Three Big Stories: Kansas (2022)

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After Sunday’s race, I’m driving to Kansas Speedway to cover its NASCAR Cup Series playoff race in September.

The Advent Health 400 gave us 23XI Racing’s best overall performance, outside of a restrictor plate race. Moreover, a bunch of drivers cut their left-rear tires. Finally, I think it’s safe to say the NextGen car has saved intermediate track racing.

So without further adieu, let’s dive into the Three Big Stories of Kansas, 2022.

Three Big Stories: Kansas (2022)

Excellent show by 23XI Racing

The post-race emotion

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23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin walked over to Kurt Busch‘s car on pit road. Then reached in, hugged and congratulated him.

“Appreciate it, man,” Busch said. “We did this! We did it, man! Hell ya!”

He continued his post-race interview with FOX Sports’ Jamie Little, with tears in his eyes and a bottle of Coca-Cola in his right hand.

“Just can’t thank Kurt enough,” he said. “Jordan Brand’s first race. So jealous he gets to drive that car and then to have that thing so fast there.

It was a new feeling for Hamlin. A feeling he hadn’t experienced with any of his own victories as a driver.

“I’ve obviously been excited for the Daytona 500, but I just don’t know why this one just feels bigger to me,” he said. “I think a lot of it is because I watched it live. I think had I been on the other side of the track and just kind of looked at the pylon it would be one thing, but I had a front row seat to it.”

Especially since he worked his way from the back to the front three different times. He witnessed Busch, an elder statesman of the Cup Series, lead 116 laps, win a stage and overtake Kyle Larson in the closing laps to score his 34th career victory. Furthermore, Bubba Wallace overcame two mistakes by his pit crew to claw his way back to a 10th-place finish.

The breaking of a slump

Sunday was the first time both 23XI Racing cars finished in the top-10. Furthermore, it broke under-performing slumps for both, which relegated them from top-five in points to the mid-20s.

With four races in the playoffs on mile-and-a-half tracks, building upon this success, in the midst of building a new team from scratch, is paramount.

“You have to start from the ground up when you are building a brand new car, whether it’s the Next Gen or the No. 45 at 23XI,” Busch said. “The Toyota family brought me in; Monster Energy said, ‘Let’s go do this.'”

And did it, he did. At least for one weekend. Whether it translates to success moving forth, only time will tell.

Provided the pit crews cut down on the costly mistakes.

Hamlin acknowledged that the team let Wallace down, as well as almost cost Busch the victory, and that things had to change.

“So that part is very, very frustrating,” Hamlin said, “but I think fundamentally there will be changes coming and certainly we saw the 45 team in particular really have some good solid stops.

“Again, they lost the lead on the last stop, but if this had been five weeks ago, I would pray that they came out in the top-ten. Certainly it sucks because I don’t control it, but certainly I wish that we could make some changes, and I think we will.”

Three Big Stories: Kansas (2022)

A bunch of cut left-rear tires

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – MAY 15: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 15, 2022, in Kansas City, Kansas. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

A timely spin by Daniel Suarez on Lap 64 saved Christopher Bell‘s race, because his left-rear tire went flat, while he was in the lead. While he never made it back to the lead, he brought his car home fifth.

William Byron, however, wasn’t so fortunate.

He suffered a left-rear flat while leading on Lap 113 and made an unscheduled stop. He finished the day in 16th. Nor did teammate Chase Elliott, who spun out from a cut left-rear, while running sixth, on Lap 197 and finished 29th, several laps down.

Goodyear sent out a media release, last week, saying that the NextGen car’s design impacted the load put onto the left-rear tires, and that teams should run two more PSI at tracks like Kansas.

Whether Goodyear brought less than ideal tires to Kansas or teams didn’t run what Goodyear recommended is still in the air. For now, all I can say is keep an eye for this happening at other intermediate tracks down the road.

Three Big Stories: Kansas (2022)

The NextGen car saved the intermediate tracks

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – MAY 15: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Crunchy Cookie Toyota, and Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Jordan Brand Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 15, 2022, in Kansas City, Kansas. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Almost two years ago, I watched the Coca-Cola 600 with fellow NASCAR writers Chris Knight and Kelly Crandall. After the race, I walked down the stairs with Knight to his car. I told him that that was the worst NASCAR race I’ve ever sat through.

I won’t say much about what was said, because a lot of it isn’t safe for work, but we were all miserable as hell.

Fast-forward to Sunday, Byron makes a power move on Ross Chastain and Truex to take the lead on Lap 89. On Lap 182, Larson pulls a slide job on Busch to overtake him in Turn 2. Then he got loose and clipped the wall on exit.

And it’s not isolated. We saw moves like this at both Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Now, I think it’s safe to say that the NextGen car has saved the racing at intermediate tracks. This would’ve been un-heard of, just two years ago, or even last season.

No longer is the racing at tracks like Kansas Speedway “slot car racing.” Now, driver skill, car setup and tire management make the difference, again.

It’s the kind of racing that puts NASCAR on par with some of the best racing leagues of the auto racing world.

What’s more? It’s made races at intermediate tracks fun to watch, again. Now, I feel no dread about NASCAR racing at Texas Motor Speedway, this weekend, or Charlotte Motor Speedway, next weekend.

Sure, it’s not the style most associated with NASCAR (restrictor plate racing) or what fans have yearned for, year after year (short track racing), but if I may steal a line from former NASCAR Chairman and CEO, Brian France, this is, un-ironically, “quintessential NASCAR.”

TOP IMAGE: Sean Gardner/Getty Images