CONCORD, N.C. – The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue as the field heads to Kansas Speedway for the middle race of the Round of 16. Sunday’s main event will be the second time stock car racing’s most prestigious division will visit "The Heartland" in 2023.
While Kansas may appear as just another 1.5-mile track on the calendar, the track produces dramatic moments on a routine basis. Part of this comes down to when races are hosted at the facility. Since the current playoff format was introduced in 2014, Kansas has always hosted a date in the postseason. With cooler temperatures and a lot on the line, this weekend’s main event (like many before it) will be one you do not want to miss.
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Since opening in 2001, Hendrick Motorsports has won eight times at Kansas. Vice chairman Jeff Gordon took home three checkered flags in his career (including the inaugural and second-ever races at the facility), while Jimmie Johnson also earned three wins with his No. 48 group. Of the current drivers on Rick Hendrick’s team, Chase Elliott (2018) and Kyle Larson (2021) have each won a race there for the organization.
Larson’s clutch victory at Darlington Raceway propelled his No. 5 HendrickCars.com team into the Round of 12. While the group has already advanced, they will look to Kansas as an opportunity to earn additional playoff points going into the next round. Looking at the Kansas stats, there might not be a better track to add to his total. In the last five races there, Larson has led 376 laps -- that’s 256 more circuits than the next closest competitor. Kansas is also his fourth-best track in terms of laps led (540). In addition, Larson has finished in the top-two positions in three of the last four races there. He has six top-fives and nine top-10s in 17 starts. The 31-year-old driver nearly won in the spring race before being passed for the lead (with some contact) on the white flag lap by the eventual winner. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2021, he has five wins on 1.5-mile tracks. Sunday's race marks the 2021 Cup Series champion's 100th start for the team.
MORE: Where Hendrick Motorsports playoff drivers, teams rank heading to Kansas
Another driver who has shown speed at this 1.5-mile track would be William Byron. The 25-year-old driver has two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in his last eight starts at Kansas. Despite early issues in the spring that caused him to lose two laps, the No. 24 RaptorTough.com team fought back to earn a third-place finish. In the Next Gen era at tracks of 1.5 miles in length, Byron’s 383 points scored are the second-most in the Cup Series. On 1.5-mile tracks this year, Byron has an average finish of 2.00, with three top-three finishes highlighted by a win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. At 45 markers above the projected cutline and holding the points lead, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native could potentially lock himself into the Round of 12 on points this weekend with a good result.
Elliott enters this race as the other active driver from Hendrick Motorsports to win at Kansas. Statistically, it is one of his better racetracks with a 10.9 average finish. His six top-five results are the second-most of any track on the schedule. In the spring race, which was just his fourth race returning from injury, he finished seventh and led five circuits. While not a part of the driver championship, the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts team remains a member of the owner playoffs. With an eighth-place finish at Darlington, the group sits three points above the projected cutline in 11th.
Kansas is always a track that Alex Bowman is excited to race at in the Cup Series. In his 11 starts with Hendrick Motorsports at the 1.5-mile facility, Bowman has earned three top-five finishes, seven top-10s and led 183 laps. In 2022, the driver of the No. 48 Ally Racing Chevy qualified third, led 107 circuits, won stage two and brought home a fourth-place finish. That result was his best of last year's playoffs. Kansas was one of three points-paying events that Bowman missed in the spring due to a back injury. However, he did finish third at Las Vegas, a track that is somewhat similar statistically to Kansas.
For this weekend's race, the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation and the NASCAR Foundation have partnered together to recognize those who have battled cancer. The space above the driver-side door was auctioned off to honor a cancer hero.
Here's what you need to know to catch this weekend’s action.
WHAT TIME IS PRACTICE AND QUALIFYING?
Group practice will take place on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 12 p.m. ET with coverage on USA Network. Immediately following practice, group qualifying will begin at 12:45 p.m. ET with coverage also on USA Network.
Bowman, Elliott and Byron are in Group A, while Larson will be a part of Group B.
WHAT TIME IS THE RACE?
The 400-mile Cup Series main is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 10 at 3 p.m. ET with coverage on USA Network. A post-race show will take place on Peacock.
CAN I LISTEN ON THE RADIO?
Both races will be broadcast on the MRN Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (channel 90).
CAN I STREAM ONLINE?
FIVE FAST FACTS HEADING INTO KANSAS
7: Top-10 finishes at Kansas for Byron. In terms of top-10 results, this is his best track statistically.
7.50: Bowman’s average finish in his two starts at 1.5-mile non-drafting tracks in 2023.
11: With a win last weekend, Larson now has 11 top-five finishes this season and leads the Cup Series in this category.
18: Wins at Hendrick Motorsports for Elliott. This mark is the third-best in the organization’s history.
56: Playoff wins from Hendrick Motorsports. This is the most victories by any organization in postseason competition.