A nice crowd, maybe 60,000 at 82,000-seat Kansas Speedway, on a warm, sunny Sunday (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Updated, with new NASCAR road racing qualifying rules)
By Mike Mulhern
The zinger of the day:
Delivered by Denny Hamlin, Twittered from the sidelines at Kansas Speedway...just moments after a savage crash took out Joey Logano, his former teammate, in a wreck triggered by Hamlin's current teammate Kyle Busch -- "I know Joey felt bad but he doesn't have to keep falling in the points on my count :) #seeyasoon"
Hamlin, who injured his back in a crash with Logano while battling for the win at California last month, says he hopes to get his doctor's okay to return to action next weekend at Richmond.
Hamlin's newest teammate Matt Kenseth carried the flag for Joe Gibbs, with the win.
But Kenseth said he was worried about the fast-closing Kasey Kahne: "With about 15 laps to go my car turned loose, especially into turn three. Almost lost it two or three times, and gave up probably a second a lap to him.
"I was afraid he was going to get me. One more lap and he probably would have."
Kenseth led well over half the race, 163 laps of the 267. But during one exchange of green flag pit stops he wound up back in fifth and struggle for a while.
"Once we got back behind about fifth, it was hard for us to go forward," Kenseth said. Our car was really fast in clean air, and it was reasonable in dirty air but not quite good enough to catch all them guys and pass them.
"Thankfully we had a couple really crazy-good restarts and made up some ground, and that got us back in position."
It's been a dream ride so far for Kenseth, now driving for Toyota's Gibbs after 14 years with Ford's Jack Roush.
"It is kind of cliché, but I really feel like I'm living a dream," Kenseth said. "Every single track -- well, we were a little off at California-- but other than that we've had cars I thought that if all the stars would have aligned we could have won the race.
"We've been incredibly fast, and I'm just so thankful to be wheeling them... and glad we could hold on."
Jimmie Johnson rallied to finish third and padded his Sprint Cup points lead.
"Friday and Saturday weren't fun," Johnson said. "There weren't a lot of smiles around our group.
"But everybody worked real hard to get the cars right, and we had a great race car today. At times I felt I had a shot to win. We just didn't have enough for Matt and Kasey
"We had a vibration at the start of the race and had to come in, and put four tires on... and we lost time. We didn't have the best starting spot to begin with, but we lost more time.
"But from there on I drove right up through the field and got to the front. The last two runs we were a little too tight, but other than that we had a really strong performance with a car that drove through traffic -- which is hard to do in today's world of racing."
One of the big stories of the day was Ford's Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who qualified third and challenged for the win, until a late caution threw him off.
"It was fun -- We started up front, ran up front, lost our track position and then got it back, and were able to lead some laps," Stenhouse said.
"We pitted (late in the race) under green, and it really got us when the caution came out. But we can take a lot of positives from this weekend: We were fast in practice, fast in qualifying, and made the car better through the race -- and that's what it's all about, making your car better throughout the race.
"We were the one to beat there at the end, but we didn't have the track position to finish it off."
Teammate Carl Edwards was likewise jammed by that untimely yellow. "That's very disappointing for our whole team because we had such a fast car.
"And when the sun came out (halfway through the race), we were not in good shape. The handling went away big-time."
Edwards and Stenhouse battled hard near the front late in the race, and Edwards may have ruffled Stenhouse's feathers with some moves.
"I've got to thank Ricky Stenhouse -- I was holding him off and I slid up in front of him, and he could have wrecked me, but he didn't," Edwards said.
"I was in denial about my car at that point -- I thought we were fast.
"And then we had our strategy set up to rely on the caution not coming out, but the caution came out, and I think that pretty much ruined it for all the Roush Fenway cars.
"The cool thing is we had fast race cars... and there were points in the race where I think we had the fastest cars."
In other news, NASCAR officials Monday announced new qualifying rules for the Sonoma, Calif., and Watkins Glen, N.Y., Sprint Cup events, a 'group-based' session, rather than the traditional best-of-two-laps single-car runs.
NASCAR qualifying usually draws few if any fans; for Friday's Kansas 400 pole runs, the 82,000-seat grandstands were virtually empty. And NASCAR's traditional single-car runs have long been decried as too boring, with little spectator appeal.
The new road course qualifying rules, nothing new in other major racing series, send small packs of cars out together for a set period of time, and each driver's best lap during that session will be his official qualifying lap. The number of cars and the time periods weren't announced.
The new qualifying procedures will likely provide a bit of controversy, of course, which -- considering how boring current qualifying sessions are -- can't be a bad thing. Strategy should be involved....and of course there is the possibility of blocking, to keep a rival from getting a good lap.
These qualifying rules naturally could also be used on any of the other 21 NASCAR tracks too.
Sonoma -- the 'new' Martinsville, as rough as these guys play. Wonder how NASCAR's new 'pack' qualifying sessions might play out in this summer's California tour stop? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)