After claiming pole position for Sunday afternoon's Hollywood Casino 400 at the newly repaved and reconfigured Kansas Speedway, Kasey Kahne had dubbed the new-look 1.5-mile tri-oval "stupid fast" as every single qualifier on Friday broke the previous existing track lap record. His verdict was endorsed by the subsequent Nationwide Series race, which saw a record number of cautions for an assortment of spins and incidents during the Saturday afternoon event.
The warning was clear: the new surface and the addition of increased and variable banking on the track was making it a handful, especially in race trim. Anything could happen: and over the course of the three and a half hour Cup race, pretty much everything did before Matt Kenseth emerged as the fastest of the survivors and duly claimed the chequered flag for Roush Fenway and Ford, just weeks before he exits the squad at the end of the season.
Kahne led the field to the green flag alongside Mark Martin, but it was Martin who claimed the initial lead while Kahne was also quickly dispatched by Richard Petty Motorsport's Aric Almirola, who was on the pace early. Almirola now only blew past Kahne for second in turn 1 on lap 3, he went on to catch Martin and claimed the veteran's scalp for the outright lead on lap 7.
Almirola pulled out a lead of almost five seconds before the first caution of the day on lap 32, which was for debris from Casey Mears hitting the wall. That allowed the leaders to take a reasonably civilised pit stop under the caution, and when the green came out again it was Almirola leading Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin to the line. There was a frantic four-wide battle for position at the green flag which saw Martin fly up the track and then Kyle Busch spin out of turn 4 on lap 41 to trigger the second caution of the day.
Almirola still had point ahead of Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Kahne and Greg Biffle, and the #43 was still the fastest thing on the track as it effortlessly cleared to resume his run out on front. The former driver of the car - AJ Allmendinger, today back for his sophomore outing in the Phoenix Racing #51 at Kansas - was also looking mighty fast and was up to sixth place by the time the next caution came out on lap 71. Unfortunately for Allmendinger, he was the cause of the caution - his great early run ended in a wreck in turns 3 and 4 after a tyre blew out on him. Worse, he'd felt it coming and had been just seconds from pitting.
"It was getting tight the last couple of laps, but I just thought that was how the race track was going," he explained afterwards. "I had that for the first run. Then I went in turn one, and felt it get really tight. I actually radioed in and said 'I'm pitting this lap'.
"I tried to checkup down the back straightaway and try to save it and make sure it didn't blow. Unfortunately it did. I just feel bad for everybody at Phoenix Racing," he added. "The car was really fast. We were running so well. I thought we could have an easy top-10, if not a top-five. Just so disappointed."
Allmendinger only got the #51 ride at short-notice when Regan Smith was called up by Hendrick Motorsports to sub for the absent Dale Earnhardt Jr. for two races. With Earnhardt due to return to action next weekend, it's unclear who will be behind the wheel of the Phoenix car at Martinsville - Allmendinger, or Smith?
"I love this sport, and I hope I'm back next week," said Allmendinger. "These guys work so hard. This small group of guys, they've been through so much this year. They work their butts off. I really enjoyed it. I hope I'm in the car next week."