What to Watch: NASCAR's best set for mid-spring showdown at Kansas

What to Watch: NASCAR's best set for mid-spring showdown at Kansas

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(⏰ Sunday, 3 p.m. ET | FS1 | MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Weekend schedule | TV schedule | Weather tracker | NASCAR 101

Location: Kansas City, Kansas
Track length: 1.5 miles
Cup Series race purse: $7,894,315
Race distance: 267 laps | 400.5 miles
Stages: 80 | 165 | 267

Starting lineup: Christopher Bell to lead field to green
Pit stall assignments:
See where drivers will pit (coming soon)
Defending winner:
Denny Hamlin, May 2023

Key things to watch

Saturday sessions

Christopher Bell rocketed to his first Busch Light Pole Award of 2024, snagging the top spot in qualifying at 183.107 mph. Ross Chastain will join him on the front row with Noah Gragson, Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch completing the top five on the starting grid.

Tyler Reddick came back to America’s heartland on a mission, with the defending winner at Kansas Speedway posting the fastest lap in Saturday’s practice session at 181.002 mph. William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Noah Gragson and Denny Hamlin completed the top five. Byron was quickest in both the 10-lap and 20-lap averages, with Hamlin, Ty Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch being the next four fastest drivers in 20-lap averages. | Full Saturday recap (coming soon)

Big story line

Kansas sets up mid-spring battle of sport’s best in the Midwest

Last spring proved that Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin will do whatever it takes to win a NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway. Hamlin got the edge after Larson’s No. 5 Chevy broke loose in Turn 2, leading Hamlin to contact Larson and send him into the wall before the pair finished 1-2.

That intensity sparked back to life one week ago at Dover Motor Speedway, when the two best drivers in the field statistically went head-to-head all over again. Hamlin is 6-0 in finishes where he and Larson have run first and second, respectively, but the respect level from one rival still stands strong.

“Kyle Larson is just a hard guy to beat, period,” Hamlin said at Dover. “He really is. I know when I‘m on the outside of him, I trust him, probably more than he trusts me when I‘m on the inside of him, and for a good reason. It does take a lot of trust because I can feel air he‘s putting on my car at certain times. It‘s pushing me up the track. It tells you how hard we were pushing for track position at that time.”

But that trust was tested a couple times last year. In addition to their last-lap battle at Kansas, Hamlin also walled Kyle Larson in a late restart at Pocono Raceway last summer while battling for the lead.

There is a good chance the duo will fight for victory this weekend once again. The two drivers rank first and second in laps led this season and have had successful trips to Kansas recently. Their latest chapter appears set to be written on Sunday — with eyes also on Larson’s teammates Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Chase Elliott along with Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.

“The four or five of us are kind of on a different level compared to the field,” Larson said Saturday. “So yeah, I think when your teams are operating at a high level, then yeah, you’re gonna be battling for wins more often with each other.”

History tells us…

Look out for Toyota. Camrys have held a stranglehold over the 1.5-mile oval in the Sunflower State since 2019, with Toyota claiming the win in seven of the past nine Kansas races.

That dominance includes a streak of four consecutive wins for the manufacturer, with three wins for 23XI Racing’s No. 45 car — one each at the hands of Kurt Busch, Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick — and a victory for team co-owner Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing last spring. The last Chevrolet driver to win at Kansas? Kyle Larson in 2021. The last Ford? Joey Logano in 2020.

He may not be the betting favorite to win, but watch out for…

Alex Bowman. Bowman has never won in 16 prior Kansas starts, but he may be a great play this weekend, opening at 25-1 odds according to DraftKings. The driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 Chevrolet has three top fives and eight top 10s in his 12 Kansas starts with Hendrick.

It never hurts to have some momentum, either, and Bowman finally has some with three top fives and five top 10s in his last seven Cup races. Perhaps he will find himself in the mix for a victory once again this weekend. | Kansas odds

Speed reads

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

• Turning Point: Trends from Dover, arriving in Kansas | Read article
• Welcome back, Ricky:
Stenhouse Jr. signs multiyear deal to remain with JTG Daugherty | Read article
• Jones cleared, but Heim in at Kansas: Corey Heim to drive No. 43 this week, Jones plans return at Darlington | Read article
• Throwbacks keep rolling in:
A look at the blasts from the past set for next weekend | Photo gallery
• Honoring and remembering:
Ryan Blaney pays respects at Arlington National Cemetery | Read article
• Kyle Petty Charity Ride returns:
Homecoming, milestones as Victory Junction turns 20 | Read article
• The Field of 16: Last four in, first four out for Cup Series Playoffs | Latest projections
• Through the years at Kansas: Take a trip through legendary moments | Photo gallery
• NASCAR Classics: Picks to click from our Kansas video archives | Read article
• 36 for 36:
NASCAR survivor pool picks for Kansas | Read article
• Fearless prediction:
Racing Insights projects Sunday’s final race results | Read article
• Fantasy Fastlane:
Lineup pointers for Kansas | Sleepers, drivers to avoid
• Paint Scheme Preview:
Truck, Cup colors shining in Sunflower State | Pick your favorite
• Power Rankings:
Once foe, now friendly Kansas coud click for Kyle Busch | Latest driver rankings

Fast facts

Race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

• Ford has one win on a 1.5-mile track in the last 10 races (Ryan Blaney in the 2023 Coke 600).
• Hendrick Motorsports won four of the last five races on 1.5-mile tracks with three different drivers.
• There were 37 lead changes at Kansas in May 2023, the most in a 400-mile race on a 1.5 mile track in series history.