Having won all three Next Gen races at Kansas Speedway, Toyota was going to be the manufacturer to beat entering Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App). Nothing has changed following practice and qualifying, as all six ranked inside the top 12 on the long run. Christopher Bell scored his second consecutive pole in the playoffs and dating back to New Hampshire, the No. 20 team has won four of the last nine pole awards. While Toyota might have the edge, there are many Chevrolets — topped by Kyle Larson — that look to be in the ballpark.
Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:
Starter 1: Tyler Reddick
Starter 2: Bubba Wallace
Starter 3: Martin Truex Jr.
Starter 4: Christopher Bell
Starter 5: Kyle Larson
Garage Pick: Denny Hamlin
NEXT IN LINE: Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Chris Buescher.
RISING: It might get overlooked because Elliott has had success at most venues, but his numbers at Kansas are particularly good. In 15 starts, he has nine top-10 finishes, including a seventh-place result in May. The No. 9 car had one of its best practice and qualifying sessions of 2023 on Saturday, ranking 10th on one-lap speed; seventh on 10-lap averages and qualified fourth.
As noted earlier this week, Austin Dillon could be a good sleeper pick for Kansas. Thus far, that stands true. For the first time this season, the No. 3 team made the final round of qualifying and scored its best qualifying effort (eighth) since the Bristol Dirt race. While Bristol Dirt and Kansas have nothing in common aside from lacking grip, that was the site of Dillon’s lone top-five finish in 2023. Don’t be surprised if he cracks the top 10 in the final rundown on Sunday.
FALLING: If you read Fastlane earlier this week, you’d notice that I was dismissive of using Busch this weekend. That proved to be true in practice, though it was no fault of Busch, who blew a right-rear tire and bounced off the wall. Still, it’s the second consecutive weekend where Busch has had a practice incident, setting the No. 8 team back from the start. If you ask him, though, he will say it’s normal: “Always put in a hole, always put behind, always have to come and dig ourselves out.”
While Larson, Elliott, and Byron all looked to have cars that could contend for the win, Alex Bowman did not. It was a bit of a comedown following his standout performance last fall at Kansas when he led north of 100 laps. The No. 48 Chevrolet was ranked 17th out of 24 cars that made a 10-lap run and qualified a discouraging 23rd. The other three Hendrick cars made the final round of qualifying.
Denny Hamlin vs. Kyle Larson
While Toyota did indeed look to be the class of the field on Saturday, Larson seemed to have the pace capable of winning. Hamlin lacked a bit of speed to his Toyota brethren — and to Larson. It wouldn’t be surprising if Hamlin is contending for the win come the conclusion of the race, as he’s the only driver to have top-five finishes in all three Next Gen races at Kansas. But I’m flip-flopping here to picking the No. 5 car.
Bubba Wallace vs. Kevin Harvick
During Wallace’s qualifying run, he got tight off Turn 4 and had to lift out of the gas which cost him time. Other than that misjudgment of the corner, the defending Kansas winner had a strong Saturday, ranking inside the top five on single-lap and 10-lap averages in practice. Meanwhile, Harvick will have to do Harvick things and overcome a speed deficit, sitting 13th on both charts in practice. Go with Wallace.
Tyler Reddick vs. Christopher Bell
This looks to be the toughest matchup of the week. Both drivers should be in the hunt for the checkered flag, as Reddick topped the scoring chart in practice on all metrics and Bell topped the competition in qualifying. Both teams have also made multiple miscues that have taken them out of contention for wins this season. Reddick is the pick here, but the best option might be to put both names into a hat and draw from there.
Ross Chastain vs. Joey Logano
Logano has struggled mightily at Kansas in recent years. But as the champion he is, the No. 22 team made the most out of its pace on Saturday and was the fastest car to not make the final round of qualifying. However, Chastain has finished seventh or better in the last three Kansas races and seemed to recapture some of the team’s early-season speed. Thinking Chastain is the right choice here.