The NASCAR Cup Series racing on Thursday is rare; in fact, the Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway joined May’s rain-postponed Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the first races on such days since 1985. It is perhaps fitting that the final stage of Thursday night’s race was filled with turmoil and wrecks, predominantly on restarts.
However, one variable that remained constant was Denny Hamlin winning. Although he was sixth in the standings entering Thursday, he scored his series-leading fifth victory of 2020 after passing points leader Kevin Harvick late in the race.
A pair of Fords occupied the front row with Harvick on the pole ahead of Joey Logano. Josh Bilicki was sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments.
Team Penske led early as Logano took the lead on the opening lap and Ryan Blaney moved up to second. Harvick’s descent continued when Martin Truex Jr. passed him for third.
Entering the double-digit lap counter, rookie Tyler Reddick, who finished second in Sunday’s Texas race, cracked the top ten after starting twenty-third. He would not gain any more positions by the competition caution on lap 26, while Logano held off Truex to keep the lead. However, Logano would suffer an uncontrolled tyre penalty during stops and Truex inherited first; Chris Buescher also received the same punishment.
Truex and Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Kyle Busch led the field to the restart on lap 31, with the latter’s inside line proving superior. A third JGR driver in Hamlin joined his allies in the top three five laps later.
On lap 60, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went to pit road and exited the race for a fire in his cockpit.
Busch would win the stage for his first playoff point of the season. It has been a stressful season for the reigning champion, who had been unable to secure a stage or race win through the first half of the year.
Hamlin, Truex, Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Reddick, Harvick, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, and Erik Jones followed.
Hamlin was the first off pit road to lead at the start of the second stage.
On lap 100, Bubba Wallace spun in turn four for the caution. As the race resumed, Keselowski took the lead. Penske and Gibbs eventually launched a battle as all seven drivers ran in the top ten.
With 18 laps remaining in the stage, Buescher spun to produce another yellow. Various drivers elected to change just two tyres on their stop which put Blaney in front with Jimmie Johnson, Reddick, and John Hunter Nemechek joining him.
The strategy ultimately failed as all but Blaney fell off at the restart. Keselowski passed his Penske team-mate on the final lap to take the stage win.
Almirola, Hamlin, Busch, Harvick, Jones, Truex, Johnson, and Chase Elliott rounded out the top ten.
Two-tyre stops placed Hamlin and Elliott on the front row to begin the final stage.
Restarts proved to be chaotic as early as the first in Stage #3 when drivers like Bowman and Nemechek suffered tyre rubs.
On lap 172, Wallace’s day came to an end when Ryan Preece collided with Matt Kenseth and the latter spun into him. The ensuing green flag saw Logano hit the wall exiting turn two, with Johnson being sandwiched by Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto. The latter then crashed into the outside wall before being hit by Dillon.
“Just one of those racing deals… I didn’t have anywhere to go,” Johnson tweeted.
The next restart resulted in an even larger wreck. On the backstretch, Christopher Bell was clipped by Ryan Newman while trying to block. Preece, who had struggled with poor luck as he finished last in the last three races, took the worst hit when he was sent into the inside wall, causing his #37 to briefly go airbourne. Preece was able to exit his car.
“I’d like to reiterate just how heavy these cars are. It takes a TON of force to propel the car in the air like that,” tweeted Xfinity Series driver Ryan Ellis. “Thank you @NASCAR and all of the engineers and safety people who make our cars some of the safest in the world.”
Yet another green flag led to yet another yellow flag when Newman spun in turn three.
DiBenedetto attributed the restart wrecks to the low horsepower, high downforce package. In an interview with NBCSN, he described the restarts as “just wild because we have no horsepower, so it takes us 45 minutes to get going.”
The lap 200 restart bucked the trend by being clean as Byron battled with Hamlin for first. After the former cleared for the lead, Keselowski passed him for the position on lap 206. After sixteen laps, Byron retook the lead.
With 45 laps remaining, Busch and Blaney brushed the wall, forcing them to pit for flat tyres. On lap 235, Corey LaJoie‘s impact with the wall resulted in a caution and a downed right-rear tyre, providing a much-needed caution for Byron who had not pitted since lap 182.
A two-tyre stop placed Byron in front alongside Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Bowman, who also elected to change one side. The green flag waved with 28 laps to go; a strong restart enabled Bowman to hang with Byron on the inside. Behind the two, Harvick moved up to third.
Nemechek produced what would be the caution of the night when he spun on the backstretch and tapped the outside wall. Bowman and Byron once again comprised the front row as the race resumed with 22 left.
Harvick pushed Bowman ahead on the restart, which he followed up by powering to the lead on the ouside as they entered turn three. Hamlin chased down the leader and overtook him with 12 laps remaining. Keselowski and Truex would also pass Harvick.
Keselowski could not catch Hamlin as he scored his fifth win of the season and second straight at Kansas.