While NASCAR races, like human beings, can never truly be perfect, Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series AdventHealth 400 at Kansas Speedway was about as close to perfection as a NASCAR event can come.
How do you know Sunday’s race was truly a special race?
It’s been two days since the checkered flag flew in the race, and fans are still buzzing about what transpired on the track (and off the track after the race) on social media. The general excitement from the fan base about the race at Kansas is for sure a telltale sign that the AdventHealth 400 was a good race.
Jeff Gluck’s ‘Was it a Good Race’ Poll hit a 93.3% approval rating this week, which is the ninth-highest rating of the 274 races that Gluck has conducted the poll for. Additionally, the race is the highest-ever ranked event on a 1.5-mile speedway. That is another strong sign that the race was truly good.
But there’s an even bigger indicator of how good Sunday’s race was.
In the days since Sunday, no mouthpieces for the sanctioning body are attempting to justify the race as “good” by touting loop data numbers, or any other fancy metric designed to defend every race as “the best race ever”. Why not? Because the race itself was good enough to stand on its own. It passed the eyeball test. It WAS an incredible race.
Over the course of 400 miles, we were treated to a mind-numbing amount of lead changes, 37, which is an all-time record for a 400-mile event at a 1.5-mile speedway.
According to TobyChristie.com’s Joseph Srigley, the 37 lead changes in Sunday’s race were the most in any non-superspeedway NASCAR Cup Series event since the 2011 Coca-Cola 600. That race was 12 years ago, and that race also had an extra 200 miles of distance on Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway. Absolutely incredible.
What was also incredible was the level of activity on the 1.5-mile racetrack all race long, as drivers came and went throughout the duration of the event.
Hell, William Byron, who started on the pole, had an ill-handling car at the beginning of the race and was busted for speeding on pit road. Those two issues coupled together put the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro down two laps to the leaders. His day appeared to be over.
By the time the checkered flag was taken by race-winner Denny Hamlin, Byron was not only back on the lead lap, but he had recorded a third-place finish.
It was an incredible rally, one that many would be talking about like crazy following a typical race weekend. But this was no typical race weekend. This one was special.
While Byron worked his way back into position for a good finish, a thrilling battle for the win had developed between Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin. Over the final 20 circuits of the race, Hamlin stalked Larson like predators stalk their prey.
Hamlin got to Larson several times over the final run of the race, but it looked like — try as he might — he would not be able to get around Larson, who was simply just good enough in the outside lane to fend off a passing attempt from Hamlin down low.
However, on the final lap of the race, Larson slid up the track on the exit of Turn 2, and just barely caught the outside wall. Hamlin was all over Larson, and as Larson bounced off the wall, Hamlin drifted up the track and a controversial finish ensued.
As the two made slight contact on the exit of Turn 2, Larson’s No. 5 car turned sharp left, he over-corrected in an attempt to save it and the car snapped right. In an instant, Larson was nose-first into the outside wall, which allowed Hamlin to scoot by for the lead and win.
Alright, what are your thoughts, everyone?
Good hard racing for the win?
Hamlin wrecked Larson for the win?
Or Larson made an error while leading on the last lap?pic.twitter.com/YflcaiGE6I
— Toby Christie (@Toby_Christie) May 8, 2023
Hamlin would climb from his Toyota Camry to celebrate on the front stretch under a shower of boos from the fans in attendance. And as we were all attempting to digest what had just happened for the win, fireworks erupted on pit road between Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson.
Gragson, who was unhappy with how Chastain had raced him in the event, confronted Chastain on pit road. Gragson would grab Chastain’s firesuit, which led Chastain to tell Gragson repeatedly to stop. Gragson didn’t, and Chastain got one punch in, which landed on Gragson’s head.
Here's what happened on pit road between @NoahGragson and @RossChastain. pic.twitter.com/MMcOLASlgq
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) May 7, 2023
Gragson’s current puffy bowl haircut, the result of a bet with Austin Dillon, only made the moment more iconic, as the movement of Gragson’s hair made the hit look even more intense.
Security stepped in and broke up the fight before anything else had a chance of developing, but what a moment, and as soon as that was over, the FS1 broadcast was over.
It was literally wire-to-wire action for the FS1 broadcast, even after the checkered flag in Sunday’s race the intensity remained prevalent.
Kansas Speedway is the track that produced what Brian France called a “Quintessential NASCAR” moment back in 2015 when Joey Logano turned Matt Kenseth for the race win in a Playoff race that season. But on Sunday, the facility pulled off an entire race that had a very “Quintessential NASCAR” feel to it.
Now, as crazy as it feels to say, every race for the remainder of the season is going to have a hard time living up to the show that we were given at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. Some will races undoubtedly will keep us on the edge of our seats. Others will fall flat. And that’s okay. That’s what makes Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway so amazing.