Race Capsule: Logano punches ticket at Kansas, trouble plagues others
Flag to Flag: "Whatever Team Penske's drinking - I'll have some of that." The Roger Penske duo is hooked up in this 2014 Sprint Chase for the Cup. Joey Logano is the torchbearer of the white shirt brigade now, pretty much dominating the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway - especially the second half. He started his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford 4th, but watched Kevin Harvick (12th) lead the first 43 laps and then Jamie McMurray (25th) get the top spot during the first two green flag cycles. Then the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. (39th) took the lead for a while, pacing 45 laps total in what was his fastest car in weeks (in fact, it was the car he won both Pocono races with). But during a green flag pit sequence, he cut a right-front tire and clobbered the outside wall on lap 122. He joined Hendrick Motorsports teammate and fellow Chase Contender (since that is the name of the new round of the NASCAR playoffs) Jimmie Johnson (40th) in the garage, as Johnson got turned by Greg Biffle (15th) and into the inside wall on lap 86. Problems for Chase drivers was a big theme for the day. With Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. in a big hole, Brad Keselowski (36th) joined them on lap 161, when he too cut a right-front tire and hit the wall. Kasey Kahne (22nd) inherited the lead after Keselowski's misfortune and stayed in the top 5 during that run, but got shuffled back when the caution for Joey Gase's (37th) wreck on lap 191 happened just after Kahne made a scheduled pit stop under green. Though he took a wave around, Kahne's car was stuck in traffic and stepped out and smacked the wall just after the lap 234 restart, putting him outside of the 8th-place cut off in points, as he finished two laps down. Harvick's car was the only one that had anything for Logano's and seemed really hooked up on the restarts. But Harvick pitted with what he thought was a tire going down after the lap 195 restart. Two more cautions bunched up the field and allowed both himself and Matt Kenseth (13th), who pitted with the same problem at around the same time, to drive through the field and salvage the day. Goodyear's hard tire, cool temperatures, and high speeds made for real edgy handling for the racecars and for the unpredictable tire failures. Former 2014 Chase driver Kurt Busch (42nd) was the first driver to cut a tire and hit the wall on lap 80. But through it all, Logano stayed at or near the front all day and constantly was able to pass the leader and take the top spot. He led six times for 122 laps, taking the lead for the first time on lap 123 and usually only losing it on restarts or during pit sequences. He also was able to make his car handle on both the bottom and top lines when needed and his pit crew also always kept him near the front and out of the fray behind him, which was absolutely insane on some of the restarts. Chase driver, last week's Dover winner, and the Spring Kansas winner Jeff Gordon (14th) looked strong, but made contact with a car during one of the hectic restarts and never was the same after that. The top 10 were Logano, rookie Kyle Larson (impressively ran near the front most of the day and kept Logano honest in the closing laps), Kyle Busch (best finish at a track he really has struggled at), Martin Truex Jr. (first top 5 of the year, second-straight top 10, fourth-straight top 15), Carl Edwards (quiet, but solid all day), Ryan Newman (led some in the closing laps), Denny Hamlin (also solid through the day and had smoke in his cockpit near halfway through the race), rookie Austin Dillon (first top 10 since Indy, best finish since Daytona in July), Paul Menard (third Richard Childress Racing car in top 10), and Brian Vickers (started 2nd and faded, but made a nice rebound). Logano leads the standings, of course, and is guaranteed a spot in the Eliminator Round, no matter how he fares at Charlotte or Talladega. Spots 9-12 in points, who would miss the cut off as of now, are Kahne (-8 points behind the two drivers tied for 7th/8th place Kenseth and Gordon), Keselowski (-22), Earnhardt Jr. (-25), and Johnson (-27). Although spots 13-16 have been eliminated from the Chase, they still are racing each other for higher spots in the points and the other drivers that get eliminated from the Chase will be racing with them for the various spots. A.J. Allmendinger (11th) had a good run Sunday and leads those drivers. Kansas Speedway, like New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago, proved to be a dangerous race for Chase drivers. While winning means so much, points racing has become just as important in these three-race rounds of the new Chase for the Cup.
