NASCAR at Kansas 2016: Winners, Losers from the Hollywood Casino 400
Whatever you do, don't back Kevin Harvick into a corner. Don't do it, don't do it, don't do it.
Why? That's the best way to ensure a win for the No. 4 team, and that's what happened in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Harvick muscled his way to the front to hold off hometown hero Carl Edwards and Joey Logano.
"These races are hard to win, and when our backs are against the wall, we all get better," Harvick told NBC after the race.
So Harvick and Jimmie Johnson (Charlotte's winner) can breathe a sigh of relief as they head to Talladega next week.
Not so for the rest of the field where 10 drivers vie for six more positions.
Before we get there, let's take a look at the Kansas style winners and losers.
Loser: Chase Elliott
At one point, man, it looked as though Chase Elliott had the muscle to win that elusive first race—and in the playoffs no less. His pop, Bill Elliott, was there. All the stars were aligning.
He even won a small battle with Harvick partway through the race to get the lead and then pitted under green.
That's when Elliott lost the war.
Once he got back up to speed, he essentially blew out his left-rear tire. From there it got worse and worse. As to the cause of the problem, it was all a mystery.
"We don't know," Elliott told NBC. "The left-rear blew out when I got up the race track. We were trying as hard as we could. I don't know what we can do. Just move on."
Elliott is now 25 points back and in need of a win.
"I'll get there and race my heart out and try to win," he said. "During this run, we have something to be proud of. I appreciate the guys working hard. They deserve better than that."
Winner: Austin Dillon
After finishing sixth at Kansas, Austin Dillon is right there; he's right on the line.
Technically he's ninth in the standings, but he's tied in points with Logano for the final spot on the Chase grid.
"Great job by us," Dillon said after the race. "We did a good job trying to take two tires and get track position. We were hoping for a top-five or a win, and we missed it by one. We tried to get things to fall our way. We're tied and going to a place I like to go to."
Dillon has one top-five from six starts at Talladega and typically relishes restrictor-plate tracks.
"You've got to be aggressive to win," Dillon said.
How he measures that aggression will determine how he exits Alabama.
Loser: Bad Brad and the Ill-Timed Wobble
Brad Keselowski may be the only driver happy to see Talladega. He has four wins at the track, and he's going to lean on that experience after finishing 38th at Kansas.
What put him in that precarious spot of needing a win?
Exiting Turn 4 with 78 laps to go, Keselowski's back end got loose as he cut across Denny Hamlin's nose. Hamlin survived, though Kez wrecked hard in the Kansas lawn.
"I could have probably raced a little bit less hard; you know I had a big points gap coming in here," Keselowski said after the incident (h/t motorsport.com). "With this format, that is probably the smart thing to do. But I don't want to race like that. I want to race for wins. I don't want to points-race; I don't care what the damn format is."
NBC's Jeff Burton added, "Keselowski thought he was clear, but when he was moving up the race track, he wasn't anticipating getting that loose. He got crazy-loose, had to lift off the throttle and I would imagine Denny Hamlin got in the back of him."
Keselowski won this forthcoming Talladega race two years ago to advance to the Round of 8.
He's done it before.
He'll need to do it again.
Winner: A Full Day of Events
Kurt Busch started the day in the rear and spent a great many laps around P20.
Slowly, and with deliberation, Busch inched his way up to a respectable 13th-place finish.
"We had a full day of events with everybody chipping in," Busch told NBC after.
At one point Busch reached as high as seventh.
"I can't thank my group enough," Busch said. "We're having fun. We're in this to go all the way. We just need to find more speed."
Busch knows that going forward, sometimes it's a matter of withstanding body blows.
"If we don't run into anything too hard, we'll be all right," he said.
Busch has six top-fives at Talladega, so his confidence will be running high.
Like he said, any hits he takes—if any—need to be minimal to keep his car on the track, earning points and, hopefully, advancing through this Chase.
Loser: Denny Hamlin's Perilous Pit-Road Penalities
Hamlin's post-race interview didn't need words. His face told the entire story.
Written across his countenance was the frustration of finishing 15th. Early in the race he needed to pit three times on one caution. It took him 87 laps to get back on the lead lap after splitter problems.
All was right!
Then Keselowski cut across Hamlin's nose. Hamlin persevered, but a loose tire on pit road buried his hopes late in the race for a strong finish.
"Terrible," Hamlin told NBC after the race. "Everything went wrong. Stupid stuff. Penalties when we shouldn’t have them."
But that was sort of the M.O. for this team all year.
"I've got confidence I can win every week," Hamlin said. "It's a team sport."
That last sentiment was a little dig at his team for losing that tire and having too many men over the wall.
"It's got to be all together," said Hamlin. "I am full of confidence going to Talladega."
Hamlin has a plate win this year at the Daytona 500. He'll have to lean on that experience in this elimination race.
Winner: Kevin Harvick
So Harvick had a terrible finish at Chicagoland. Then he rebounded and won the second race of the Round of 16 to advance.
Harvick had yet another terrible finish at Charlotte. Well, you know the script by now.
"We prepare the same way every race," Harvick told NBC after the race. "It's hard to keep motivated and perform at a high level. There are obstacles and bumps in the road, and I'm proud of everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing."
Harvick led a powerful 74 laps on the day. He patiently ascended through the field and saved his best restart for the end, using a nice push from Johnson to clear Edwards on the outside of Row 1.
"I had good restarts against the No. 19, and I needed to go for it," Harvick said. "That was the mindset I had. Just go for it and we did."
What does this mean? If the past is any indication of how the Round of 8 will unfold, Harvick will lay an egg at Martinsville and win at Texas.
Strike that. He'll wait and win at Phoenix because he owns that track.
But we'll cross that bridge when we get there.