By Jared Turner
5 Lessons Learned At Kansas
JoLo Looks Unstoppable
While it might not be wise to anoint any one driver as the odds-on championship favorite in such a fluid Chase environment where a guy can go from hero to zero status in just one week, it appears that Joey Logano is only getting stronger the further we go into the season. With his win at Kansas, Logano now has a career-high five triumphs this year. Just as impressive, however, as the number of wins is that they’ve come at a variety of tracks – restrictor plate (Daytona), short track (Bristol), road course (Watkins Glen) and mile-and-a-halves (Charlotte and Kansas). That’s the kind of versatility that’s required to be a champion in this day and age, and Logano certainly has it this year.
Dale Jr., Kenseth Are Both In A Hole
It’s basically win or go home for both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth in this weekend’s Chase elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway. After disappointing outcomes for both men in the first two races of the Contender Round have them buried deep in the cellar of the Chase standings, both have to find Victory Lane at Talladega to advance to the next playoff round. Of course, only one of them can, so it’s impossible at this point to envision an Eliminator Round with both Earnhardt and Kenseth in it. Although their backs are both against the wall big time, they are both former winners at Talladega, where they could win again on Sunday … along with almost anyone else in the 43-car field.
Kenseth Used Restraint With Logano
Remember the aftermath of last year’s Chase race at Charlotte when Matt Kenseth put Brad Keselowski in a headlock? Well, Kenseth had every reason to be angry on Sunday at Kansas – only this time at race winner Joey Logano. But instead of picking a fight, Kenseth – despite being clearly unhappy about the contact that foiled his shot at a win – didn’t engage Logano in a confrontation. Did crew chief Jason Ratcliff say anything to Kenseth on the radio after the race to keep his driver from blowing up? “No, I didn’t say anything to him,” Ratcliff said. “At this point he’s probably got a lot of thoughts going through his head, and we’ll get together and talk face to face. That’s not something we discuss over the radio.”
Hendrick Is On The Rebound
For the first time in a long time, three Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished a race in the top 10 and two came home in the top five, thanks to the performances of Jimmie Johnson (third), Kasey Kahne (fourth) and Jeff Gordon (10th). Does this mean that all is suddenly well for the organization, which has not gone to Victory Lane since Dale Earnhardt Jr. did so at Daytona in July? It does not. Hendrick is still clearly lacking some speed to Team Penske’s Joey Logano and at least a couple of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. But Sunday was a positive step for the Hendrick organization, which appears poised to finish a mostly disappointing season on a strong note.
Bouncing Back Is Hard
Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman were the four Chase drivers on the backside of the cutoff for advancing to the Eliminator 8 coming into the Kansas weekend. After Sunday’s race, they’re still the four drivers on the outside of the cutoff looking in – although Busch and Newman switched positions, with the former now in ninth and the latter now 10th. Here’s the lesson: It’s not easy to recover from a bad finish in the Chase. If it was easy, at least one of these drivers would have moved up after disappointing outings at Charlotte. And just as it wasn’t easy for Earnhardt, Kenseth, Newman and Busch to advance in the standings at Kansas, it will also be difficult at Talladega.