RaceTweet: Logano stays in front of other Chase drivers' bad luck and wins at Kansas. Harvick can't close yet again.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Joey Logano - Sunday marked his 5th win of the season, 8th of his career, and 2nd in three races. He started in the top 5 and ran there early on, before taking the lead and control of much of the rest of the race. He gave thoughtful feedback to his crew, got great input from spotter Tab Boyd on where to run and what to do on restarts, and ran a darn near perfect race. He and teammate Brad Keselowski have won 10 races this year. Stew on that.
North Korean Missile Dud: Jimmie Johnson - His wreck was not at all his fault - Greg Biffle misjudged and took him out - but Johnson started 32nd, spun out during a practice session, and just didn't look fast all weekend. He's had bad luck, but the No. 48 team is missing a spark that may not allow them enough giddyup to make up for the points hole they are in now. Johnson should have been a contender at Kansas and never had a chance to even get close.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Landon Cassill - Doing more with less has been this young driver's M.O. for several years. Sunday was a great example, as he piloted the under-funded Hillman Racing No. 40 Chevy from a 35th starting spot to 21st. He got the free pass on back-to-back cautions and ran much better than the other teams in the "C-Bracket" of the Sprint Cup Series. Yes, the finish is a bit inflated by the attrition rate, but it still is what it is. And he's done the same thing all year for JD Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, too.
Ghost Driver: Clint Bowyer - Yes, Toyota drivers have struggled with horsepower this season, but the Joe Gibbs Racing gang seemed to overcome that and run well. Bowyer's teammate Brian Vickers started 2nd and rebounded from early handling problems to finish 10th. The only reason Bowyer finished on the lead lap was because of yellow flags. In fact, he was the free pass car in about 24th place on the first caution at lap 72. He finished 18th. Right now, this Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15 team is a far cry from the title contenders they were two years ago. (That aside, congrats to Bowyer on the birth of his son this week!)
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Kevin Harvick/Matt Kenseth - Each pitted under green with tire issues (though Harvick's turned out not to be flat) and each drove to respectable finishes (12th/13th) on a track where making bold moves was necessary, but also very risky, given the handling unpredictability. Every point matters and they didn't give up.
Wheel of Misfortune: Justin Allgaier/Josh Wise - They each got caught up in Johnson's wreck. Allgaier (41st), who started 21st and had a decent car, never returned to the race. Wise (38th) actually was able to and did so ahead of Johnson, costing the No. 48 team a precious point. Wise also "passed" Earnhardt Jr. and climbed another spot. Still, these small teams cannot afford to team up racecars and this week they did at no fault of their own.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Pulling out sheet metal on pit stops seems to be a thing now. Several cars seemed to have their door panels just in front of the rear tires and near the exhaust pipes flared out. One person Tweeted a picture of the crews doing that on pit stops and the NASCAR officials looking on with no objection. When cars go to the garage and get repairs, they often come out with damage and rearrangement that never would work in the inspection line. Should this "fender-flaring" be allowed also? If it really is an issue, NASCAR certainly knows and will say something about it.
Georgia On My Mind: The misfortunes of the Chase drivers allowed for some gains with the Georgia drivers in the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Sunday. Reed Sorenson started 30th (one of his better starts of the year) and placed four laps down in 26th. David Ragan started 37th and was five laps down in 27th. Chase Elliott finished only 10th and never cracked the top 5 at Saturday's race at Kansas Speedway (won by Kyle Busch) - and Elliott was quite displeased with his finish. But he still gained points on teammate Regan Smith, who broke a sway bar and finished 22nd. Smith now trails Elliott by almost a full race's worth of points, 38, and is only two ahead of Ty Dillon in the standings. Ryan Sieg had a solid run soiled by stalling out on pit road late in the race - he finished five laps down in 20th. John Wes Townley spun early and then got collected in Joey Gase's wreck on lap 75 to finish his day 31st.
NNS RaceTweet: NNS regulars tried, but Kyle Busch prevailed at Kansas, passing fellow Cup driver Kevin Harvick to take the checkers.