The last race of Round 2 of the MENCS Playoffs is here. This is the last chance for the 12 drivers competing for the championship to make a move into the top 8 and keep their playoff hopes alive. Teams put all of their focus into the cars they have in the playoffs and the cars that are eliminated were helping their teammates who are still alive. It is important to know which drivers have something to race for and which ones are testing for the 2019 season.
The MENCS had one practice Friday and two practices Saturday. Most teams made qualifying-trim runs on Friday so the practice did not really help us predict who will be fast Sunday. The teams had plenty of time to dial in their cars for the Hollywood Casino 400 Saturday. We will want to focus on the last practice speeds for our picks this week.
Here are the Garage Talk Notes for the practices at Kansas…
The MENCS received 3 sets of tires for the three practice sessions, 1 set for qualifying and 9 sets for the race. The tire compound used in the race Sunday will be the same tire compound used in the last races at Kansas and it was also used at Charlotte and Kentucky. Martin Truex Jr. finished 2nd at Kansas and Charlotte and won at Kentucky using this tire setup. Kyle Busch won at Charlotte and finished 4th at Kentucky. Kevin Harvick won at Kansas using this tire and finished 5th at Kentucky.
12 MENCS teams tested at Kansas last month. The drivers included: Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and David Ragan. Elliott posted the top speed on the first day and Buescher posted the fastest speed on day 2. Kyle Busch was the only driver to finish in the top 3 in all of the test sessions at the track.
The teams in the playoff have an * next to their names.
* Chase Elliott: Elliott made an important statement after his win at Dover. He said, “I’m just glad we are locked into the next round so we do not have to worry about Talladega or Kansas. Now we can use the Kansas as a test for Texas in the next round.” I always get worried about using a driver who is simply “testing” in the race.
Jimmie Johnson: Crew Chief Chad Knaus said on SiriusXM Radio this week, “The 48 team has a goal of winning a race before the end of the season but our main focus in practice will be to help the No. 88 car get a win Sunday.” The No. 48 team started by practicing pit road speed and stops. Then Johnson made a 2 lap run to shake down the car. They sent him back out for a long run and then made a shock adjustment. Johnson made 2 more long runs with two completely different setups. It seemed like they were trying to get as much info about their car as possible.
* Alex Bowman: Bowman is in a “must win situation’. He cannot advance in the playoffs without winning the race Sunday. He will be receiving a lot of help from his teammates to ensure the No. 88 car is fast Sunday. Bowman made a short run and said, “I’m bringing it to ya… it is too free off center. I feel like I am going to cross the edge when I get back to the throttle and I do not want to wreck it.” During the red flag in the morning practice the No. 88 team went to talk with the No. 9 team. Bowman went back out and posted the 4th fastest speed. Whatever they talked about helped the car.
William Byron: Byron is in a slump. He has not finished inside the top 19 at an oval track since the 2nd Pocono race in June. Byron struggled in his first race at Kansas. He qualified 13th and finished 33rd. He ranks 33rd in driver ranking on the intermediate tracks this season. Byron liked the balance of his car. They made a lot of long runs and he was 11th fastest.
* Kyle Larson: Larson has made some tough comments about his team in the last two weeks. He said his team does not put enough money into their cars and he is embarrassed to drive the No. 42 car. This team has a lot of bad mojo right now. They were docked 10 points for not following procedures at Talladega and then Larson crashed the car in Friday’s practice. He will go to a backup car this weekend. It is hard to trust Larson this week. He will be a better pick in DFS than he will be in season long games Sunday.
Jamie McMurray: McMurray has not been very good on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has an average starting position of 17.1 and an average finishing position of 19.9. He finished 31st in the last race at Kansas. McMurray is a lame duck since he knows he will not be returning to the No. 1 car next season. It would be better if this team had something to race for Sunday. McMurray was on fire in practice but not in a good way. His car blew up and it was the 3rd time it has happened on a 1.5-mile track this season.
* Kevin Harvick: Harvick should be the favorite Sunday. He won the pole, led 77 laps and went to Victory Lane in the last race at Kansas. Harvick has 3 wins on the 1.5-mile tracks this season and Stewart-Haas Racing has a lot of momentum heading into the race Sunday. Once again the No. 4 team worked on their long-run speed. They were not too concerned with their single lap speed. Harvick rather have drivability in the car then pure speed. Rodney Childers told Harvick, “The No. 18 car is our biggest competition. We are slightly better but I think we can try some things to separate us from the No. 18 some more.”
