When the checkered flag flew over the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway Sunday evening, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff field dwindled from 12 to eight drivers.
Given their deficits coming into this race, many expected it would take a victory from Jamie McMurray or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to keep their championship hopes alive, and both drivers faced problems in the race on Sunday. Stenhouse, who struggled to find speed all weekend long, suffered a tire failure after a brush with the wall, and his day went downhill from there. By the time the race ended, he was 29th, 11 laps down and well out of the championship conversation.
Meanwhile, McMurray showed some speed early in the race, but got caught up in the ninth caution that brought out a 10-minute red flag period, while running the top five. The significant damage to the No. 1 Chevrolet ended his day and his hopes to run for a spot in the Championship 4.
“We had to win today in order to get in,” McMurray said after leaving the infield care center. “Had maybe, I don’t know… we had a car that could have won. I think if we could have gotten to the front, but just didn’t make it to the end.”
Matt Kenseth came into the weekend just eight points below the cutoff line and looked like he was on his way to the Round of 8 when he also got caught up in the big accident late in the race. The damage to the No. 20 car wasn’t terminal. However, a mistake by his team in having seven crew members over the wall while on the damage clock resulted in Kenseth being parked; he ended the day 37th.
“Honestly, I’ve never heard of disqualifying somebody from a race if you got one too many guys over the wall or whatever happened there,” Kenseth said from the garage after he received the news. “I really don’t have a lot of good things to say at the moment, so I’ll probably try not to say much. Pretty disappointing way to end. Can’t even go back on the racetrack because of the error we made. It’s just – couldn’t be any more disappointed.”
Kyle Larson was the other driver eliminated from the playoff field this weekend. His day ended early due to an engine failure, and he held out little hope, even that early in the race, that his 29-point advantage would be enough to move him forward to the next round.
Beginning at Martinsville Speedway next weekend, Martin Truex Jr. will hold a 27-point advantage over Kyle Busch, who was seven points below the cutoff line before a 10th-place finish at Kansas. Brad Keselowski will be seeded third, followed by Kevin Harvick.
Jimmie Johnson, who suffered back-to-back spins shortly after the beginning of Stage 3, managed to pull out an 11th-place finish, which was enough to keep him in the championship conversation. He’ll be seeded fifth, followed by Denny Hamlin. Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott round out the seventh and eighth drivers whose championship hopes continue on to the Round of 8.