Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, KS — October 20, 2019
Today is the second elimination race of the 2019 NASCAR Playoffs. Kansas Speedway hosts the Hollywood Casino 400 and four more drivers will see their chance at a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship disappear at the end of the day.
Right now, Joey Logano(22) sits on the bubble just 18 points up on Alex Bowman(88) in ninth. In fact, all three Hendricks Motorsports drivers are facing elimination. Chase Elliott(9), who won this race last year, is 10th, 22 points back and William Byron(24) is 12th, 27 points behind the last elimination spot. Clint Bowyer(14) is 11, 24 points out and all four drivers might need a win to advance.
Brad Keselowski(2) is in the seventh position, just two points in front of Logano. Both Team Penske drivers need good runs to avoid falling into a points battle with the bottom four.
The pressure is on, as exemplified by yesterday’s Xfinity Race when Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer got in a tussle after a late-race incident on the track.
Kevin Harvick(4) is 18 points ahead of Logano and should be safe. If he can overcome starting 40th, Harvick’s car failed the pre-qualifying inspection and he was not allowed to make a qualifying run. Martin Truex Jr.(19) also had inspection issues and will start from the rear of the field.
Daniel Hemric(8) won the pole, the first top qualifying spot for the rookie driver in the Cup Series. Hemric who will not return to Richard Childress Racing next year has a chance to show a prospective employer he has the skills to compete at the Cup level.
David Ragan(38), who is retiring from the Cup Series at the end of the year, starts beside Hemric on the front row. Last week’s winner at Talladega, Ryan Blaney(12), starts third and the winner of the Spring race here at Kansas, Keselowski, starts fourth.
Stages are 80/80/107, making up the 400.5 miles at Kansas.
Hemric held the lead for the first 4 laps starting from the pole. Kyle Larson(42), racing with bruised ribs from an accident last week at Talladega, took the lead bringing Keselowski with him around Hemric. Larson, who is assured of advancing, battled with Keselowski swapping the lead until finally pulling out to a two-second advantage.
Green flag pit stops began at the halfway point of the Stage as Keselowski was the first to pit road. Tire fall-off is such a factor at Kansas that Keselowski’s move brought the remainder of the field in on the next few laps. Larson was one of the last drivers to pit coming in with 32 laps to go in Stage 1, hoping a caution flag would trap most of the field a lap down.
The gamble did not work, but Larson was able to retain the lead after pit stops cycled through. Albeit with a much smaller lead on the field. The top five were Larson, Daniel Suarez(41), Kyle Busch(18), Truex, and Elliott.
Late Stage Trouble
Teammates Ryan Newman(6) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) got together sending Newman into the wall, bringing out the caution with five laps to go in the Stage. Most of the leaders pitted for 4 tires and fuel. Blaney, Bowyer, Logano, and Stenhouse opted to stay on the track hoping for Stage points, but without fresh tires.
The race restarted with a two-lap sprint to the green and white checkered flag. The pack spread out five-wide in corners one and two. Logano, with a push from Elliott, took the lead and held on for the Stage win. The 10 points providing a huge boost to his advancement chances.
Stage 1 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||7|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr*||1|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
The race restarted with Elliott and Suarez on the front row and again the field spread out three and four wide in the pack behind them. Suarez led briefly until being passed by Treux who took the lead for the first time after working his way from the back of the pack due to his penalty for failing tech inspection.
With 45 laps to go in the Stage, Larson dumped Joey Gase(66) coming out of Turn 4. Gase, who was nine laps down, was riding the high line through the corners. Apparently Larson was displeased with Gase not giving way to faster cars, so he purposely spun him into the infield. Karma caught up with Larson on his pitstop, an uncontrolled tire penalty sent him to the rear of the field for the restart.
Kyle Busch complained of a sticking throttle, his crew had to go under the hood and clip off the boot that insulates the throttle cable. Busch said it was better, but still not right. If the problem results in an accident or takes Kyle out of the race his accumulated playoff points may not be enough to advance him to the round of eight.
Back to racing, Truex and Hamlin battled side-by-side for the lead. Harvick, working his way from the last starting position, ran 3rd. Blaney ran 4th and Elliott 5th. Hamlin ultimately prevailed and drove off to a 1.7-second lead as the laps in Stage 2 counted down. Blaney moved up to 2nd and Truex, complaining of a tight race car, dropped to 3rd. Byron and Elliott ran in 4th and 5th looking for Stage points to help their playoff chances.
Hamlin held on to win the Stage.
