Last weekend was the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series, and it was a thrilling finale to the second round of a dramatic playoff run so far.
To recap the playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. won the opening race at Chicagoland, whilst Kyle Busch won back-to-back in New Hampshire and Dover to dominate Round 1. Round 2 started with another win for Truex Jr. at Charlotte, whilst Brad Keselowski won a crazy race at Talladega. This takes us to Kansas where Truex Jr. scored his seventh win of the season, confirming his position as the championship favourite.
Going into Kansas, several drivers were still under pressure of being eliminated from the Round of 12, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Jamie McMurray the overwhelming favourites to be knocked out. Those two were cut from the playoff field, but were joined by a disappointed Matt Kenseth, and a shocked Kyle Larson, who had a huge points buffer going into the event.
Unfortunately for Kenseth, one man too many over the wall to repair earlier damage saw him parked from the race and eliminated from Homestead almost immediately. Larson had issues with his engine, claiming he “blew a cylinder”, and ended up in smoke not even half way through the race. Stenhouse Jr. and McMurray meanwhile simply didn’t have enough points coming in to the race to advance without a win.
Truex Jr., however, had a fine day despite gaining a penalty early in the race for failing to restart above the white line and an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel. After scoring the pole just a day before, this almost-perfect weekend sent out another ominous message to his competition.
Another driver who made a stellar comeback happened to be Ryan Blaney. Due to his qualifying time being disallowed, Blaney was forced to start at the back of the field but that didn’t stop him making the Round of 8. He quickly made up ground and finished a superb third.
As the season comes to a near close with only four races left, playoff points become extremely important. In the next three races, the field will be cut in half from eight drivers to four, meaning points already accumulated earlier in the season are pivotal.
With those points included, here are the standings heading into Martinsville:
Martin Truex Jr. (+52)
Kyle Busch (+25)
Brad Keselowski (+9)
Kevin Harvick (+0)
Jimmie Johnson (-0)
Denny Hamlin (-3)
Ryan Blaney (-8)
Chase Elliott (-11)
As Chase Elliott unfortunately continues to struggle to score his first career win, he is hanging in the playoffs by the skin of his teeth and may well need a win in the next three races to guarantee his place in the final four. Even Truex Jr isn’t safe though, as it takes just one bad finish to fall back into the clutches of others.
Outside of the playoff world, it was announced on October 25th that Darrell Wallace Jr. will be the 2018 driver of the Richard Petty Motorsports’ #43 Ford. This continues the amazing legacy of the 2012 “NASCAR Next” class, as he, Elliott, Larson, Blaney and Daniel Suarez are now all set to compete against each other in the Monster Energy Cup Series next season.
Martinsville is set to be a thrilling one-day event for the Cup Series with qualifying and the race both being held on Sunday. The race to Homestead gets tighter and tighter as the season comes to a close. Stay tuned to see who makes the final showdown for the 2017 championship.