The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas for the second race of the NASCAR playoffs! Kyle Larson claimed victory at Darlington last week to lock in his spot in the Round of 12. So far in the NextGen era, races at Kansas Speedway have not disappointed. The cars thrive in this intermediate package. Passing is possible. Three different Toyota drivers have won here. Some fans have even called for the championship race to be held at Kansas. This track almost provides a level playing field for all involved to score a win. So while the 2023 NFL season starts Sunday, if you’re able to watch this race, it should be a great one. Let’s take a look at the Hollywood Casino 400 preview for this weekend’s action from the Midwest!
Hollywood Casino 400 Preview: The Top Picks
Denny Hamlin (#11 Toyota)
Grasping at low-hanging fruit here. I loved Hamlin heading into Darlington last week and I love him again for Kansas. He won this race in the Spring even though he didn’t have the best car. He has three wins at Kansas in his last eight trips here. On top of that, he has four straight top five finishes. Hamlin arguably had the best car last week at Darlington. He led plenty of laps but lost significant track position because he had to come down pit road twice to fix a loose wheel. He shapes up to be an outstanding DFS play on Sunday.
Kyle Larson (#5 Chevrolet)
It may be taking the easy route here, but Larson is a clear dominator candidate for Sunday. He won this race two years ago during his dominant championship campaign. But in the NextGen car he has two runner-up finishes in his last three races. He’s led a total of 436 laps at Kansas over his last six races here. He finished second here and at Vegas earlier this year and the momentum following last week’s win certainly can’t hurt. Alex Bowman might be a driver to consider based off recent track history. However, we should keep in mind that Hendrick Motorsports could be investing their resource into Larson and Byron.
Martin Truex Jr. (#19 Toyota)
Truex was the chalky pay-up last week for the position differential. He didn’t pay off with as good a finish as we hoped. It was an otherwise disappointing day, but at least he returns to a track that the Toyotas have dominated the last two years. MTJ won both Kansas races back in 2017 and hasn’t finished outside the top ten in his last eight races here. He led 79 laps here in the Spring with 30 fastest laps and even led over 20 laps in this race a year ago. He’s shown up and run very well at the comparable tracks this year. I expect a bounce-back performance at Kansas.
Hollywood Casino 400 Preview: Wouldn’t Bet Against Them
Bubba Wallace (#23 Toyota)
Bubba doesn’t quite qualify as a top pick, but he’s still a great play. He won this race a year ago and finished fourth in the Spring race. And keep in mind, last Spring he had a phenomenal car for that race as well. But had to serve a couple “to the rear” punishments due to pit road errors. He had to climb through the field multiple times and still managed a top-10 finish. He’s got some momentum coming into this race with a great run last week at Darlington. If the speed and dominance at Kansas show up again, he could lock his way into the Round of 12 with another win at Kansas.
Christopher Bell (#20 Toyota)
This might be a leverage spot for Christopher Bell after a poor showing at Darlington. Considering he had the pole and a new pit crew, it was a disappointing result for Bell. I’ll go back to the well this week. In the NextGen car, he led double-digit laps in the first two Kansas races. He finished top five in both those 2022 races. Earlier this year he had another top-five car for Kansas. Unfortunately, he wrecked and finished dead last. He’s had some awful luck at times this year. But that could simply turn more people off heading into this weekend. He still has the pit crew upgrade and the Toyotas should show up with speed as they have the last two trips to Kansas.
Hollywood Casino 400 Preview: The Sleepers
Brad Keselowski (#6 Ford)
Keselowski is a sneaky play this week, but let’s start with the recent track history. In the NextGen car, he doesn’t have a single top ten at Kansas. In each of his last two races, he’s basically finished where he started. Here’s the good news: he’s been pretty damn good since the Chicago Street Course. He has six finishes of sixth or better in his last nine races. Are all those tracks comparable to Kansas? No. However, something needs to be said for momentum especially this time of year. He does have two career wins here from his time with Team Penske. He hasn’t looked great here in the NextGen car, but this team is trending in the right direction.
Austin Dillon (#3 Chevrolet)
Dillon is a unique option this week. In terms of results, he’s been solid at Kansas. He’s finished between 10th and 14th in six straight races here. Hopefully, he can qualify poorly and offer some position differential. He didn’t have a great showing last week at Darlington. One thing to keep in mind with Dillon, he didn’t make the playoffs. But his teammate did. All research and resources could be going to Kyle Busch this weekend. So I really only like Dillon if he starts outside the top 15. Monitoring his speed during practice on Saturday will be key.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (#47 Chevrolet)
Stenhouse has done very well in the comparable tracks in the NextGen car. However, at Kansas he’s been on a completely different level. Last Spring, he started P36 and finished eighth. Then in this race a year ago, he started P35 but finished 30th. The problem was that he had a tire go down when he was running second and that cost him significant track position. But he had arguably a top-five car. Earlier this Spring he started P33 and finished 12th. If he starts deep in the field, he’s shown he can move up here. And even if he doesn’t start outside the top 20 he’s shown he still has top ten equity.