One reason NASCAR doesn’t make sweeping changes each week – even when a driver such as Kyle Busch issues a harsh criticism of the rules package – is because they need to see how racing will be on a variety of tracks.
Kansas Speedway gets lumped into the category of "cookie-cutter" tracks because of its length and shape. But obviously, no two tracks are the same and the aero rules are going to behave differently on each course. Kansas is a wide, multi-groove track and in practice for the Digital Ally 400, there were a lot of different lines taken. Those drivers who have a reputation for seeking for and finding the right line around the track should be more successful than one-groove ponies.
Kevin Harvick has become the pole master. Earning his third of the season Friday night, he now leads Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon with two apiece. Harvick has been consistent after winning the pole this year with fourth-place finishes at Richmond Raceway in April and on another 1.5-mile track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. Harvick is even better when he wins the pole at Kansas. In four starts from the top spot, he’s won twice and finished second another time. His most recent win from the pole came in last year’s edition of this race.
When an entire team shows strength, we take notice. Stewart-Haas Racing dominated qualification and swept the front two rows with Aric Almirola on the outside pole, Clint Bowyer third, and Daniel Suarez fourth. These three drivers have an assortment of records at Kansas ranging from okay to mediocre, but we remember what they did at Talladega Superspeedway last year when they managed to get their cars set up similarly. With his current streak of eight consecutive top-10s on 1.5-milers, Almirola is the best value from the group.
Elliott was the best non-SHR driver. With a speed of 177.954 mph, he lines up on the inside of the third row with Martin Truex Jr. alongside. Those are the drivers with the most current momentum with one win for Elliott and two for Truex in the last three weeks. They were the strongest last week at Dover International Speedway and will challenge for top-five finishes.
Hendrick teammate William Byron is another driver who demands attention. His effort of seventh turned a few heads. We’ve been cautious in the past about his inability to race as well as he qualifies, but he is starting to put complete events together and makes a very compelling dark horse.
Even though Kansas is a multi-groove track, aero-dependency is going to play a factor. At one point in practice, Brad Keselowski caught Bubba Wallace. At the time, Kez was second on the speed chart; Wallace well down the order. Wallace was running in the groove Keselowski would have preferred, however, and it took a couple of laps and some visible frustration to make the pass.
That is one of several reasons we prefer to look at average speeds in practice over the speed chart. Keselowski had the second-quickest, 10-lap average in the first practice session with a speed of 175.552 mph, so he should be a factor if he can complete passes quickly enough. He’ll start the race ninth.
In terms of 10-lap averages, Harvick topped the chart in both sessions with a 175.974 mph average in the morning and 176.257 in the afternoon. Notably, Happy Hour showcased three of the four SHR cars among the leaders. Almirola was second-quick (176.061) with Clint Bowyer in third (175.723). While this has not uniformly been a good track for Bowyer, it is his home track and there is always a chance he can break out.
Chris Buescher posted the fifth-quickest 10-lap average in the morning session. Only 20 cars made 10 or more laps and some notable names were missing from this chart, so that number is skewed somewhat. If he can score a top-15 in the Digital Ally 400, he will be a solid value.