Truex Wins Again, Final Eight Playoff Contenders Determined at Kansas Speedway

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Today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway is the elimination race for Round 2 of NASCAR’s playoffs. The field of 12 contenders is cut to eight drivers with a chance to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. The current standings show the drivers most likely to advance.

Position DRIVER Car POINTS Cut Line Diff
1 Martin Truex Jr. 78 3120 Round Winner
2 Brad Keselowski 2 3101 Round Winner
3 Kyle Larson 42 3096 22
4 Kevin Harvick 4 3089 15
5 Denny Hamlin 11 3088 14
6 Chase Elliott 24 3087 13
7 Ryan Blaney 21 3076 2
8 Jimmie Johnson 48 3074 0
9 Kyle Busch 18 3067 -7
10 Matt Kenseth 20 3066 -8
11 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 17 3052 -22
12 Jamie McMurray 1 3045 -29

 

Wins in the first two races of Round 2 advance Martin Truex Jr.(78) and Brad Keselowski(2) to Round 3. Kyle Larson(42) is likely to advance barring a complete disaster. Kevin Harvick(4), Denny Hamlin(11), and Chase Elliott(24) will advance with a solid finish in the top 15. Ryan Blaney(21) is only two points ahead of Jimmie Johnson(48), who sits on the bubble. However, Blaney starts 40th today after failing tech inspection over an issue with the rear window area of the Wood Brother’s Ford.

Kyle Busch(18) and Matt Kenseth(20) face elimination if they cannot gain points on Blaney or Johnson. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17), and Jamie McMurray(1) must win to advance beyond the Second Round. Stage points could again determine who advances and who’s eliminated.

Truex won the pole and has been extremely strong on the mile and a half tracks this season. Kyle Busch ran well during the first round but had trouble at Charlotte and Talladega, wrecking in both races. He starts seventh. A top 5 finish today and Busch will almost be assured to move on to the next round. Seven-time Series Champion Jimmie Johnson faces elimination and will be watching the leader-board every lap. He takes the green flag in 13th position, needing to battle into Stage-point contention.

Stage One

The first two stages at Kansas run for 80 laps. Due to overnight rains that washed the track clean, NASCAR scheduled a competition caution on Lap 30 in Stage One. Truex took the green and led for all 30 laps pitting with the rest of the field during the yellow. Truex, first out of the pits, held the lead for the restart.

However, coming to the start-finish line Truex dipped below the white line at the bottom of the track, prior to crossing the line. Drivers had been warned in the pre-race meeting that doing so would result in a restart violation. Truex had to serve a penalty, driving through the pit lane at pit road speed, and dropped from the lead into last place.

Truex remained on the lead lap but was in danger of being passed by the leaders. Matt DiBenedetto(32) crashed a few laps later, saving Truex from going down a lap.

On the restart from the DiBenedetto caution, Ryan Blaney took the lead opting to not pit in favor of gaining track position. The remainder of the leaders chose to pit and take new tires. That seemed to be the right call as drivers with fresh rubber quickly moved to the front. Kyle Busch took the lead late in Stage One.

Disaster Strikes

Kyle Larson entered the race 22 points above the cut line. Needing just a good finish in the top 25 to advance. Three laps prior to the end of Stage One Larson’s engine expired sending the 42 car to the garage and out of the playoffs with a 39th place finish.

Stage One Results

Position Car Number Driver Points Earned
1 18 Kyle Busch 10
2 4 Harvick 9
3 11 Hamlin 8
4 21 Blaney 7
5 1 McMurray 6
6 48 Johnson 5
7 24 Elliott 4
8 78 Truex Jr. 3
9 20 Kenseth 2
10 77 Jones (NP) 1

NP=Non Playoff Competitor

A good finish for the four competitors fighting for that final playoff spot. Especially Kyle Busch who jumped into the bubble position with Larson’s departure.

Stage Two

Kyle Busch held the lead off pit road after the stage ending caution flag pit stops. Busch stayed in front after taking the green flag to start Stage Two. Nine laps into the second stage Truex pitted with a vibration, possibly for a loose wheel. The stop for four tires relegated Truex to one lap down in 31st place. Kyle Busch led for almost the entire stage until Brett Moffitt(83) brought out the caution with four laps to go.

NASCAR called for a quickie caution allowing all cars, even those a lap or more down, to pit on the same lap. Teams faced a tough decision whether to pit or not. The quickie caution meant NASCAR intended to restart the race with one lap to go in the stage. Busch and most of the leaders pitted. Johnson, Hamlin, Keselowski, and Stenhouse remained on the track hoping to grab stage points or a stage win despite being on worn tires.

Hamlin scored the stage win with Keselowski in third. New tires allowed Harvick to move into second, Kenseth fourth, and Busch fifth. Johnson faded to 10th, but still gained an important point in the second stage. He crossed the line inches ahead of Clint Bowyer(14) to hold onto the 10th position.

