By Brennen McCall, Racing Contributor

Kansas Race Preview

This weekend NASCAR travels to Kansas Speedway just outside of Kansas City. The 1.5-mile tri-oval hosts two race weekends every year and usually puts on a decent show. Built back in 2001 near the peak of NASCAR’s popularity, Kansas Speedway has seen a surprising number of hard crashes in its 20 years hosting races.

The track itself isn’t too terribly challenging. The progressive banking extends from 17 degrees to 20 degrees in each corner. This creates decent options for drivers and provides a fair amount of grip for racing. For whatever reason, this place produces big crashes.

Ryan Preece, William Byron and Erik Jones have all come close to turning upside down just within the past three seasons alone. Aric Almirola suffered a broken back in a violent crash that saw him sit out the rest of the 2017 season. Cup series rookie Anthony Alfredo was in a horrific crash in last year’s Xfinity Series race and that saw his car spinning on its roof after getting turned head-on into the wall on a restart. This track is fast and drivers seem to find the wall and each other more than other 1.5-mile ovals.

A topic many fans will debate this season is the rules package Cup cars will be running this Sunday. The high downforce/low horsepower configuration will make its return and will surely be met with some criticism.

The last race held at Kansas exposed one key flaw this package produces. The large spoiler combined with low horsepower makes passing difficult. Last fall the weather conditions were overcast and the track temps were perfect for drivers to essentially run wide open through the corners. The air forces the nose of the car downward creating an extra level of grip that allowed this to happen. But, when approaching another car that crucial air is taken away from the nose, forcing the driver to pick a different line or let off the throttle to avoid smacking the wall. This aero grip simply was not there when following another car in the corner.

This was the problem Kevin Harvick encountered when racing Joey Logano for the win. Harvick was running second and clearly had the faster car. Lap after lap he was digging into Logano’s lead. Once Harvick caught Logano however, he couldn’t complete the pass. Logano was positioning his car perfectly. Every corner his car would cut through the air Harvick needed to run full throttle. When Harvick got close he was forced to back out and could not make the pass due to this aero effect. It was frustrating for fans to watch. The fastest car on the track couldn’t get by a slower car.

Aero challenges should play a similar factor this weekend. The code teams and drivers need to crack is how to find speed when running by themselves and in traffic. It’s a challenge only a few have figured out this year. Kyle Larson found victory at Las Vegas because his car could cut though the corners better than anyone and muscle his way past the aero gremlins that plague these cars. The team that figures this out should be contending for the win.

Restarts are also a major player at Kansas. The high downforce configuration gives drivers the grip they need to make daring moves and to try and gain much needed track position right off the green flag. At a track that may be difficult to pass, getting all the track position you can get is more than worth it.

So, who is going to be strong at Kansas? Kyle Larson should be a name that come to mind. While he is winless at Kansas, he has finished inside the top-5 at every 1.5-mile track this season including his win at Las Vegas. In the last six Kansas races, he has earned four finishes of eighth or better.

Martin Truex Jr., the only multiple race winner in 2021, has earned seven finishes of ninth or better in his last eight races, including two wins in his 2017 Championship season.

Talladega winner Brad Keselowski won back in 2019, and has finished sixth or better in his previous five Kansas starts.

Whoever finds their way into victory lane will have a car capable of maneuvering throughout the corners and maintain momentum down the straightaways. Raw speed is king and it will come in handy at a track that has proven to be a challenge to pass.

Let’s have ourselves a race!

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