Since the debut of the Next Gen car last season in Cup, it has seen its best racing on intermediate tracks but Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway was especially captivating.
The race featured a track-record 37 official lead changes (those counted at the start/finish line) among 12 different drivers and a last lap pass (bump) for the win.
The 37 lead changes are the most for a 400-mile race on an intermediate track in NASCAR history.
In addition, according to NASCAR’s Loop Data, Sunday’s race had 3,632 green flag passes throughout the course of the event. By comparison, last spring’s Kansas race had 2,167. Last fall’s Kansas race had 3,029.
Yes, there were a couple of rounds of green-flag pit stops on Sunday which jumbled the leaders but the vast majority of the official passes for the lead were done under green flag conditions and on the track.
While the race was slowed by 11 cautions – three for multi-car wrecks – and lasted almost 3½ hours, the outcome never seemed a forgone conclusion.
“This is just a perfect race track for this race car. The match between the car, the tire and the race track, it’s just a perfect match,” explained Hamlin, who earned his win of the 2023 season. “That’s why you saw today really nobody running away from the field.
“As many leaders as we saw side-by-side, two, three laps in, I saw these guys dicing up three-wide for the lead. It (the tire) has just enough falloff where track position is very important but it’s not everything.
“You can still get position on someone, like you saw there on the last lap.”
While cautions seemed to dominate much of the second and final stages, it was a one-on-one duel between Hamlin and then-leader Kyle Larson during a 47-lap green flag run to the finish that proved most enthralling.
Larson and Hamlin had separated themselves from the field with less than 25 of 267 laps remaining. With five laps to go and Larson holding on to a tenuous lead, Hamlin got side-by-side with him at one point but couldn’t complete the pass and was forced to back off.
On the final lap, Hamlin again got near Larson off Turn 2 and nudged Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet in the left-rear, which knocked Larson into the wall.
Larson was able to keep going but the move allowed Hamlin to skirt ahead to the win by 1.307 seconds.
“It’s a Kansas thing,” Hamlin explained. “So, what happens is that the preferred lane is up high, so you have to drive in the corner and pull a slider on someone.
“Sometimes that slider doesn’t work, which is why you saw most of the wrecks I think were probably a product of that.”
And if the on-track product wasn’t entertaining enough, a post-race pit road fight between drivers Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson left one more lasting moment – especially on social media – to cap off a memorable day of NASCAR racing.