One down, two to go before the championship field is set, and three to go in the 2020 season. Kansas Speedway didn’t offer much in the way of surprise or drama, but it did delay Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin in locking up the spots that many expect them to in the title race. The weekend did, however, shed some clear light on a few things.
1: The cream always rises to the top, and in this case, with the first confirmed driver in the Championship 4. Joey Logano has a chance at the NASCAR Cup Series championship for the fourth time in six appearances in the elimination-era format. He outright missed the postseason in 2017. NASCAR racing and its playoffs might be challenging, so it’s quite a feat to see the same faces repeatedly in title contention.
2: In stick and ball sports, fans hear that defense wins championships. Spotters help win NASCAR races. While Logano did a heck of a job blocking Kevin Harvick, credit also goes to the continuous information from spotter TJ Majors to make sure Logano was aware of Harvick’s presence. Majors should be able to catch his breath before the green flag in Texas.
3: Kevin Harvick is going to set a record with his Championship 4 appearance. Granted, he is not locked in yet, but Harvick is even closer to a spot that he’s been destined for since about May. It will be Harvick’s sixth shot at the championship in seven seasons of the winner-take-all format. Somehow, Harvick continues to get better with age.
4: Social media is not real life, but it can sure as hell sting as if you have been slapped in the face. As written Sunday night, Alex Bowman has been using the negativity sent his way as motivation for his playoff run. The chip on Bowman’s shoulder has carried him into the Round of 8 for the first time in his career (in three playoff appearances), and he now has five top-10 finishes in seven playoff races. Mind you, Bowman remains a long shot to make the championship race at Phoenix but isn’t there something relatable in someone finding joy in proving people wrong?
“Honestly, if people want to motivate me, just talk crap about me on the internet,” said Bowman. “It works pretty well.”
5: Something is off with the No. 19 team and Martin Truex Jr. It sounds weird even writing it, considering Truex finished ninth at Kansas Speedway and has been one of the most consistent drivers this year (he has the third-most top-10 finishes). But Truex himself said, “we’ve not hit it right in a while,” when asked about his confidence in winning one of the next two races.
And Truex likely does need to win due to his being over 30 points below the cutline, another eyebrow-raising scenario for a driver who has been in the Championship 4 the last three consecutive years. For all that’s said of teammate Kyle Busch’s winless season, the same can be asked of Truex after 33 races and just one victory. Truex’s team is one we’re used to seeing go on tears and leading laps by the handful, not having a hard time in a race on a mile-and-a-half racetrack.
6: The high downforce package likes cooler weather. We’ve seen that before with some night races, and we saw it very early on at Kansas with a frantic battle among multiple drivers behind leader Chase Elliott, as well as on restarts. It’s a restart package because, over time, the field is strung out once again. Dirty air remains a big problem, and aero push the nemesis of drivers with faster cars, but those have always been in auto racing. Fans and some media were furious on social media over Harvick not being able to overtake Logano for the win, while Harvick basically said it is what it is and is onto the next race.
7: Jimmie Johnson will go winless in his final season and for the third consecutive year. With three races left to run, this isn’t to be disrespectful toward seven-time. But facts are facts, the No. 48 team has been mostly irrelevant all season, and that was never truer than in Kansas when the only time it was known Johnson was in the race was when it was reported he’d hit the wall.
8: The next team to have radio communication issues is going to be black flagged. NASCAR officials didn’t do it Sunday when they should have for the No. 9 team of Elliott, and then had Scott Miller admit Monday morning “our bad.” Let’s give NASCAR the benefit of the doubt that they genuinely didn’t realize how bad the issue was, and it wasn’t that they were sitting on the flag as not to interfere with the playoffs and their most popular driver. But it wouldn’t be surprising if that means the next time this happens to a team, there will be no missing it and their race will be affected.