* Clint Bowyer: Bowyer has been hit or miss on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has 3 finishes inside the top 10 and 3 finishes outside the top 15. He should be extra motivated at his home track. Bowyer should also have some momentum after finishing 2 of the last 3 races in the top 3. Bowyer liked his cr in practice. He said it needed a little help on exit but the balance was really good. He said, “I ran up top and she hookup up. I ran the bottom and she was hooked up. I ran the middle and guess what…she is hooked up. Good job guys.”
* Kurt Busch: Busch was the designated driver to go to the test at Kansas last month. He said after the test that they learned a lot that should help them Sunday. Busch finished 8th at Kansas in May and 2nd in this race last year. Busch made some long runs and said, “The car is too tight on entry. I am just carrying too much speed into the corner and it is hurting the exit. The car is disconnected with the track.” The team made a lot of changes between the practice sessions. Busch went to the top of the speed chart in final practice.
* Aric Almirola: How motivated do you think Almirola will be this week after his win at Talladega? Now that the pressure is off he can simply go out and run his race. He finished 6th at Las Vegas last month so he should be fast Sunday. Almirola kept his hot streak going in practice. He made a long run in the morning practice and went to the top of the speed charts. Almirola said, “Really good balance and has a lot of grip.”
* Brad Keselowski: Which driver won the last two races on the Intermediate tracks? If you said Keselowski you are right. The No. 2 team is 18 points behind the cut line so he almost has to win to advance in the playoffs. Keselowski has won 3 of the last 5 races on the intermediate tracks so he has a good chance to get to Victory Lane Sunday. The No. 2 team liked the speed in their car. Keselowski made a lot of long runs and Keselowski said, “We are making gains. Each time I come back on the track I can stay in the throttle a little deeper into the corner than before.” Keselowski told MRN Radio after practice, “Our car is definitely fast enough to win this race. I just need Paul (His crew chief) to get me track position.”
* Joey Logano: Logano tested at Kansas last month and Team Penske. Logano finished 4th at Las Vegas so I expect him to be fast Sunday. Logano is 39 points above the cut line so he only needs points Sunday. Logano won the pole but in the two practice sessions he was only top 10 fast. The No. 22 has the track position which will be important but if he loses it, I doubt his car has the speed to get it back. Logano is a better pick in season long games than in DFS Sunday.
* Ryan Blaney: Kansas is the best track for Blaney. He has finished 2 of the last 3 races at Kansas in the top 4. He also finished 5th at Las Vegas last month. Blaney is 22 points behind the cut line so he almost has to win in order to advance to Round 3 of the MENCS Playoffs. Blaney liked the long-run speed of his car but said it takes a while to build up the speed he needs. He run most of his laps in the top 5 some the car had more short run speed than he gave it credit for.
Paul Menard: Menard is a great sleeper pick this week. He ranks 10th in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season and Kansas is his best track. Menard finished 6th at Kansas in May and 12th in this race last year. He will also have some momentum after his 9th place finish last week. The No. 21 team made some short runs and then went to talk to the No. 12 team (Ryan Blaney). It seemed like the two teams were working together in practice. Menard was in the top 15 on the speed chart in most of his runs.
* Kyle Busch: Busch ranks first in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has 3 wins and has finished every race in the top 10. Busch was the class of the field in the test at Kansas last month. Busch had a fast car but he did not like it. He said, “The backend bounces too much. I know where the bumps are and I avoid them but it still bounces.” The No. 18 team replaced the spring and it helped the car. The talk in the garage is that the No. 4 and No. 18 are the two cars to beat.
Erik Jones: Jones is eliminated from the playoffs but he should still be a good pick Sunday. Jones ranks 8th in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He qualified 12th and finished 7th in the May race at Kansas. He enters the race this week after back-to-back top 8 finishes. Jones has been very good at the 1.5-mile tracks this season and he continued to run well in practice. Jones made a long run to open practice Saturday and he went to 2nd-fastest on the speed chart. The No. 20 team liked their car.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin does not perform well under pressure. He is a much better fantasy pick when he is eliminated from the playoffs and can simply go out and try to win the race. He qualified 6th and finished 5th in the May race at Kansas.
Daniel Suarez: Suarez only has one top-10 finish on the 1.5-mile tracks this season but the good news is it came at the last race at Las Vegas. Suarez has 3 races in the MENCS at Kansas on his resume. He has finished 28th, 36th and 7th. Suarez was fighting a tight car in practice. He felt the car was OK at the top but too tight to run the bottom.
* Martin Truex Jr.: Who would have thought Truex would be sitting 8th in the points heading into the race at Kansas. He has been very good on the 1.5-mile tracks and the No. 78 team will need their best car this week. Truex won this race last year and finished 2nd in May. He ranks 3rd in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Truex made a long run in the morning practice and Truex said, “It is much better than what we had in qualifying. We still can improve it but we are a lot closer to where we need to be.” He was 3rd fastest at the time.
