Advance Through the Playoffs: Larson to get Kansas revenge on Hamlin?

Kyle Larson celebrates at Martinsville in 2023.
Jared C. Tilton
Getty Images

Darlington is a beast, and Bristol is a banger, but don’t sleep on the second race in the Round of 16, Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App). This race has historically provided its fair share of drama in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, and if the event in May is any indication, then this could also be a wild one.

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In the May race, won by Denny Hamlin on a last-lap pass when he bumped Kyle Larson out of the way, there were 37 lead changes — the most in history on a 1.5-mile track in a 400-mile event. According to Racing Insights, the 11 cautions that day were also the most in the last 12 races there. In addition, besides Hamlin’s bump of Larson, the May race also featured Ross Chastain’s contact with Noah Gragson and a post-race fight between the two drivers.

With 10 of the 16 playoff drivers experiencing some sort of issue at Darlington, Kansas isn’t likely to provide them with a break. Last year, nine of the 16 playoff drivers experienced an issue at Kansas, ranging from contact on pit road to equipment interference to loose wheels.

This time, though, Racing Insights is pegging Larson to win at Kansas, and that didn’t change after Saturday’s practice and qualifying. A Kansas win would be a great sign for Larson because he took the checkered flag in 2021 at Kansas en route to claiming the championship. A Larson win would also give Hendrick Motorsports a milestone 300th Cup victory as an organization.


WILLIAM BYRON: Larson got the playoff-opening win at Darlington and is the winning pick this week at Kansas, but Byron still holds the advantage in playoff points. Byron also has the best average finish (2.0) in the three races at 1.5-mile tracks this season, including a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

ROSS CHASTAIN: The aforementioned Chastain figures to have a lot of fight this week, no pun intended. That’s because he sits just 13 points above the playoff elimination line and needs to take full advantage of his time on the 1.5-mile tracks. The Trackhouse Racing driver has scored the most points on this track type in the Next Gen car, edging out Byron 384 to 383, and he’ll look to continue that trend on Sunday.

MARTIN TRUEX JR.: If this were golf, the Joe Gibbs Racing teams might take a mulligan for Darlington. The good news is Toyota has been strong at Kansas. Truex, who dropped to sixth in the standings after last weekend, has finished in the top 10 in 12 of the last 13 Kansas races, including two wins and an average finish of 6.0.

BUBBA WALLACE: He’s the defending winner of this race as he completed the Kansas sweep for 23XI Racing last year. That win was extra special because he rebounded from an extra pit stop due to a loose wheel. Wallace is showing the ability to deal with in-race adversity in a positive manner, such as last week at Darlington when he bounced back from early contact with Joey Logano to finish seventh.

TYLER REDDICK: Not to belabor the point, but Kansas has been a great track for Toyota and 23XI Racing. Remember, it was the No. 45 car that won both Kansas races last year (first with Kurt Busch and then with Wallace subbing in that car for the injured Busch). Reddick is coming off a ninth-place finish in May at Kansas and a second-place finish last week at Darlington, where he managed to avoid any major issues.

Projections as of Sunday, Sept. 10:


Racing Insights’ advanced statistical formula includes current track, current track type, recent performance, team data and pit-crew data to arrive at a projected winner and full race results.

FinishCar NumberDriver
15Kyle Larson
219Martin Truex Jr.
324William Byron
411Denny Hamlin
51Ross Chastain
645Tyler Reddick
723Bubba Wallace
820Christopher Bell
99Chase Elliott
1022Joey Logano
116Brad Keselowski
1212Ryan Blaney
134Kevin Harvick
1417Chris Buescher
158Kyle Busch
1648Alex Bowman
1799Daniel Suárez
1847Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
193Austin Dillon
2016AJ Allmendinger
2143Erik Jones
222Austin Cindric
2334Michael McDowell
2454Ty Gibbs
2510Aric Almirola
2614Chase Briscoe
277Corey LaJoie
2831Justin Haley
2941Ryan Preece
3038Todd Gilliland
3121Harrison Burton
3277Ty Dillon
3351Cole Custer
3415J.J. Yeley
3542Carson Hocevar
3678Sheldon Creed