NASCAR enters race two of the first round of the playoffs. The stakes are higher as the cut-off race approaches next Saturday night in Bristol. As always, trust the data but also trust your eyes. Here are the best bets for the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas.
Everyone is looking ahead. No one wants their playoff life decided at Bristol. Short-track Saturday nights are one thing, but a Saturday night in the last great colosseum is a nightmare. Some top-tier teams might play it safe and point race this Sunday at Kansas. Others may lay it all on the line.
Race Winner — Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas
Denny Hamlin +450
Can Hamlin sweep the 2023 Kansas races? He almost swept Darlington last weekend. He won the Xfinity race and was on his way to the Southern 500 win before bad luck unraveled his race. A loose wheel and then getting caught in a wreck with the mid-pack resulted in a 25th place finish after leading the most laps at Darlington.
Kansas is a different intermediate track, but like Darlington, it has a high groove next to the wall thanks to the progressive banking. Some may not agree that there are any similarities, and that’s fine. Hamlin is the top-rated driver this season. He’s good everywhere. JGR has been good everywhere.
Hamlin was fast when it mattered the most in the first Kansas race. After last week, he should be motivated to prove himself. After the end of the first Kansas race, he should be motivated to prove himself.
Kyle Larson +650
It’s a three-horse race this weekend, and possibly the playoffs. Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr (+550) were great at Kansas in the spring — they’ve been great everywhere. Larson has been great everywhere, too. He also has momentum on his side after winning the Southern 500 at Darlington last Sunday night. That win carries more than momentum. Larson has qualified for the next round of the playoffs. He can gamble and make unconventional moves on pit road. Hamlin and Truex are safe to make it to the next round, but after both failed to finish inside the top 15 last week, another poor race could result in belt tightening. The JGR drivers won’t likely change their approach, but it’s unlikely they will be aggressive on Sunday. This is an opportunity for Larson to make a statement.
Speaking of statements, Kansas is the perfect track for Larson to speak up and exact his revenge. In the spring race, Larson led from lap 221 to 266. He led the most laps in the race. On lap 267 — the final lap — Hamlin turned Kyle Larson into the wall and stole the win. Typically, Larson has a short memory. He races so much that it’s hard to keep track of grudges, but not this time. The two are still friends, but Larson was outspoken in the week following that he wasn’t going to let this one go.
Race Winner — Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas
Bubba Wallace +1200
Track history matters. Comfort matters. Bubba Wallace earned his first big-time win at Kansas last fall (excluding his rain-shortened Talladega win). The No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing returned to Kansas this spring and finished fourth. Bubba ran the third-most laps inside the top 10 and the fifth-most inside the top 5. When he won in 2022 at Kansas, he had to hold off another Toyota driven by Denny Hamlin. The Toyotas have perfected the setup at Kansas. Bubba presents excellent speed and good enough skill at longer odds.
William Byron +750
Darlington was a quiet top 5 for Byron. Larson, Hamlin and Tyler Reddick (+900) were the key players, but don’t discount Byron’s performance. He overcame a poor starting position and grinded out 500 miles against the best and came home fourth.
Byron has a lot of top-5 finishes this season. He won at Las Vegas, Phoenix, Darlington (spring), Atlanta and Watkins Glen. Those wins check every box for track type. He has top-5 finishes at COTA, Dover, and Charlotte (runner-up). In the last eight Kansas races, Byron has seven top-10 finishes.
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