Playoff Hopefuls Unable to Overcome Adversity in Round of 12 Cutoff Race

Chris Owens/Action Sports Photography

Summer Bedgood, Managing Editor

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (Oct. 22, 2017) — It’s often expected that the Round of 12 will shake up the playoffs, but typically that distinction is given to Talladega. While that certainly was the case, Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway certainly rivaled the previous weeks in terms of championship impact.

Of course the race in Kansas was the cutoff race for the Round of 12 and it was known that four drivers were going to be eliminated. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were the four drivers who were on the outside looking in but that is not how it wound up at the end of the day.

It was expected that Busch would be strong enough to rally his way into the Round of 8. Kansas has been, in recent years a very strong track for that race team. The No. 18 was certainly able to follow through on those expectations, leading 112 laps — the most of any other driver — and finishing 10th. He may have been able to challenge for the win towards the end of the race, but a caution came out shortly after Busch made a green flag pit stop and had to make up for lost time.

The 10th-place run was enough to move Busch into the next round. So who did he knock out? Who saw their playoff run come to an end? 

It’s likely not who you would have thought it would have been heading into Kansas.

There are three drivers who have consistently been the strongest all season long: Busch, Kyle Larson, and Martin Truex Jr.

Truex went on to win the race, but was already locked into the next round based on his victory in Charlotte.

Larson, though he didn’t have a win, was expected to be a lock for the Championship 4 … but it was he who was on the outside looking in when the race ended in Kansas.

Early in stage one, Larson made an unscheduled pit stop and he was experiencing engine problems. The team worked to diagnose the issue and eventually came up with a game plan to rectify the situation.

They were never able to do so, as Larson returned to the track and the engine let go just a few laps later, smoke billowing from under the hood of the No. 42 car.

While many of Larson’s fellow competitors were later caught up in a large wreck and had problems of their own, it wasn’t enough for him to gain back the ground he had lost and his championship hopes officially came to a close.

“I guess it’s sinking in as each second passes by,” said Larson. “But I don’t know. Things happen. You look at the past playoffs and the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) had an engine issue last year and he was the best car all year; and then us, this year. So, it’s disappointing.”

Larson was credited with a 39th-place finish in the 40-car field.

Larson’s teammate McMurray was in a must-win situation heading into the Kansas race and had a strong run going for most of the day. He ran towards the top five for most of the event, but a 14-car pileup on the backstretch on lap 198 forced him to retire from the race and see his championship hopes come to a close as well.

“It just looked like the No. 77 (Erik Jones) got loose,” McMurray said of the huge wreck. “I saw him and it looked like he over-corrected. And then actually, I didn’t think I was going to hit him and I didn’t have that much contact with him, but someone came through later on and got into me a little bit harder. I had a really fast car. I thought we had one of the best cars, and I felt like if we could have gotten to the lead, I could have led the race for a while. It was a good Cessna Chevy. But we’ve had two bad races in a row and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Kenseth was also involved in the 14-car pileup but didn’t immediately have to go to the garage. He was able to drive to pit road to have his crew work on repairing the damage, but would be disqualified from the race as NASCAR determined that too many crew members were working on the car while on the damage repair clock. Kenseth would finish 37th.

“I don’t know what any of the rules are,” said Kenseth. “Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lugnuts out of pit boxes to one to many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed. I’m just gonna say thanks to DeWalt. They’ve been a sponsor of mine off and on for twenty years. Awesome guys there. They deserve better than this. We showed some flashes of brilliance this season, been off and on, been fast at times, had great pit stops at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together like a championship team needs to. Unfortunately this is an example of that. I hope that I can do a better job here the next four weeks and hopefully go get a win.”

 

Stenhouse also had a rough day, as he got into the wall and crashed on lap 175. While he stayed on track up until the last lap of the race, he never was able to fully recover from the incident and finished 29th.

The eight drivers who will be trying to race their way into the Championship 4 in Homestead are Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott.

One Comment

  1. Ozark_Lee

    October 25, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    I think that Ganassi’s plan to fix the 42 was optimistic at best. I was watching another car and when the 42 drove by it got may attention because it sounded so bad. As Bowyer would put it, “It was one sick tractor”.

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