JOEY LOGANO vs. Matt Kenseth - the first major conflict in this year's Chase. With only five more Chase races remaining, there's bound to be more heavyweight heat generated among drivers and crews.
The major question I have about Sunday's Kansas race is: Did Logano have to spin out Kenseth to pick up his fifth win of the season, or could Logano have passed Kenseth cleanly?
Entering the Kansas race, Kenseth had collected the most wins this season (five). Logano had won four. Logano knew that if he could prevent Kenseth from winning the race, he would force Kenseth into a must-win situation Sunday in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega.
Kenseth, in his yellow No. 20 Toyota, clearly had blocked Logano in the gold No. 22 Ford. As the race leader in the closing laps, Kenseth felt entitled to block.
"It's the end of the race, and I was trying to stay in front of him the best I could and I was in front of him," Kenseth said. "I didn't do anything wrong to him. The racetrack is 80 or 100 feet wide down there, and I was in front of him. He just chose to spin me out, because he wanted to be in the top groove instead of going left and trying to race me for the win, the way a man should do it."
Predictably, Logano disagreed.
"We both went for the same piece of real estate. We both went into that corner hard. I wanted to get position and get to the inside of him, and then he went for the same piece of real estate, as well. I wanted to run the second lane. So did he. There was only room for one."
The consensus is, both drivers were right. "Just one of them racin' deals," as the good ol' boys used to say. Steve Letarte, the former Cup series crew chief now serving as an analyst on NBC and NBCSN race telecasts, said on "NASCAR America," "It may not be a popular move, but it was a winning move."
Logano doesn't seem concerned about receiving payback from Kenseth or his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch.
"If I were worried about that, I probably would have run about 30th every week, so I'm not going to worry about that," Logano said. "I'm going to drive my race car like I do every other week."
Here's Chaser Martin Truex Jr.'s take on Logano-Kenseth: "What I've seen on the track this season so far in the Chase has been really, really hard racing, but fair racing. I'm not sure what happened Sunday. I didn't really see it. As far as I could tell, everybody was racing hard, racing fair.
"There's some unwritten rules that guys go by. Honestly, we've got a really good group of drivers. When it comes down to the Chase (and) having a chance to win the championship, it seems guys are willing to cross the line and do things that they probably normally wouldn't do. That's just because there's so much on the line."
Asked what his personal code is regarding blocking, Truex said, "You get one or two blocks, then you're going for a spin."
Truex, driving for the only single-car team in the Chase, expects the usual high-speed crash-filled craziness at Talladega.
"It's going to be tense, for sure," he said. "It's going to be a crazy deal at the end. We're going to race hard and not worry about where we're at throughout the day, because we know how it can be there. Honestly, just hope we can stay out of trouble and go race for it at the end."
NASCAR plans only one race-ending green/white/checkered flag opportunity for Sunday's race, instead of the standard three attempts.
The decision is based on creating a safer finish, following Austin Dillon's frightening crash in the latest restrictor plate race at Daytona in July. Dillon's car went airborne and slammed into the catch fence. Neither Dillon nor fans were injured.
Dover International Speedway's spring Sprint Cup race will be May 15 next year. The Delaware track will continue hosting the third Chase race, on Oct. 1.
The past four years, Dover's spring race has been in late May or early June. Mike Tatoian, the speedway's president and CEO, said Wednesday the change is dictated by the amount of weeks in May and when Memorial Day falls. The Coca-Cola 600, at Charlotte, traditionally runs on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend.
"We have to go early (next year)," Tatoian said. "We're sure some of our fans aren't happy, but from a marketing presentation nothing changes for us."
Sunday's Kansas race on NBC drew a 2.48 TV rating, with 4.04 million viewers. That's up from the first four races on NBCSN, which ranged from 1.91 (3.2 million viewers) to 1.61 (2.7 million). Airing the race on NBC clearly was a plus. Surely anyone staying with the race until the Logano-Kenseth duel left as a satisfied viewer.
Camping World.com 500
Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Ala.
When: Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: NBCSN/WNPV (1440-AM)
Course: 2.66-mile oval
Distance: 188 laps/500 miles
Forecast: cloudy, mid-70s
Last year's winner: Brad Keselowski
Last year's pole: Brian Vickers, 196.129 mph
Track qualifying record; without restrictor plates, Bill Elliott, 212.809 mph (April 1987); with plates, Elliott, 199.388 mph (May 1990).
Track facts: In winning last year's race Keselowski led only 12 laps. Matt Kenseth was second, Clint Bowyer was third. Jimmie Johnson paced the most laps, 84, but finished 24th ... Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in the spring race was his sixth at Talladega, tying him with Jeff Gordon for the most among active drivers ... Since Earnhardt is 31 points below the cutoff to advance to the Eliminator Eight round, he needs another Talladega win Sunday ... In the last three races, since announcing he will retire after next season, Tony Stewart has finished 26th twice and 35th.
Wins: Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano, 5 each; Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch, 4 each; Kevin Harvick, 3; Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, 2 each; Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., 1 each.
1. Joey Logano: 3,095
2. Denny Hamlin: 3,082
3. Kurt Busch: 3,077
4. Carl Edwards: 3,076
5. Kevin Harvick: 3,071
6. Jeff Gordon: 3,071
7. Brad Keselowski: 3,071
8. Martin Truex Jr.: 3,070
9. Kyle Busch: 3,064
10. Ryan Newman: 3,062
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 3,039
12. Matt Kenseth: 3,035
Up next: Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500, Nov. 1, Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, Va., 1:15 p.m.; TV: NBCSN; last year's winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.