Elliott benefitted from a Harvick penalty to win the Hollywood Casino 400 Sunday (Oct. 21) at Kansas Speedway. Harvick was in a strong position to win the race, holding a comfortable three-second lead until speeding on pit road during his final green-flag stop. That handed the lead to Elliott; from there, the young Chevy driver held off Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson in the closing laps.
“It’s a great round for us,” he said in Victory Lane. “Just proud of the effort. We certainly weren’t where we wanted to be at the beginning of the year. Proud of my team. Unfortunate Kevin [Harvick] had his misfortune… wish we could have raced him straight up.”
The win backs up Elliott’s Dover victory in the Round of 12, made possible when a lugnut from a Harvick pit stop broke a valve stem on his tire. This time, it was the driver’s fault as Harvick apologized after his team for speeding on pit road.
“We have had fast cars and whether it is speeding on pit road or flat tires or valve stems or fuel, we haven’t put together a full day except for Richmond,” Harvick said after the race. “Hopefully, we have gotten all that out of our system so we can go to Martinsville and start off good.”
But Stewart-Haas Racing has nothing to complain about. In a nail-biter, all four of its teams made the Round of 8 for the first time in program history. Those four Fords join Team Penske’s Joey Logano, reigning MENCS champ Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Elliott in the Round of 8.
“It was a good day for us,” Kyle Busch said of his runner-up finish. “This is a mile-and-a-half track, which is Texas and Homestead. It’s important to be good at these place, especially here I feel like because it’s getting more similar to Homestead, closer and closer to there.”
While Aric Almirola was locked in, the other SHR drivers endured their share of drama. Kurt Busch endured an uncontrolled tire penalty, falling a lap behind while the handling of Clint Bowyer’s Ford went away in the closing laps.
“It was enough, barely. We were lucky really. It was ugly,” Bowyer said after struggling to a 13th-place finish. “I wanted to be better than that. I don’t know what I am missing here. It isn’t my guys. They are giving me good cars. I just can’t figure out how to get around this darn place.
“Now it is getting down to the nitty-gritty,” he continued. “Now it is eight good teams. There are 16 good teams but there are eight damn good teams. All eight of these teams have found Victory Lane and things like that. Now you are starting to pick up the pace or go home.”
That provided an opening for a surging Ryan Blaney, who finished inside the top five in both stages. But after scraping the outside wall late, Blaney dropped to seventh and fell short of the Round of 8 by six points.
“Obviously, it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and go in the fence,” Blaney said. “It is all my fault. Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. The whole (No.) 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”
Brad Keselowski, Larson and Alex Bowman were also eliminated at the end of this round. Larson came the closest, running an impressive third in a backup car after damaging his primary in Friday’s practice.
“I’m actually glad that nothing stupid took us out of the playoffs this year,” Larson said when asked whether he was disappointed about being eliminated. “We had that battery come out at Dover a couple years ago and blew up an engine [at Kansas] last year. Obviously, I would have like to have made it into the next round, but I’m glad it wasn’t anything other than just us not performing where we needed to be that kept us out of the next round.”
In the race itself, Erik Jones ran fourth, following by Truex after correcting some handling problems in the first two stages. Keselowski, Blaney, Logano, Bowman and Almirola rounded out the top 10 as NASCAR playoff drivers persevered through the long green-flag runs at Kansas. Harvick ended up finishing 12th at the tail end of the lead lap after his penalty.
At-track inspection completed with no issues except a single loose lug nut on Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet. The cars of Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Blaney and Harvick will go back to the NASCAR R&D Center.
When the Round of 8 kicks off at Martinsville Speedway next weekend, Kyle Busch leads Harvick by a single point. Truex sits third, followed by Kansas winner Elliott. Below the cut line for the Championship 4, Bowyer, Logano, Kurt Busch and Almirola are all tied and three markers behind Elliott.