Kansas Speedway is hardly a new venue for the NASCAR touring show, but the timing of the STP 400 here certainly is: it's Kansas' first time as a summertime event instead of just an autumnal spot in the chase, and as a result the first time Kansas has two spots on NASCAR calendar.
That led to a few questions coming in: how would the track be? It's pretty slick even in the autumn, but in the stifling heat of the afternoon Kansas summer sun putting air temperatures into the 90s it could be even worse. And how would the attendance hold up with two calls on the region's fanbase?
The heat did deter a few ticketholders from showing up, but a crowd of 80,000 (in a facility with capacity for 83,000 including 10,000 in the infield area) was still an impressive start. "It was a little warmer than we would have liked for the fans," track president Pat Warren said. "At any given point in the race, when I was in the grandstands, there were several thousand people trying to get out of the heat under the grandstands. That's not ideal."
They were there to watch Kurt Busch lead the field to the green flag at 1.18pm on Sunday afternoon, and if the heat on the grandstand was a problem then spare a thought for the drivers, who were seeing in-car temperatures in the 140s during the day and comparing the situation to sitting in a sauna in a full firesuit for three hours. Just as well Kimi Raikkonen wasn't about for this one; even hardened southerner Dale Earnhardt Jr. was heard to radio to his pit crew "I'll be surprised if this heat don't get me. It's pretty damn hot," during the afternoon's proceedings.
While Busch led the field past the green flag, it was Juan Montoya who claimed the lead at the end of the first lap when Kurt ran up too high, then Kyle Busch took over before Montoya claimed it back again. It wasn't until lap 18 that Kurt finally got to lead a race lap, having been complaining that the #22 was super-tight at the start. Advised to take to the lower groove by his spotter who had seen it work for Montoya, Kurt did just that and instantly was feeling much the better for it, although he still wanted loosening up at the first opportunity.
Once installed into the lead, Kurt kept it until lap 44 which is the point when he came in for the first green flag pit stop of the day. Behind him, Montoya and Carl Edwards were battling over second place, while further back the big movers were Jimmie Johnson (up to 16th by lap 38 after starting 31st), Jeff Gordon (up to 10th by lap 22 from 22nd) and Brad Keselowski (up to 17th by lap 27 from 25th on the grid); those dropping back included Brian Vickers, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seemingly resolutely stuck in around 25th place.
Kyle Busch's attempts to put the off-track distractions of Richard Childress
behind him weren't really coming together; he got into wall after the first round of pit stop and pronounced over the team radio that he had "killed" the car. He'd keep going, but a win was perhaps now too much to realistically hope for.
The first caution came on lap 68 for debris, and the top five at the restart consisted of Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Juan Montoya; but the Colombian was off the pace at the restart and quickly fell back to the bottom of the top ten, while the double-file restart saw Kyle join his brother Kurt in leading the race in a Busch 1-2 for a time until Carl Edwards decided he wanted past both of them and duly took the lead on lap 84.
Edwards was still leading when the second caution of the day came out on lap 110 for a carelessly discarded water bottle, and the field came in for some pit stops under the caution: Kyle Busch emerged first from pit road, but soon dropped back at the restart as first Denny Hamlin and then Tony Stewart got past him.