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OBSERVATIONS: Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway

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While we started the playoffs with a focus on The Big Three, a new title favorite is emerging over course of the past several races.

Admittedly, the Hollywood Casino 400 started out very dull as the field ended up spread out single file without any battles for position that were highlighting, other than Alex Bowman having a couple “Kansas (Speedway) kisses” as he tried to master the high-line. Though the multiple grooves, combined with the end of the first stage, gave hope that things were turn around into the lather half.

Kevin Harvick was set to cruise away from the field, however an untimely pit road speeding penalty ended his chances at victory. This allowed Chase Elliott to emerge as the leader, after steadily making his way forward throughout the event. He then held off a late-race run by Kyle Busch to score the victory. Their late-race battle gave the event at least something to hold on to as interesting.

As several have pointed out since the checkered, Elliott has now scored three victories in the last 11 races, including two of the three in the Round of 12. With strong tracks like Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway – he was close to winning both last year – in the next stretch, and Kansas being similar to Homestead-Miami Speedway, is he slowly setting himself up as a favorite for the title?

With drivers like Elliott reaching victory lane, it also continually raises the question – what is the big three anymore? The NBC Broadcast booth constantly continues to refer to Harvick, Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. with that tag, and that is seen with their bonus points allowing them to start each round at the top. However, the manta seems to over and shifted down to less drivers in the spread as Truex Jr. has failed to perform, barely making the cut to move onto the Round of 8. Harvick showed his usual speed today, while Busch’s runner-up continues to show his poise. Are we officially the big two now? Or has Elliott taken Truex’s spot?

Ultimately, Sunday’s race marked the end of the road for four drivers – Bowman, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Brad Keselowski. Each of them showed potential to make up ground throughout the event, with Larson finishing third and Blaney running as high as second before tagging the outside wall, but will see their championship chances over as of now. While Bowman is thankful for the progress that his Hendrick Motorsports team has shown – and reasonably so, there are questions for the others involved. What if Blaney doesn’t tag the wall? What if Larson doesn’t have to start from the rear with a back-up car? 

Moving into the Round of 8, the theatrics that have gotten us to point should continue given the close confines of Martinsville, the dog leg wildness at Phoenix, and Texas Motor Speedway’s pure display of speed.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.