Stage 2 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||8|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. booked their ticket to the next round based on the points earned in the first two Stages. Four drivers are now qualified, four spots remain.
The Final Stage
Hamlin and Blaney led the field back to green for the Final Stage. With a push from Truex, Hamlin took the lead and Truex followed. Blaney was able to get by Truex a lap later and regain the 2nd spot.
At the start of the run to the finish, Kyle Busch sat 38 points to the good, Harvick +29, Logano +18, and Keselowski on the bubble +3 to Chase Elliott in 9th. The fuel window at Kansas is approximately 60 laps, stops by Keselowski and Elliott will be critical as the laps wind down. The points battle jumps from 1 to 3 points as every position on the track is important.
With 54 laps to go, Harvick and Jones were the first to pit. The leader, Hamlin, pitted with 49 laps to go. Bowman, hoping for a miracle caution, stayed on the track until 42 laps to go. The Hail Mary attempt likely was the end of Bowman’s playoff chances. Hamlin returned to the lead after pit stops were completed and passed Keselowski, putting the #2 car a lap down. Still, Keselowski held a four-point lead on Elliott for the final playoff spot.
Race to the Finish
With final pit stops complete, barring a caution, the race is down to Keselowski vs Elliott for the last advancement position. Brad is in 19th, a lap down, Chase is 8th and three points down. Keselowski has two cars ahead of him on his lap Elliott has seven ahead of him as the laps count down. Elliott holds the tiebreaker should they finish the race even on points.
At the front Hamlin leads his teammate Kyle Busch by .6 seconds with 20 laps to go. With 15 laps to go Blaney kisses the wall and cuts a tire that explodes scattering debris on the track. The caution flag displays, Keselowski’s lead is now down to two points. It’s decision time.
All the leaders head to pit road, Elliott takes four tires, but several teams go with two only. Keselowski, a lap down can’t pit until the next time around. The decision is taken out of his hands as all four cars ahead of him elect to take the wave-around and stay on the track. So Keselowski has to follow suit.
The race restarts with nine laps to go. Chase Elliott surges to third and passes Keselowski in the points. With five laps to go Elliott moves to 2nd and goes two points up. Keselowski was in danger of falling further behind as cars began passing him.
With three laps to go Bubba Wallace(43) lost a wheel and wrecked on the backstretch. The caution allowed Keselowski to pit and get four fresh tires as the race goes into overtime. Hamlin starts on the front row with Elliott next to him. Kyle Busch sits 3rd and Jones 4th.
Keselowski exits pit road and gains positions on three cars. When the race restarts he will lead Elliott by a single point. Elliott must win to move on if Keselowski maintains his position. However, Suarez bumps Keselowski just yards before the leader takes the white flag. Suarez loses control and wrecks, Logano picks up some damage in the melee. He pits for his crew to repair what they can.
As the race restarts its Hamlin and Kyle Busch on the front row. Busch had pushed Hamlin to the lead and passed Elliott who now restarts 3rd. Logano and Keselowski are tied for the bubble, four points up on Elliott. Hamlin takes the white flag with Elliott on his rear bumper and Denny holds off the #9 car to the finish.
In a heartbreaker, Brad Keselowski started the 2nd overtime in the 13th spot, he finished 19th and misses the round of eight by three points. Logano and Elliott move on.
The point standings now reset for the final elimination round that starts next week at Martinsville. Which last year provided the drama of the Logano / Truex finish.
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr.||4042||+14|
|Championship Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Obviously Ryan Blaney has a tough hill to climb, but he has driven with new vitality during the playoffs this year. Don’t count him out. Can Joe Gibbs Racing put their three drivers into the Championship 4? Seems unlikely. Will Joey Logano, last year’s champion, be able to defend his title? Three weeks will narrow the contenders to four.
Results of the Hollywood Casino 400 from Kansas Speedway
|1||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||—||277|
|2||9||Chase Elliott (P)||0.128||277|
|3||18||Kyle Busch (P)||0.266||277|
|5||24||William Byron (P)||0.543||277|
|6||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||0.796||277|
|8||14||Clint Bowyer (P)||1.125||277|
|9||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||1.405||277|
|11||88||Alex Bowman (P)||1.537||277|
|12||47||Ryan Preece #||1.786||277|
|14||42||Kyle Larson (P)||2.233||277|
|16||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2.589||277|
|17||22||Joey Logano (P)||2.604||277|
|19||2||Brad Keselowski (P)||3.003||277|
|21||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||4.090||277|