NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Treacherous Kansas Race

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins Treacherous Kansas Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kansas Speedway posed a significant challenge for drivers and teams Sunday, catching many competitors out with handling and tire issues, pit road mistakes, and almost any other problem the track could throw their direction. Kurt Busch kept a cool head and avoided those problems to finish in Victory Lane for his first win of the season and the first for 23XI Racing. He becomes the 11th different winner this season, which now leaves just five playoff spots up for grabs among nonwinners with 13 races remaining in the regular-season schedule.

This week the schedule takes a brief breather from racing for points with the annual All-Star Race, which will be held at Texas Motor Speedway for the second year in a row. Kyle Larson won last year's exhibition race for the second time after missing the 2020 event through suspension. While the winner this coming week won't get the benefit of earning a playoff spot, there is still plenty to play for as the victor will walk away with a million-dollar check for their effort.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – It was a great weekend in Kansas for Busch, qualifying in the top five and then bringing that same pace into Sunday's race. The former champion capitalized on that speed and won the second stage to claim his first stage victory of the season. Unlike all other stage 2 victors this season, Busch converted that into the race win. Busch's No. 45 Toyota was the fastest in the closing miles, avoiding

Kansas Speedway posed a significant challenge for drivers and teams Sunday, catching many competitors out with handling and tire issues, pit road mistakes, and almost any other problem the track could throw their direction. Kurt Busch kept a cool head and avoided those problems to finish in Victory Lane for his first win of the season and the first for 23XI Racing. He becomes the 11th different winner this season, which now leaves just five playoff spots up for grabs among nonwinners with 13 races remaining in the regular-season schedule.

This week the schedule takes a brief breather from racing for points with the annual All-Star Race, which will be held at Texas Motor Speedway for the second year in a row. Kyle Larson won last year's exhibition race for the second time after missing the 2020 event through suspension. While the winner this coming week won't get the benefit of earning a playoff spot, there is still plenty to play for as the victor will walk away with a million-dollar check for their effort.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – It was a great weekend in Kansas for Busch, qualifying in the top five and then bringing that same pace into Sunday's race. The former champion capitalized on that speed and won the second stage to claim his first stage victory of the season. Unlike all other stage 2 victors this season, Busch converted that into the race win. Busch's No. 45 Toyota was the fastest in the closing miles, avoiding the handling trouble, tire issues and pit mistakes that befell the other contenders throughout the day to become the 11th different winner this season. Like his younger brother, Kurt also has one All-Star Race win. He won the 2010 edition of the event from pole and finished 10th in last year's race at Texas.

Kyle Busch – Busch overcame slight handling issues and multiple cautions to win the first stage Sunday at Kansas. He carried that pace into the second stage as he chased his brother to the end of that segment to finish second. The battle between the two continued into the final stage, too. Midway through that segment, the younger brother was closing in on the lead but didn't have enough long-run speed to hold off his brother or Larson as he raced to a third-place finish. That finish was his third top-five in the last five races as the series heads into All-Star week. This will be Busch's 17th All-Star Race. He has one victory in the exhibition race, which he earned in 2017 and should be a favorite for fantasy rosters this week.

Kyle Larson – Despite numerous missteps throughout Sunday's 400 miles, Larson kept the car underneath him and claimed a runner-up finish. Larson and team dealt with mistakes on pit road, handling issues and even multiple brushes of the wall throughout the afternoon but persevered to score its fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. It really was a remarkable drive from the defending champion considering the amount of problems he had. One second the car was in the wall and dropping backward, only for Larson to quickly regroup and begin moving forward again. Were it not for the many mistakes, Sunday might have been a dominant day for the No. 5. Up next is the All-Star Race, which Larson won twice including last year.

