The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series took to the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway twice on Friday for two practice sessions in the Sunflower State. Brad Keselowski topped the first practice while rookie Daniel Hemric led the way in the final session.
But, as always, single lap speed isn’t the true indicator on who is strong or not. You have to take the long run speed into account as well. With those sessions being the only on track activity other than qualifying on Saturday, we have a good enough sample size on who should contend or not in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Right now, I’d say Ryan Blaney is the favorite. Last week’s winner was fifth quickest in both practice sessions on single lap speed but also second on every long run metric available. The Team Penske driver was second on the five lap, 10 lap, 15 lap and 20 lap averages.
Blaney, may have finished 30th or worse in two of his last three Kansas starts but did have four top seven finishes in his previous five starts on the track.
Kyle Busch likely has the second best car right now. Busch, has eight top 10 finishes in his last nine Kansas starts including a runner-up in this race last year, was 22nd and seventh on single lap speed in his No. 18 Toyota but he was fastest in every long run metric (5 lap, 10 lap, 15 lap and 20 lap) available.
Kevin Harvick is right there too. He was ninth and second respectively on single lap runs on Friday but third, fifth and fourth respectively on the 5-lap, 10-lap and 15-lap averages. Harvick, also has eight top 10 finishes in his last 12 Kansas starts including four top three finishes in his last seven starts overall.
Fourth best on Friday was Martin Truex Jr. He was 25th and eighth respectively in practice on single lap speed but fourth, third, eighth and seventh on the long run metrics.
The third playoff eligible JGR car in Denny Hamlin in my opinion was fifth best. He was fourth and 12th on short run speed and eighth, fourth and third on the long run ranges. Hamlin has three top five finishes in his last four starts on the season and was fifth in two of his last four Kansas starts.
Brad Keselowski would be sixth best as he has great short run speed but lacks long run pace. He was first and fourth respectively on single lap speed in practice but fifth (5 lap), sixth (10 lap), 15th (15 lap) and 10th (20 lap) respectively on long run speed. He did win the spring race in Kansas but that was just his second top five result on the track since 2012. If he’s near the front and we have a late race restart, watch out. If we have a long green flag run to the checkered, he’s likely not the smart pick to win.
There are some other playoff drivers who are in trouble in terms of speed on any metric. The Hendrick Motorsports cars were off in both sessions.
Chase Elliott was 23rd and 20th on single laps and 20th, 20th and 12th on long run speed. Alex Bowman was 21st and 15th respectively on single lap runs but didn’t complete more than four consecutive laps at a time in practice. William Byron was 20th and 22nd on single laps but 19th, 18th, ninth and fourth on long runs. His car shows that it’s the opposite as Keselowski’s. His car gets faster as a run goes on.
Kyle Larson was only 11th and 26th on single lap runs but 21st on five lap averages and nothing further than that.
Joey Logano was 13th and 16th on single lap speed but 16th, 17th, fifth and third on long run. Like Byron but unlike his teammate in Keselowski, his car gets faster as a run goes on.
Clint Bowyer is the last playoff eligible driver left and he was just mediocre. The homestate driver was 15th and 19th on single lap speed and 13th, eighth and 13th on long run speed.
Some sleepers to watch are – Kurt Busch (6th, 3rd short run, 9th, 9th, 6th, 5th long run), Aric Almirola (2nd, 10th short run, 10th, 12th, 14th long run) and Daniel Suarez (3rd, 9th short run, 7th, 1th, 10th, 8th long run)