Since most teams put the lion's share of their effort into similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks, it can be difficult for each of them to develop consistency. There is always some Young Gun waiting in the wings to knock the marquee drivers down a spot. And if that was ever likely to happen at Kansas Speedway, this is the season because the NextGen car is contributing to some of the greatest parity we've seen in recent years.
Last week, the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway had as much attrition as we typically see on the carburetor-restricted superspeedways. Among the 13 cars out of commission, the majority were favorites who should have contended for top-10s. Their elimination elevated several drivers into the top 10 who may have more realistically challenged for results in the teens, but it is worth noting that in the closing laps, only William Byron and Chase Elliott had previously won in 2022.
The remaining eight drivers were seeking their first win of the season in the hope that it would lock them into the playoffs, but with seven slots available and 15 races to go, no one can be certain there won't be more than 16 winners in the regular season and then the tiebreaker goes to points' standings. That means drivers need to get that elusive win, but also earn as many points as possible when they cannot get to the front. Every point counts, which means every position counts.
Joey Logano was hungrier than Byron at Darington. He felt he had been pinched into the wall by the No. 24 on a restart with 25 laps to go. He was driving with dual purposes, so when he got to the back bumper of the leader coming to the white flag, he didn't even attempt to complete the pass: he simply rammed the back of Byron's car, sent it into the wall, and drove on.
Whether you liked the move or hated it, the simple fact remains that Logano is now the 10th winner in 12 races and the conversation about what it will take to get to the playoffs continues. That will make Kansas a race potentially filled with drama because Ryan Blaney (third in points), Martin Truex Jr. (seventh), and Christopher Bell (10th) are still winless. Denny Hamlin (22nd) and Austin Cindric (18th) also should be more than a little nervous about what could happen in the next 14 events.
1. Kyle Larson ⭐⭐⭐
($11,100 DraftKings | +700 win | -120 top-five)
If you think you're confused about who should be the favorite, you are not alone. Four drivers are tied for the top seed in DraftKings betting line at 7/1. Larson has a slight advantage because his top-three line of +175 is slightly lower than the others at +200. Larson finished 19th in last year's edition of this race, but he was running fourth on the final green-white-checkered restart before getting shuffled out of the lead pack. He won the fall Hollywood Casino 400, which was one of four victories on this track type. Larson picked up where he left off at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a second this spring.
2. Chase Elliott ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($10,900 DraftKings | +700 win | -115 top-five)
Considering Elliott was driving a backup car and had to start at the rear on a course where track position is critical, his top-five finish at Darlington was not bad. Most often it matters how a driver gets to a certain position, but since this is the first time in 24 weeks that Elliott backed up one top-five with another, we suspect he won't care much that he was running outside that mark with one lap remaining. Kansas is a good place for him to keep his streak alive because Elliott won there in fall 2018 and has seven results of sixth or better in his last nine races.
3. Kyle Busch ⭐⭐⭐
($9,800 DraftKings | +700 win | -115 top-five)
Busch's frustration boiled over last week when he parked his car on pit road after an accident and walked to the hauler. His temper essentially shut the pits down while officials removed the car, which is the type of shenanigans we've grown to expect from the driver of the No. 18. If Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) gives him a car that is as strong this week as it was at Darlington, Busch could have the last laugh. He won this race last year when it was ironically named the Buschy McBusch 400 and he has nine Kansas top-fives in his last 14 attempts.
4. William Byron ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($9,900 DraftKings | +1000 win | +125 top-five)
Adages become that for good reason; often they are true. This week's apt aphorism is: "Success is the best revenge." Byron did not think he deserved to be intentionally wrecked last week at Darlington. He felt he gave Logano enough room on the restart that the No. 22 should have been able to stay off the wall – and if not, well then Logano should have lifted. There are always three sides to an argument and only one is objectionably true. Unfortunately, each driver will be riding with their personal truth this week.
5. Martin Truex Jr. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($10,400 DraftKings | +1000 win | +125 top-five)
It may or may not come this week, but we would lay +100 odds that Truex will be one of the next two drivers to win a Cup race. His record on unrestricted, similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks made him the "cookie-cutter" king for a while and he still has one of the best records on this track type in recent years with 13 top-10s in his last 16 attempts. None of these were wins, but he finished between second and fourth seven times in that span and has a top-10 average of .777 in his last 18 races on them. Busch matches that record, but no one has been better.
6. Ross Chastain ⭐⭐⭐
($9,700 DraftKings | +1000 win | +125 top-five)
Chastain had one of the fastest cars at Darlington until he hit a bump while his shocks were uncoiling and spun into the wall. Since he was one of many top drivers to crash, he will not suffer any more loss of momentum than Busch or Truex. Chastain has gained enough maturity with his recent strong runs to weather this storm. Last year, he finished 14th and 13th at Kansas. That should easily improve to a pair of top-10s this year.
7. Kevin Harvick ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($8,700 DraftKings | +1800 win | +225 top-five)
We are not as enthusiastic about Harvick's potential to be one of the next two winners as we were with Truex, but if he keeps running as well as he has in recent weeks, it's only a matter of time. In a long winless streak – and Harvick's now stands at 55 – confidence ebbs and wanes. Kansas is a good place for that to be restored, however. Even while he's struggled elsewhere, he has amassed four consecutive top-fives there, including a pair of runner-up finishes. His most recent of three Kansas wins came in 2018.
8. Christopher Bell ⭐⭐⭐⭐
($8,400 DraftKings | +2000 win | +250 top-five)
Bell is one of several reasons we believe there will be more unique winners. He got off to a rough start with four results outside the top 20 this season, but things began to turn around with his third-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA). In six races since, he's finished seventh or better four times. If a driver continues to put himself in a position to win, it's only a matter of time until the cards fall his way.
9. Denny Hamlin ⭐⭐
($10,200 DraftKings | +700 win | -115 top-five)
The DraftKings sportsbook traders and salary cap managers have a lot more confidence than we do in a driver with only one top-10 and an average finish of 22.33 this year. The safe bet would be to avoid him until he gets the monkey off his back especially when there is so little juice for the squeeze at 7/1. Since we don't know when he is going to break out of his slump, however, we will continue to handicap him by the numbers.
10. Austin Dillon ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
($8,000 DraftKings | +8000 win | +1000 top-five)
Dillon could easily be NASCAR's equivalent of Rich Strike, the horse that recently won the Kentucky Derby at 80/1. Dillon's last 12 attempts on unrestricted, similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks all ended in top-15s. Four of those were top-10s and while none were in the top five, a little bit of luck could change that in Kansas. With 10/1 odds for a top-five and 2/1 for a top-10, he's relevant even if you don't want to place a modest bet on the outright win.