NASCAR Kansas wrap-up: Thoughts on the Chase, Danica, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth

Wesley Hitt

Who is the Chase favorite with four races to go? Was Danica Patrick out of line in trying to wreck Landon Cassill? Was Kyle Busch wrong in pledging to crash Ryan Newman? Why was Matt Kenseth so emotional? Here are our answers to those questions.

This has been an odd Chase so far, one in which the field of contenders seems to keep growing as the amount of remaining races shrinks.

A few weeks ago, everyone was certain NASCAR's playoffs were down to three people: Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

Then Clint Bowyer won at Charlotte and put himself on the edge of being in the mix, too. And now, with four races remaining, even Kasey Kahne looks like he's still alive in fifth place.

Yes, Kahne is 30 points out, but there's no guarantee he can't pull a Tony Stewart (fourth place, 19 points back at this point last season) and come from nowhere to win it. Same with Bowyer.

Clearly, the favorites are Johnson, Keselowski and Hamlin (in that order), but there's still much that can happen before the year ends. Keselowski keeps insisting nothing will be decided until Homestead, and he's right – there will be no runaway winner.

If anything, this Chase just seems to keep getting closer.

Mistakes lose championships? Not really

The Kansas weekend was unusual in that contenders from two different series made huge mistakes that could have cost them the championship – and both came back.

On Saturday, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was trying to get a piece of debris off his grille in the Nationwide race when he ran up behind Joey Logano and miscalculated how the sequence would unfold. Instead of pulling up to Logano's back bumper, he ran Logano up into the wall and damaged both cars.

Normally, that might have been the sort of terrible mistake which loses the championship. But Stenhouse improbably rallied from two laps down and won the race, which is one of the most incredible NASCAR comebacks of the last decade.

Similarly, Jimmie Johnson appeared to make a critical error on Sunday. He lost control of his car and crashed on his own – somewhat like the Charlotte race last season which ended his title hopes – and crew chief Chad Knaus initially told him to go to the garage (which would have fixed the damage but cost him many laps).

But the decision was made to try to fix Johnson's damage on pit road, and the No. 48 team somehow kept the car on the lead lap. Not only that, but Johnson got a top-10 out of it.


As it turns out, the whole "You can't make those kind of mistakes and win a championship" mentality is incorrect. Stenhouse and Johnson just proved otherwise.

Danica overreacts to hard racing

Danica Patrick's attempt to crash Landon Cassill was both ridiculous and unnecessary. Yes, Cassill bumped his way past Patrick a few laps earlier – but since when does that kind of hard racing warrant a blatant wreck in response?

Patrick has said she wants to be treated the same as any other driver. But that's exactly what Cassill was doing: He wasn't happy with how she was driving, so he moved her out of the way.

That kind of hard racing is common in NASCAR, and most drivers don't respond by intentionally crashing a competitor in response.

And let's be honest: Patrick's actions would warrant penalties if she were someone else.

She wrecked Sam Hornish Jr. after the Talladega Nationwide race was over by running him into the wall like Kyle Busch did to Ron Hornaday and acted in a similarly purposeful fashion under green at Kansas.

If either of the Busch brothers would have done the same thing to Hornish or Cassill that Patrick did, people would be calling for their heads.

Patrick, though, apparently believes this is how NASCAR racing works. Eventually, she'll realize it isn't.

Newman has one coming from Kyle Busch

After his day ended due to contact from Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch vowed to pay back the Stewart-Haas Racing driver before the year was over with another wreck.

Under the unwritten driver code of conduct, that's acceptable.

Naturally, Danica fans will read that and scream, "Hypocrite! Double standard!" Not true. There's a difference between retaliating for getting wrecked and overreacting after getting bumped.

All drivers know they have one coming if they crash someone – even unintentionally. That's just how it goes. Even if Newman didn't wreck Busch on purpose, he likely understands (without Busch having to say anything) that he'll be on the other end eventually.

Busch wasn't out of line with his pledge to wreck Newman.

Unexpected emotion from race winner

During Matt Kenseth's Victory Lane interview, he got choked up when talking about the win. What prompted the surprising display of emotion from the veteran driver?

It would be easy to say he was being sentimental over the end of his tenure with Roush Fenway Racing – and that's certainly a big part of it – but there's likely more to it than that.

A few weeks ago, when Kenseth's team was making silly mistakes and pieces were falling off the car, many questioned whether his lame duck status had prompted the team to not give its full effort. But victories in two of the past three weeks have shown the NASCAR world – and Kenseth – that's not the case.

The fact his team hasn't given up – even after a terrible start to the Chase and knowing the driver is leaving soon – was probably very humbling and moving for Kenseth, who is already a humble person to begin with. He was grateful to be surrounded by a team which hadn't turned its back on him when others might have.

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