Penske, Hendrick, and Harvick likely to play into today’s outcome at Kansas


It’s a clean slate starting today at Kansas Speedway…And it isn’t.

This year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup enters the Contender Round today in the Heartland, and the remaining 12 drivers in championship contention have had their points reset to 3,000 each – no bonus points for Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jeff Gordon following their respective Challenger Round victories.

But while everybody’s on even footing going into today’s Hollywood Casino 400, the biggest story arc of the Chase is likely to remain intact: Team Penske vs. Hendrick Motorsports.

The aforementioned Keselowski and Logano gave Penske two wins in the Challenger Round, while Gordon put Hendrick on the board with a win last weekend at Dover.

Those wins no longer matter thanks to the lack of bonus points. However, the two squads have been the class of the field on 1.5-mile ovals like Kansas and Charlotte Motor Speedway – which will host the first two races of the Contender Round before the elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Keselowski’s won three times on 1.5-milers this season (Las Vegas, Kentucky, and the Chase opener last month at Chicagoland), while teammate Logano has one such win from this past spring at Texas. As for the Hendrick camp, Gordon (Kansas in the spring), Johnson (Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte), and Kahne (Atlanta) have each contributed a single win on these ovals.

And when you look back at the Kansas spring race this year, Penske and Hendrick drivers made up four of the Top 5 finishers: Gordon in first, Kahne in third, Logano in fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fifth. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was the sole exception in second – although one could argue that the Penske/Hendrick bloc indeed swept the Top 5 in that race since Hendrick supplies SHR’s engines.

At this point, it would appear that the blindingly fast but seriously snake-bitten Harvick is the one most likely to muck up the Penske/Hendrick fight.

He’s on the pole today and should have a say in the outcome, but bad luck such as the flat tire that derailed a likely win for him last weekend at Dover has to disappear from here on in.

The question, of course, is will it? And the answer, of course, is uncertain. Especially this week, as Kansas has proven very tricky in the lead-up to today.

Speeds have been noticeably high and we’ve seen multiple incidents in practice and qualifying (one driver in particular, potential spoiler Kyle Larson, thinks we could be in for a rough Sunday after a somewhat messy Nationwide event yesterday). Like New Hampshire two weeks ago, this Contender Round opener may degenerate into a battle of attrition.

But if they can avoid the potential mayhem, look for today to be settled between Penske, Hendrick, and “Happy.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide


Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.