The final race of the second round is upon us, as just eight of the current 12 eligible playoff drivers, will be left with championship hopes when the checkered flag flies in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN) at the Kansas Speedway. With that being said, here are the top five drivers to beat in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Martin Truex Jr.
Does Truex need to win Sunday? Absolutely not. He is already automatically into the Round of 8 by his win at Charlotte two weeks ago. But, he’s a competitor and he’d love nothing more to rack up another trophy and accumulate more playoff points as well. No one has won as many races as Truex this season with the Furniture Row Racing driver totaling six already. But, five of those six have occurred on 1.5-mile tracks.
That’s why I like Truex on Sunday.
In nine starts on intermediate tracks this season, Truex has finished eighth, first, eighth, first, third, first, eighth, first and first respectively. He won the race at Kansas back in May, and on similar tracks to Kansas this season, he’s won at each (Las Vegas, Kentucky and Chicago).
He’s also on the pole for Sunday’s race.
Need I say more?
He needs a win and no one has won more other than Truex over the last 14 races of the season than Busch. He used to struggle at Kansas, so don’t look too deep into his 17.74 average finishing position there. In his last five starts on the 1.5-mile track, Busch has finished in the top five in each, including a fifth place run in May. Plus, on 1.5-mile tracks this season, Busch has been stellar. If not for a pit road mistake at Chicago and a fluke crash at Charlotte, Busch would likely have entered this weekend with six straight top five finish on intermediate circuits.
Busch, was in the top five of practice on Friday and qualified his No. 18 Toyota sixth. Overall, he was third, eighth and second respectively in each of the three practices this weekend at Kansas.
Watch out for Busch on Sunday.
Why would my top three be anything but these three? They’ve combined to win all but four of the last 15 races of the season. While Kansas isn’t one of Larson’s better tracks, with an average finishing position of 18.43 and just three total laps led, I think he turns that around on Sunday. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished sixth back in May and has seven top 10 finishes in nine intermediate track races this season. Four of those nine were runner-ups too.
Plus, Larson has been quick in practice. He was quickest in the first two and eighth in the other.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has really turned it on as of late, as that was a big question mark entering this round. Harvick, has two third place finishes and was looking stout on the last 1.5-mile track at Charlotte two weeks ago. Now, he heads to Kansas where he’s won twice and has a 10.04 average finishing position.
In fact, Harvick has had six top three finishes at Kansas over his last eight starts there. His finishes are first, second, 12th, second, 16th, second, first and third respectively at Kansas. He’s also led at least one lap in seven of those eight races too.
Harvick, will roll off second in his No. 4 Ford on Sunday and was second in two of the three practices sessions this weekend. In the other, he was third.
Two Fords come in on my list as Blaney would be a big surprise here if not knowing his past history at Kansas. In May, Blaney started on the pole and led 83 laps coming away with a fourth place finish. In this very race last year, he came home 14th. In May of 2016, he finished fifth. Then, in the October race in 2015, Blaney brought his No. 21 Ford home seventh.
That’s three top seven finishes over his last four Kansas starts.
While he will start last among the 40 car field, Blaney initially qualifier his car third. Unfortunately, his No. 21 Ford saw his time disqualified after failing post qualifying technical inspection.
He was also quick in practice though.
He’s going to be a factor on Sunday.