Stewart-Haas Racing holds half the field with its four drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after the cut to the Round of 8. Chase Elliott is the only Chevrolet in the group, and Joey Logano will represent Team Penske.
Going into the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Elliott and Aric Almirola knew they were locked in. After earning nine points in the first stage, Kevin Harvick clinched his spot. Logano and Kyle Busch secured their places after the second stage.
The battle to advance came down to one spot, which flip-flopped throughout the day. A strong run through the first two stages saw Ryan Blaney jump up above the cutline with points as they ran. Then it was Martin Truex Jr. sliding out of a transfer spot during a portion of the race when the No. 78 wasn’t handling well. Even Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch were in danger of being the odd man out.
In the end, it was Blaney who missed it by six points. Blaney finished third in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2, but with the competition later rising up the leaderboard the points didn’t fall in his favor. Blaney finished seventh Sunday afternoon.
“Obviously it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence,” Blaney said. “It’s all my fault. Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we had the speed the 9 [Elliott] or 4 [Harvick] had. The 9 was super fast. I don’t know. I messed up and cost us a shot.
“I want to thank Wrangler and Menards and Ford for doing what they do. The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”
Failing to score points in the first and second stages made Brad Keselowski’s task tougher. However, Keselowski would lead a portion of the race in Stage 2 when the No. 2 team kept Keselowski on track when most of the leaders pitted around Lap 120. Keselowski pitted on Lap 138.
The same strategy was in play in the third stage, but it didn’t work as needed. Keselowski finished the day sixth and missed advancing by 18 points.
“I would say about the end of that first stage it was pretty obvious that we needed something, after I saw some things on the other cars,” said Keselowski. “We needed something to step up but it just wasn’t there. We just weren’t as good today as we were yesterday and I’m not sure why. Everyone else seemed to find a little from practice and we were about the same, maybe a little worse than we were in practice.
“I’m proud of what we did down the stretch of the year. We won three races and did all that. I feel like we can go win Martinsville next week, so I am excited about that, but of course the ultimate goal is to win a championship and we won’t have an opportunity to do that this year.”
Kyle Larson entered the day saying it was a must-win for his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team. Starting the day at the rear of the field due to being in a backup car after crashing in practice, Larson moved to the top 20 after 10 laps and finished the first stage in 11th position.
A quick pit stop under the stage break moved Larson into the top 10. Larson climbed just outside the top five before his next pit stop on Lap 120. Once the cycle completed, Larson was once again sixth and would finish the second stage in that position.
Larson missed advancing by 28 points but gave it his all in the final stage. Cycling out third following his final pit stop, Larson closed the gap to second-place Kyle Busch but ran out of laps to get around Busch and try to challenge Chase Elliott for the win.
“I’m actually glad that nothing stupid took us out of the playoffs this year,” said Larson. “We had that battery come out at Dover a couple years ago. Blew up an engine here last year.
“I mean, obviously I would have liked 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. Just trying to figure out how to make our cars better. Try to figure out this new package we’re running next year, try to be prepared, good all season long.”
Alex Bowman entered the day as the only driver in an absolute must-win situation. On Lap 2 the Hendrick Motorsports driver wound up with damage when Daniel Suarez bounced off the Turn 2 wall and into the right side of the No. 88 car. Bowman would also later scrap the wall on his own.
Bowman did not score stage points in the first stage and finished ninth in the second stage. He finished ninth in the race. He missed advancing by 69 points.
“It really started with Dover and getting caught up in somebody else’s mess after overcoming a lot and running fifth toward the end, and then, me, just being in a position where I kind of had to be a little overly aggressive in Talladega. And then it comes down to not even having a shot today,” said Bowman.
“So, it’s been a pretty frustrating three races for us because I felt like we probably should have finished fifth at Dover and somewhere in the top five at Talladega and then had a solid day here. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Hopefully next week will be better.”