekend is actually his best performance to-date on the intermediate ovals in 2021.  Almirola has no Top-15 finishes on these style tracks this season and an inflated 24.9 average finish.  The Stewart Haas Racing veteran's career numbers at Kansas Speedway are pedestrian at best.  With just seven-career Top 10's he has a lowly 37-percent Top-10 rate this oval.  Recent times have only seen Almirola crack the Top 10 once in his last five Kansas attempts.  It's best to keep this driver and team benched for the Hollywood Casino 400.      

Ryan Preece – Preece has been fast and skilled on a variety of tracks this season, but intermediate ovals have not been in that lineup.  His eight starts to-date have netted just one Top-15 finish and a disappointing 26.0 average finish.  Preece labored to a 36th-place finish at Texas this past week after an unfortunate crash and DNF.  The JTG Daugherty Racing driver has five-career Kansas Speedway starts to his credit.  Just one of those has netted a Top-15 finish.  The career average checks in at a lofty 26.4 average finish.  Preece's last look at Kansas resulted in a crash and DNF in May's Buschy McBusch Race 400.

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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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