Harvesting new trends at Kansas with Next Gen momentum

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The saying goes, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. But in recent history, drivers starting outside of the top 10 have struggled to reach Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway.

Five of the last six races at Kansas were won from a top-10 starting position, with defending spring winner Kyle Busch starting ninth. And only three times in the last 12 races has a car beginning outside the first five rows at the 1.5-mile track gone on to Victory Lane.

But if you are expecting the trend of dominance to continue in Sunday’s Sunflower State showdown (3 pm ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), think again. Early 2022 numbers, albeit a small sample size, suggest it isn’t a given.

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Both of the races this season on 1.5-mile tracks were won from a starting position outside the top 10: Alex Bowman at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (13th) and William Byron at Atlanta Motor Speedway (12th). In fact, seven of the 12 races this season have seen a winner who started 11th or lower, including multi-race winner Ross Chastain, who started 16th at Circuit of The Americas and 19th at Talladega Superspeedway. Surprising numbers with the return of practice and qualifying sessions, but a healthy nod to the variety already seen with the Next Gen car.

In the last 10 races at Kansas, the track has been an unpredictable wild-card that has produced eight different winners.

WINNERS (spring / fall)
2017 Martin Truex Jr. / Martin Truex Jr.
2018 Kevin Harvick / Chase Elliott
2019 Brad Keselowski / Denny Hamlin
2020 Denny Hamlin / Joey Logano
2021 Kyle Busch / Kyle Larson

Joe Gibbs Racing has earned the most collective success at Kansas with Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin checking in as the only two-time victors in this span. JGR has also won three of the last five.

Prior to Kyle Larson’s dominant, 3.619-second win last fall, the previous seven races at the track have only had a combined margin of victory of 2.784 seconds.

In some ways, the parity seen at Kansas mirrors the fluctuating field we have seen so far this season. Through the first third of the schedule, 10 unique drivers have been first to the checkered flag. Included in that total were three first-time Cup Series winners: Austin Cindric (Daytona 500), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix Raceway) and Ross Chastain (COTA). For comparison, the series only recorded one first-time winner all of last season: Michael McDowell, in the season-opening Daytona 500.

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Kansas provides an opportunity for teams and drivers to change the entire course of their season.

Historically, the Kansas City track has favored the seasoned veterans of the sport, rewarding drivers who started out front with the ability to stay there. And since being added to the schedule in 2001, Kansas has had 16 different winners in 32 races but has never produced a first-time Cup Series winner.

If the 2022 trajectory continues, Sunday’s race could very well kick some of these old Kansas trends.

Statistical source: Racing Insights

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