OBSERVATIONS: KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway
Although it appeared the KC Masterpiece 400 would be a complete snoozefest, an incident on Lap 249 of 262 added some drama to the end of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Kyle Larson proved to have the quickest car on the night, winning the second stage and leading a race-high 101 circuits. However, he will only have a fourth-place finish to show for that – and it doesn’t tell half of the story.
Entering the final run to the checkered, he fell back to second as Kevin Harvick found his way to the front. Rather than looking to capitalize on the team’s opportunity, Larson was now stuck battling Ryan Blaney for the second spot. Blaney would try to side draft off of the No. 42 Chevrolet, resulting in contact between the pair cutting a tire, sending both drivers up into the wall. Blaney was done for the night, while Larson’s team made repairs, enabling him to make the charge back up through the field. For his share of the deal, at least Blaney took the blame for the incident, saying he tried to side-draft too hard.
There are other concerns for Larson, too. The back windshield of his No. 42 Chevrolet was caved in a little, indicating the bracing had failed. In the past weeks, even when teams said the cause was due to damage like Larson claims, the team has been penalized with their car chief suspended for two weeks, a $50,000 fine for the crew chief, and 20 points taken away. It will be interesting to see what the penalty report from NASCAR says this week and whether the fifth penalty of this nature will come down.
The incident between the pair set-up some pit strategy, with seven drivers choosing to stay out as everyone else pitted for four tires. Of course, as you can imagine, that created chaos on the restart, which saw a battle for four-wide materialize, not ending well for William Byron who took a hard trip into the outside wall. Thankfully, the rookie was uninjured in the incident.
The second restart went smoother as fans were treated to watching Harvick climb for sixth to first in the final nine, passing Martin Truex Jr. on the outside with two circuits remaining. At least he didn’t completely run away with it this time, right?
His victory celebration was a little overshadowed though, thanks to a confrontation between Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Battling for position with two to go, Stenhouse slid up in front of the No. 9 Chevrolet, causing Elliott to check-up and lose a pair of positions. Rather than placing in the top-10 where crew chief Alan Gustafson hoped for after staying out, the sophomore driver got credited with a 12th. The move didn’t sit well for Elliott, as evidenced by a series of events post-race.
Although it may be nice to see this spirited side from Elliott as he’s normally the quiet type, it could be a sign of the frustration showing through. His post-race comment expressed that enough in saying, “Yeah, just scratching and clawing to run mediocre. We have a lot of work to do.”
For most of the night, he was stuck running just outside of the top-15, barely remaining on the lead lap, as his Hendrick Motorsports teammates struggled behind him. It’s been the tale of most of his season, too, as he hasn’t performed as well as expected, running in the teens most of the events before squeaking out five top-10’s in 12 events. Could the frustration be getting to him?
That said, Stenhouse could be placed in the same boat as he only has two top-10’s in 12 races. Oh, and the first race back for his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth didn’t go quite as planned, either. The past series champion ran in the 20’s most of the event, before being caught up in the crash with Byron. Jack Roush brought him in to improve their program, so it’ll be interesting to see where performance goes from here.
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