Denny Hamlin – Like Larson, Hamlin overcame multiple problems to finish fourth Sunday at Kansas. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver suffered multiple trips to the back of the field only to quickly storm forward again. The race result was just Hamlin's second top-five of the season and first since he won at Richmond. It was as if nothing was going to stop him from finishing at the front, and one wonders what might have been possible without the miscues. Making things even better for the former champion was witnessing his first victory in the series as a team owner. All in all it was a great day for Hamlin who now carries a lot of confidence on both owner and driver fronts into this week's All-Star Race. Hamlin has one All-Star victory from 2015 and finished 21st in last year's race.

DOWNGRADE

William Byron – Byron was one of many drivers to be hampered by tire issues Sunday. While leading the race in the second stage the Hendrick Motorsports driver felt it going down on the front straight and then nursed it around to the pits under green. He minimized the damage that could have been done and kept the car off of the wall, but his time at the front of the field was over and he went back into the race multiple laps behind the competition. Multiple caution periods helped him get back on the lead lap, and by the end, he had clawed his way back to the 16th position. Byron already has two wins this season, so Sunday's trials can be chalked up as a learning experience as the team preps for the playoffs.

Daniel Suarez – A blown left-rear tire sent Suarez spinning into the outside wall as the first stage was coming to an end. The car had to be towed back to the pits, but after the team made the necessary repairs, he returned to the track three laps down to the leaders. He was racing inside the top five at the time, which is incredibly disappointing as he continues to chase the success of teammate Ross Chastain, who already has two wins since joining the team. It has been a rough patch for Suarez recently with just one top-10 finish since Atlanta in March. He and the team will need to regroup during this All-Star Race weekend and come back to the points races in line for regular top-10 finishes.

Tyler Reddick – Despite starting at the front of the field, Reddick quickly suffered handling issues and dropped backward through the running order. By the time the second stage got underway Reddick was struggling to get on top of his car's settings and suffered multiple brushes with the outside wall. Finally, one of those brushes left him with a flat tire, leaving him to limp back to the pits for repairs. Despite leading 24 laps, he finished four laps behind the winner in 30th position, his third finish of 30th or worse in the five most recent races. Reddick finished 16th in his only All-Star Race appearance last season and has been agonizingly close to scoring his first series win. A good showing this week with no points pressure could inject this team with the confidence they need to grab that elusive win.

Chase Elliott – Elliott became one of the many top drivers struck down by tire failures with about 75 laps left in the race. The Hendrick driver felt the rear tire going away and backed off before spinning wildly into the inside grass, bring out a caution. Unfortunately for him, the incident came too late in the running to give him much chance of recovery and left him with a 29th-place finish, ending a run of five consecutive top-10 finishes. It wasn't Elliott's best day, but it shouldn't be a setback that derails his build toward the playoffs. Up next is a chance to simply race for a win in this weekend's All-Star Race. Elliott has six All-Star appearances and won it in his championship-winning season. He led 12 laps and finished third in last year's race.

Erik Jones – A bizarre wheel nut issue torpedoed Sunday afternoon's race for Jones. The team entered what they expected to be a routine pit stop only to struggle getting a rear lug off the car. A quick decision put him back out with only three tire changed, and Jones nursed that tire through almost another complete fuel run. Subsequent trips to pit road still didn't get the wheel off the car and the team resorted to actually trying to saw the wheel off. Eventually the lug was released and Jones hit the track but the strange failure left him six laps down with a 32nd-place finish. Jones had been making some ground up in the championship race with two top-10s from the last five races, but Sunday's issue was another setback from which he'll have to recover.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Not many drivers avoided the challenges Kansas threw at them Sunday, but Stenhouse was one who did. He missed out on stage points in both segments but moved forward as attrition began to pile up. His eighth-place finish was his third top-10 in as many races and moves him to 25th in points after scoring just one finish in the top 20 since the season started. Making the last three finishes even more impressive is that his best starting position in that span was 15th, and the last two were outside of the top 25. Those statistics show that despite a lack of qualifying success, this team is getting on top of this new car and is figuring out how to race well. This week's All-Star Race should be another opportunity for them to hone their craft.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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