Stage Two Results

Position Car Number Driver Points Earned
1 11 Hamlin 10
2 4 Harvick 9
3 2 Keselowski 8
4 20 Kenseth 7
5 18 Busch 6
6 77 Jones (NP) 5
7 1 McMurray 4
8 21 Blaney 3
9 24 Ellioitt 2
10 48 Johnson 1

NP=Non Playoff Competitor

The Final Stage

Hamlin exited the pits in first after the stage ending caution. Keselowski was the second driver off pit road. Unfortunately, both drivers were flagged for speeding on pit road and sent to the rear of the lead lap.

The gamble to stay out on old tires cost Johnson dearly. He restarted back in 12th position. With Kenseth restarting on the front row in the final stage, he sat on the playoff bubble. Johnson held the ninth position, eight points behind Kenseth for the final playoff spot.

Stenhouse cut down a right front tire and hit the wall on lap 175 of the scheduled 267 laps. Ending his bid to move forward in the playoffs.

Coming out of turn four on lap 187, Johnson spun down the front stretch and into the grass. He simply lost control as the rear end of the car came around on the exit of the turn. The body damage required a lengthy pit stop for repairs to the right side of the hood by the windshield. Johnson restarted in 27th, severely damaging his playoff chances.

More Trouble

On the restart, Johnson again spun entering turn three. Fortunately, he did not make contact with the wall or another car. Restarting after the Johnson wreck, trouble again erupted as Erik Jones(77), running fourth at the time, spun off turn two. Trying to save the car, Jones turned too hard and sent the car head-first into the wall. He almost rolled over before coming back down on all four tires. The wreck collected a number of contenders, including Matt Kenseth.

Damage to the front of Kenseth’s car brought him to pit road. Fighting to remain in the playoffs, the car looked repairable. The damage meant Kenseth’s crew had five minutes to repair the car. In an inexplicable mistake seven crew members, one more than the allowed six crewmen came over the wall to service the car. The penalty! Because Kenseth was on the repair clock, the infraction meant he automatically failed to meet the time limit and he was forced to park the car in the garage. The error eliminated Kenseth from playoff contention.

Ironically Johnson’s spin sent him to the rear of the field for the wreck-filled restart. His position allowed him to slow the car and avoid being caught up in the wreck. With Kenseth’s trouble, Johnson only needed to finish the race in the top 15 to lock up the final playoff spot. The race was red flagged to clean up the mess from the Jones wreck.

The Finish

With 60 laps to go Kyle Busch and Truex battled for the lead. Truex prevailed and began to pull away. A. J. Allmendinger(47) spun bringing out the caution with 32 laps to go. The leaders all pitted for fuel and four fresh Goodyear tires to finish the race.

The final sprint to the finish began when the green flag flew with 25 laps to go. The top five, Truex, Kurt Busch(41), Hamlin, Blaney, and Elliott. Johnson restarted in 10th. Truex and Kurt Busch raced for the win as everyone else played it safe maintaining their playoff positions. Truex captured the win with Kurt Busch just over two seconds back.

Blaney took third, Elliott fourth, and Hamlin fifth. Chris Buescher(37) put together a fine run to finish sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr.(88) placed seventh. Harvick finished eighth, Aric Almirola(43) ninth, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10.

Larson, Kenseth, McMurray, and Stenhouse. The four drivers eliminated in this round. None in more heartbreaking fashion than Kenseth with a pit road infraction sending him out of the race. By moving on to Round Three, Kyle Busch begins the round as the second-seeded driver thanks to playoff points earned in stage and race wins through the season.

Playoff Standings

Position DRIVER Car POINTS Cut Line Diff
1 Martin Truex Jr. 78 4069 52
2 Kyle Busch 18 4042 25
3 Brad Keselowski 2 4026 9
4 Kevin Harvick 4 4017 0
5 Jimmie Johnson 48 4017 0
6 Denny Hamlin 11 4014 3
7 Ryan Blaney 21 4009 8
8 Chase Elliott 1 4006 11

 

Three Ford drivers remain in contention for the championship. Keselowski, Harvick, and Blaney will try and earn spots in the top four for a run at the 2017 title. But it remains to be seen if anyone can derail the Martin Truex Jr. juggernaut as he appears to be the car to beat. Given Truex’s huge lead in the points, he should easily qualify as one of the four drivers in the final.

Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway, and Phoenix International Raceway are the three tracks in the third round of the playoffs. They determine the four drivers that will race for the championship at Miami-Homestead Speedway on November 19th.

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Steve Sweitzer
Steve is the Sports Editor for the Lasco Press and highlights our coverage of NASCAR and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Steve is a nationally published author of automotive related articles for industry trade magazines, a freelance technical writer, and a contributing author to a consortium that provides “how to” articles for eBay Buying Guides. A 25-year resident of Southeast Michigan, Steve’s passion for reporting on our community, it’s residents, and our automotive connections allow us to use his skills to cover a number of events. Steve’s ability to seek out the unique behind the scenes accounts that tell the often-overlooked aspect of a story makes for entertaining reading. Follow Steve on the Lasco Press with weekly NASCAR updates and featured articles.

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