We are officially at the part of the season where the intensity has been ramped up beyond ideas and knowledge. When this race was in the Round of 12 for several years, it was the one to set the tone. We can all remember back in 2015 when it set the tone thanks to a bump, spin, and smoke show courtesy of the No. 22 Ford and No. 20 Toyota.
I think we remember what happened in the Round of 8 that season between those two.
Now that the schedule has elected to make Kansas the first event in the Round of 8, that intensity has gone up ten fold. Now, it’s a spot in the championship that is on the line, and all eight drivers still competing for that opportunity know that they can secure that spot right away.
Meanwhile, 32 others know they can play spoiler and take the focus off those drivers for one afternoon, another item that is not uncommon in the Round of 8. We’ve seen playoff drivers get eliminated the round before, but then come back and win in the third round in order to take away some of that attention. Look at what Dale Earnhardt Jr. did in 2014 at Martinsville, then Jimmie Johnson the following week at Texas.
Heading into this event, there has never been a focus on drivers outside the playoffs trying to get a win, but look at the ones who have not won this season that are still trying to achieve that milestone.
Look at Kyle Busch, the reigning but no longer defending, champion. Winless through 32 races, something many never expected, and certainly one can see the frustration he expresses each week when something happens. Certainly 2020 has not been his season, but he’s been close. At the same time, Kansas has seemed to be his “Oz” if you will, but pay no attention to his statistics here. He has won at Kansas, but he certainly has experienced more bad luck here than anywhere else. So, in the hopes to get back in victory lane, he returns to follow his yellow brick road to the checkered flag.
Then you have the home-state boy in Clint Bowyer, who has been longing for a win at this place ever since he started racing on it. So close, yet so far.
And now he’s on his final opportunity to make that happen, since his firesuit next season will be traded in for a jacket and tie. Not exactly the outfit he’s used to wearing, but at the same time he’s been a bit more casual in attire when NASCAR did the e-Invitational during the shutdown. Although I think having a couple empty Busch cans in the simulator is a bit different than being on air with the microphone. At the same time, Bowyer and Gordon in the booth…one being all serious and the other the comedian.
Anyone feel like the FOX booth is gonna be like having Jay Leno and Kevin Eubanks on set again.
One final ride, one final opportunity, and at the last chance to be the Wizard of Kansas Speedway. Maybe he can find some of that Mahomes magic.
We are set for the semi-finals in the playoffs, and just maybe someone will surprise us all. Let’s get racing.