Sunday July 14th, 2024 10:46PM

Red-hot Denny Hamlin leads confident Toyota contingent to Kansas

By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service

After calling his shot and winning last Sunday’s Wurth 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin couldn’t ask for a better place for an encore than Kansas Speedway.

Hamlin is the defending winner of the AdventHealth 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In addition, Hamlin’s minions—namely drivers for the 23XI Racing team he co-owns with former NBA superstar Michael Jordan—have won three of the last four races at the 1.5-mile intermediate track, encompassing the two-year Next Gen era.

Kurt Busch won the spring race at Kansas in 2022 before an accident at Pocono sidelined him. Bubba Wallace followed with a victory in the fall race that season. And after Hamlin triumphed last year, Tyler Reddick secured the third Kansas win for 23XI in the September Playoff race.

All told, Toyota drivers have won seven of the last nine races at the Wyandotte County track, with Hamlin accounting for three of those victories and former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch accounting for another.

“Kansas is where we show up with confidence,” Wallace acknowledged. “If everything goes right, we’ve got a really good shot at being in Victory Lane.

“Something clicks when we show up there. The speed’s there, the confidence is there, the crew is on it, and everything lines up there.”

After boldly predicting victory at Dover on his Monday podcast, Hamlin held off charging Kyle Larson to win at the Monster Mile. Though he’s not ready to call his shot at Kansas—despite his recent success there—Hamlin feels his No. 11 JGR team can win anywhere.

“Yeah, I mean, I expect to win every week,” said Hamlin, who is tied with Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron for most victories in the series this season with three. “There’s no reason I shouldn’t expect to win (at Kansas)… it’s been on the radar for a while.

“This little stretch right here right before the All-Star break, between Dover, Kansas, Darlington, I mean, these are all kind of right in my wheelhouse. Certainly feel pretty good about it.”

Larson is the only Chevrolet driver to take the checkered flag in the last nine races at Kansas, a feat he accomplished from the pole position during his championship season in 2021—the last before the transition to the Next Gen car in the Cup Series.

Ford drivers haven’t found Victory Lane at Kansas since Joey Logano triumphed in the fall of 2020, and the Blue Oval contingent is winless through 11 races this season.

With Jeff Gordon having won the first two races at Kansas Speedway in 2001 and 2002, Hendrick Motorsports has eight victories in 36 races at the track, a total equaled by Joe Gibbs Racing with Hamlin’s win last year.

That victory was Hamlin’s track-record fourth at Kansas.

Between them, Hendrick and Gibbs have won nine of the 11 races this season, with Hendrick holding a 5-4 edge. The only winners not from those two camps are Daniel Suarez at Atlanta and Reddick at Talladega.

NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series back in action at Kansas Speedway

After a two-week break, drivers in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series return to competition in Saturday night’s Heart of America 200 at Kansas Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Series leader Christian Eckes will go for his third victory of the season at a 1.5-mile track that has rewarded him with considerable success. Eckes is the most recent winner at Kansas, having taken the checkered flag in last September’s Playoff race.

In addition, the driver of the No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Chevrolet has posted four top fives and six top 10s in eight starts at the track. He has six top 10s to his credit in seven starts this season, including five straight results of eighth or better entering Saturday’s race.

“Our mile-and-a-half stuff has definitely shown a little bit of an improvement,” Eckes said after finishing fourth at Texas on April 12 and seizing the points lead. “We still have a little bit of a ways to go, but we’ll see how it goes.”

No one else in the field can match Matt Crafton’s experience at Kansas Speedway. The driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford has competed in all 27 Truck Series events at the track, dating to the inaugural race in 2001.

With three victories each, Crafton and Kyle Busch share the track record for most Truck Series wins. Busch, who is not racing at Kansas on Saturday, already has two Truck Series victories in four starts this season.

On the other hand, Crafton, a three-time series champion, hasn’t won in the series since he took the checkered flag at Kansas in 2020—a drought that reached 88 races at Texas.

Notes: Grant Enfinger is the defending winner of the Heart of America 200… Australian driver Cam Waters will make his second Truck Series start on Saturday. He finished 30th last month at Martinsville in his debut with ThorSport Racing.

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