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NASCAR DFS: AdventHealth 400 Preview

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the AdventHealth 400. In the NextGen era this has been a track the Toyota camp has owned. Kurt Busch, Bubba Wallace, Denny Hamlin, and Tyler Reddick have each won a race at Kansas since 2022. That’s three wins for 23XI Racing and an additional win for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kansas Speedway has been lauded as one of the tracks that produces some of the best racing for this car. You can pass, we’ll see multiple leaders, and there have been at least eight cautions in each race as well because let’s face it, we do need a little chaos and luck to be on our side. Denny Hamlin got the win last week at Dover. Let’s see if he can go back-to-back as we dive into this week’s AdventHealth 400 preview.

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AdventHealth 400 Preview: The Top Plays

Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)

The Toyota’s may have the trips to victory lane, but you can almost count of Larson running several laps up front. In six of his last seven races here he’s led at least 25 laps. In five of those races, he’s led at least 60. He does have a win here from 2021, during his Cup Series championship season. In the two races last year he started P2 for both and led a combined 184 laps between them. He’s finished as the runner-up in each of the last two spring races at this track. With all the fanfare that William Byron and Denny Hamlin have received this year, Larson wants to remind everyone who the top driver in the series is. His lone win of the season did come at Vegas, which has some similarities to Kansas, and he led 181 laps in that race.

Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)

He may not have the “dominator” equity that Larson does, but he might have more win equity. Hamlin has won here four times in his career, including last spring. In the NextGen era he has finished fourth, second, first, and second in the four races at Kansas. Specifically to last year, he had driver ratings of 136.1 and 126.2 with 97 laps led between both races. That’s a little more than half of Larson’s total from last year, but Hamlin finds a way to the front as he enters Kansas with three wins in his last seven races. He led 15 laps at Vegas earlier this year. Hamlin then followed that up leading 37 at Texas. He seems poised to show up with the right setup once again this weekend.

AdventHealth 400 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them

Chase Elliott (#9 Chevrolet)

For the AdventHealth 400 preview, I’m only listing two drivers up top this week. However, I’ll spread more love around these next two sections. Elliott is regaining his form. In four of the last five races coming into this week, he’s finished fifth or better. The outlier is the 15th-place finish at Talladega, so we won’t hold that against him. The top five equity is great to see after a tough 2023 season. He won at Texas a few weeks ago and collected dominator points the week before at Martinsville. He finished sixth and seventh in the two races here last year. To go along with the finishes, he also led 47 laps here last fall. I’m going to trust the momentum and go back to the well with NASCAR’s golden boy this week.

Bubba Wallace (#23 Toyota)

If he was a little more consistent on a week-to-week basis, Bubba would be in the top section this week. Aside from any superspeedway, Kansas might be his best track. He won this race in the fall of 2022. It largely gets swept under the rug because it was a playoff race and during the NFL season. Bubba has finished top 10 in three of the four NextGen races at Kansas with a pair of top-five finishes. In this race two years ago, teammate Kurt Busch got the win, but Bubba had to overcome penalties on pit road to still claw his way back into the top 10. But they arguably had the best car. I’m expecting more of the same, but I also expect the rest of the industry to anticipate speed in the 23-car this week as well.

Christopher Bell (#20 Toyota)

Bell might be one of my favorite tournament plays this week. He’s hit a bit of a rough patch if we’re being honest. He’s wrecked in back-to-back races and finished outside the top 15 in four straight. That’s a little unbecoming of a Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Fortunately, he already has a win this year, but it’s been a frustrating month for him. Bell’s numbers at Kansas have been good, but not great. In 2022 he grabbed a pair of top-five finishes. Yet he wrecked in this race a year ago and then finished eighth last fall in the playoff race. However, he has won the pole here twice. That can put him in a position to lead early laps and we give consideration to any Toyota here. He has led 67 laps here the last two years and recency bias could lower rostership on Bell for this week’s race.

Alex Bowman (#48 Chevrolet)

Bowman is desperately in need of a big race. Hell, this guy needs a win. Does he drive for a great team? Absolutely. But it’s not great watching your teammates get wins before the end of April. Meanwhile, Bowman hasn’t won a race in over two years. He missed this race last spring due to injury. But in the three other NextGen races at Kansas, he’s finished top-10 and led over 100 laps here in the fall of 2022. He wasn’t great at Vegas or Texas earlier this year. But that’s fine because those aren’t direct copies of Kansas despite running the same package. He’s coming off strong results at Talladega and Dover. Additionally, he has one of the smarter crew chiefs in Blake Harris. I’d say he’s a dark horse to win, but I do think there’s potential for a top-five.

The Sleepers And Values

Austin Dillon (#3 Chevrolet)

We enter some unknown territory this deep into the AdventHealth 400 preview. Dillon’s results at Kansas have been okay. But we aren’t getting a world-beater. Prior to last fall’s race at Kansas, he had finished 14th or better in six straight races at this track. Three of those results were in the top 10. But mind you, from a DFS perspective, he’s qualified pretty well at Kansas so he may not be a big position differential play. But the finishes are there to an extent, even if the driver rating scores aren’t. He did finished 16th and eighth at Vegas and Texas respectively. So to his credit, he’s run well on the intermediate tracks so far this season.

Noah Gragson (#10 Ford)

It feels weird that Gragson is the first, and only Ford, to appear in this article. But that camp hasn’t won a race at all so far this year. Sure, there’s intrigue with Ryan Blaney of Team Penske. But when we consider win equity and dominator potential, the Fords rank third out of three manufacturers. But there’s potential value with Gragson. He started P30 and finished sixth at Vegas. The top 20 at Texas is okay but I’m more impressed with the solid sixth-place finish he posted last week at Dover. He may just be SHR’s best driver at the moment. He won here in the Xfinity Series in 2022. Overall, it seems like he’s found his footing with SHR. That’s great to see after the 2023 season was such a debacle with Legacy Motor Club.

Corey Heim (#43 Toyota)

Corey Heim made an appearance in last week’s NASCAR DFS Preview article, and he wasn’t so bad if we’re being honest. He started P32 and finished 25th at Dover. But for his first race in the NextGen car, he kept it clean and wasn’t a nuisance on the track. Now full disclosure, he’s not on the entry list for this race. Erik Jones is currently listed as the entrant for the 43-car for this race. But if Jones is unable to suit up because of the back injury, then Heim will be in town and can fill in once again. Kansas is the track that Heim may be most comfortable at. With four races under his belt in the Craftsman Truck Series, he knows his way around these parts.

Austin Hill (#33 Chevrolet)

You have to wonder how competitive this car will be. Richard Childress Racing is entering a third car for this race. It’s clear the organization thinks highly of Hill. But the steering broke in this car a few weeks ago at Texas. So yeah, there’s reason for concern. Hill’s talent is undeniable though. He’s well known for his superspeedway prowess. However, he won a Truck Series race at Kansas back in 2020 and has plenty of other top-five finishes here from the lower series of NASCAR. I’m not saying he has that kind of upside this week. But he will be affordable and likely starting deep in the field. So to wrap up the AdventHealth 400 preview, I’m willing to say I’ll take some shots here. We just have to hope the equipment holds up.

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