The end of today's NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Kansas Speedway also marks the end of an era. While the Gen 6 car still races two more times this season, today's race was the last-ever run with the 550 horsepower, high-downforce intermediate package introduced to spice up 1.5-mile ovals in 2019. While the reduced horsepower will carry over to the Next Gen car, few will miss this permutation of the concept.
Kyle Larson, however, might miss it quite badly. Larson has now won five races on these "cookie cutter" intermediate tracks this year alone, reflecting both excellent performance from Hendrick Motorsports with this package and specific excellence from Larson on these kinds of tracks. His win today was not quite as effortless as last weekend's win at Texas, but he held off a small charge from Kevin Harvick on the final restart with a little help from the signature aero push that has made so many drivers complain about this package over the last few years and grabbed his third win in a row.
Larson was already locked into the Championship Four, and, since his performance with the 550 horsepower package does not necessarily reflect performance with the 750 horsepower package that will be raced at Phoenix, did not actually learn anything new from the win this weekend. But a ninth win of the season is something to be proud of, and it could lead to something even bigger; since the championship winner generally wins the final race of the season under this format, Larson will now go to Phoenix with a chance to clinch a title and the honor of winning ten races in a season in the same race.
Larson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott finished second after falling deep in the pack on a late restart and fighting his way back up to his teammate's bumper. He and Denny Hamlin now sit 37 and 34 points ahead of the cutoff line with one race to go, both in an excellent position to make the Championship Four with a modest top fifteen finish next weekend even if an unexpected driver wins that race.
Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney weren't so lucky. Both would have been alongside Elliott and Logano in a close fight for second in the standings, but both hit the wall hard in the final stage of today's race. Busch ended up finishing a distant 28th, while Blaney was forced to retire and scored in 37th. With Brad Keselowski (17th t0day) and Martin Truex Jr. (7th today after a strong recovery drive) also scored two and three points back of Busch, four drivers will have a near-equal shot at the final spot in the Championship four on points.
Of course, a win gets any driver clear to the next round, so Joey Logano can eliminate that entire group in one move and move from a distant 8th to the final playoff spot in that race, too. That battle will be settled at Martinsville next Sunday.
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