Ryan Newman: Kansas has not been very good to Newman lately. He has finished 30th, 33rd and 40th in the last 3 races. Newman ranks 22nd in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He did finish 9th in the last intermediate track race at Las Vegas so there is some hope for him. Newman told his team, “It starts off loose and then gets tighter deeper in the run. At the end I have to back up the throttle to get it to rotate.”
Austin Dillon: Dillon tested at Kansas last month and he said they liked their car. Dillon could be a good sleeper pick since he ranks 6th in average finishing position at Kansas over the last 5 races. Dillon started practice with a short run and said, “I am sideways heading into 3 and 4. It needs to be tightened up A LOT!” They changed everything but the driver and sent Dillon bake out. He said, “Now it drives the way I like it.”
Ty Dillon: Ty Dillon also tested at Kansas. The No. 13 team needs all of the track time they can get. Dillon ranks 33rd in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. His average starting position is 26.4 and his average finishing position is 26.6. Not very good.
Regan Smith: Smith will be driving the No. 95 car for the rest of the season. Knowing he will be in the seat should help him with his confidence. Smith finished 12th while filling in for Kasey Kahne at Las Vegas. Smith made a long run and said, “It starts out OK and gets tighter and tighter into the run. Tight in the middle and off the exit… like we are fighting something but I cannot figure out what it is.”
AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger ranks 25th in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He only has 2 finishes inside the top 20 but the good news is his best finish of the season came last month at Las Vegas. Allmendinger finished 16th at Kansas in May and he good be a good sleeper pick in DFS this week. Allmendinger said the front of his car dives into the track perfectly but the back tires are not have the grip he needs. The team made a shock adjustment and he said it is a lot better.
Chris Buescher: Buescher tested at Kansas last month and he was the surprise of the test session. Buescher posted the fastest lap on the last day of the test so this team has to have confidence heading into the race Sunday. Buescher did not like his car in the morning practice. He said, “I feel like I am on basketballs out here. It bounces so much that I can barely hold onto it.” The team changed all of the shocks between the practice sessions. Buescher reported the car was better.
Darrell Wallace Jr.: Bubba has not been very good on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He has a 22.9 average starting position and a 23.5 average finishing position. He qualified 21st and finished 23rd in the last race at Kansas. There is not a lot of upside with Bubba in fantasy NASCAR. Bubba liked his car in the morning practice. He made one short run and two long runs. He was 16th fastest at the time. The team made minor adjustments between the practice sessions. It is hard to trust Bubba but he could be a good cheap pick in DFS this week.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Stenhouse has been an average driver on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. He average starting position is 14.5 and his average finishing position is 18.5. He ranks 16th in Driver Rating at the intermediate tracks. Stenhouse finished 11th at Kansas in May so he may be a good sleeper pick this week. Stenhouse made some long runs and said, “It is close. I think we are fine at the top of the track but I need to be loosened up in order to run the bottom.” The team worked on the “takeoff speed” as well.
David Ragan: Ragan tested at Kansas last month but was not very fast. Ragan ranks 28th in Driver Rating on the 1.5-mile tracks this season but the best race of the season for the No. 38 car came in the last Kansas race. Ragan qualified 20th and finished 13th. Ragan said, “The car starts off fast and then after 5 laps it gets loose. By the end of the run it is hard to hold onto.”
Michael McDowell: McDowell is about the same as his teammate (David Ragan) on the 1.5-mile tracks. He ranks 27th in Driver Rating and has a 23.4 average finishing position. McDowell qualified 36th and finished 20th in the last race at Kansas. McDowell made some long runs and said, “It enters the corned well but the exit is way too loose. The backend slides out and hurts my throttle response.”
Cars that looked good in practice: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano
Good Sleeper Picks: Paul Menard, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Bubba Wallace and David Ragan
Click here for MENCS Starting Lineup
Click here for Friday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Saturday Morning Practice Speeds
Click here for Final Practice Speeds
Best 15-Lap Average Speed
- Kevin Harvick 182.080
- Kyle Busch 181.940
- Kurt Busch 181.778
- Erik Jones 181.754
- Joey Logano 181.599
- Brad Keselowski 181.576
- Kyle Larson 181.404
- Ryan Blaney 181.412
- Alex Bowman 181.185
- Denny Hamlin 181.178
- Paul Menard 181.024
- Martin Truex Jr. 180.934
- Clint Bowyer 180.878
- Chase Elliott 180.822
- Ricky Stenhouse 180.754
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