The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competes at Kansas Speedway this week for the Hollywood Casino 400. The race can be seen Sunday at 3pm ET on NBC. This will be the last race of the Round of 12. The drivers who are competing for the championship will bring the best cars they have to ensure they advance in the playoffs. It will be important to select playoff drivers because the cream usually rises to the top in this race.
I am glad Talladega is over. My picks were not great but it could have been a lot worse. My Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing picks scored 231 points. I fell to the top 96% overall (8,766 points). My Fox Fantasy Auto Racing picks scored 193 and rank 38th overall (5,590 points). My Fantasy Live picks were saved by Brad Keselowski winning the race and Ford as my manufacturer. My drivers scored 150 points and are now ranked in the top 99.7% (575 overall).
The MENCS last competed at Kansas in May. The race was dominated by Martin Truex Jr. (won the race and led 104 laps), Ryan Blaney (won the pole and led 83 laps) and Kyle Busch (59 laps led). A lot has changed since this race. Toyota has gotten stronger while the other manufacturers have lost some speed. The gap is starting to close since the playoffs started. Here is the Kansas Race Rewind.
This week I used the driver rating and average finishing positions from the last four races at Kansas, average running position in the last four races this season (momentum) and results on 1-5-mile tri-oval tracks to determine which drivers will run well this week. Here are the results from my model:
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kevin Harvick
- Kyle Busch
- Kyle Larson
- Matt Kenseth
- Denny Hamlin
- Chase Elliott
- Ryan Blaney
- Brad Keselowski
- Kurt Busch
- Jimmie Johnson
- Daniel Suarez
- Jamie McMurray
- Kasey Kahne
- Austin Dillon
Pick to Win
Martin Truex has to be the favorite to win Sunday. He won the last race at Kansas and has been the most dominant driver on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. The No. 78 car has won 5 of the 9 races on the 1.5-mile tracks and has led 932 laps. That is flat out whipping the field. Truex does not need to win the race Sunday since he is already locked into the Round of 8. That makes him even more dangerous. The team can gamble to try and win the race while others may have to play it safe. Truex is my pick to go to Victory Lane at Kansas.
Kyle Busch used to be the worst driver at Kansas. I have been to every race at the track since 2010. I would make a bet with the other NASCAR writers on which lap Busch would crash. I would always take under 50 laps and usually be right. Everything changed for Busch at Kansas when Carl Edwards joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016. Edwards taught Busch how to get threw turn 4 and now he is one of the best drivers at the track. He has 5 consecutive top-five finishes, including a win in 2016. Rowdy will be upfront Sunday.
Kevin Harvick is the second-best pick in the field according to my model. Harvick ranks #1 on 1.5-mile tracks since the playoffs started, has the #1 driver ranking at Kansas the last two seasons, #3 in momentum, and #4 in average running position in the playoffs. Harvick has not finished outside the top 3 at Kansas since 2015. The No. 4 recently found a lot of speed so I expect Harvick to be in the top 5 this week.
Kyle Larson does not have great stats at Kansas but I look at what he has done this season more than what he has done in prior years. Larson has 4 finishes in the top 5 on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2017. He also ranks #2 in momentum coming into the race. I do not think Larson will win the race Sunday but he should finish in the top 5 again.
Matt Kenseth used to be the driver to beat at Kansas. He has 2 wins (2012 and 2013) and has led a series-high 774 laps at the track. Kenseth is still looking for his first win this season but it will be hard for him to beat Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick. This team is close on speed though so if something happens to the top 3, Kenseth should be the driver who ends up in Victory Lane.
Chase Elliott has been the second-best driver (behind Martin Truex Jr.) on the 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs. Elliott finished 2nd and led 42 laps at Chicago and he finished 2nd and led 12 laps at Charlotte. I was really worried about this team after they got caught cheating at Chicago. They have proved that the tape on the spoiler had little effect on their performance on the track. The No. 24 car is still fast! This is not the best track for Elliott but I am not betting against him this week. He has been running to well to ignore right now.
Brad Keselowski has been hit or miss at Kansas. Last May he ran around the 10th spot but passed 4 cars on a late race restart to finish 2nd. The No. 2 team is the best at gambling to get to the front. I was at the race at Kansas in 2011 when he ran about 15 laps further than anyone else on a tank of fuel to win the race. I would like Keselowski a lot more if he was not already locked into the Round of 8. I still think the No. 2 car will finish in the top 10 Sunday.
Ryan Blaney had the best race of his career when the MENCS last competed at Kansas. Blaney won the pole, led 83 laps and finished 4th. He also had a series-high 128.4 driver rating in the race. Kansas is the best 1.5-mile track for Blaney. He has finished 2 of the last 3 races in the top 5. This is a great week to select Blaney for your fantasy team.
Kurt Busch has run well since the playoffs began but he keeps having bad luck. He ran in the top 10 at both Chicago and Charlotte but was involved in another driver’s wreck and finished outside the top 15. Busch usually runs well at Kansas. His average finishing position in the last 5 races at the track is 9.8. I doubt Busch will lead any laps but he is a safe pick for a top-10 finish Sunday.
Jamie McMurray considers Kansas his home track but the Joplin, Missouri native has not had much luck in the Heartland. McMurray only has 1 finish in the top 10 in the last 8 races at Kansas. The good news is that his top-10 finished happened in May. McMurray is on my list of contenders because of the recent strength of the Chip Ganassi Racing team. McMurray finished 10th at Chicago and 5th at Charlotte. He is in a “must win” situation so the No. 1 will put everything they got into this car Sunday.
Austin Dillon is a good sleeper pick this week. Kansas is his best 1.5-mile track. Dillon has finished 2 of the last 3 races at the track in the top 6. Dillon finished 16th at Chicago and 16th at Charlotte. He has the 14th best average running position on 1.5-mile tracks this season and he had the 10th best average running position in the last race at Kansas. Dillon should finish inside the top 15 Sunday.
Daniel Suarez ran very well in his first race at Kansas. He qualified 15th and finished 7th. Suarez had the 9th best average running position in the race and he ranks 12th on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Suarez finished 12th at Chicago and 6th at Charlotte. His No. 19 car has been fast. I expect a top-10 finish from Suarez this week.
I will have my picks updated on my website (Fantasy Racing Tips) after final practice Saturday.
If you need any further advice with your team or want to see my updated picks after Happy Hour practice, look for me on Twitter (@MrFantasyNASCAR).