Issues at Kansas Shake Up the Playoff Picture

Denny Hamlin

Getty Denny Hamlin (left) sits above the cutline heading towards Martinsville.

The NASCAR Cup Series drivers took on Kansas Speedway on October 24 in the second of three Round of Eight races. Kyle Larson won for the ninth time and maintained his spot atop the points standings. However, tire issues and collisions with the wall completely shook up the rest of the standings.

Multiple drivers dealt with issues during the race. Brad Keselowski fell multiple laps down after repeat trips to the pits, while Kyle Busch hit the wall and caused considerable damage to the side of the No. 18. Ryan Blaney ended the day early after another driver sent him into the wall, which opened up an opportunity for Chase Elliott to make a major move.

The current playoff picture features Larson as the only driver with a secure spot in the championship four. His teammate, Elliott, is now in the second position with 34 points to the positive after he entered the Kansas weekend eight points below the cutline. Denny Hamlin is third with 32 points to the good while teammate Busch sits one point above the cutline.

While Elliott and Hamlin are in the best position out of the drivers looking to move on to the championship race, Busch will enter the elimination race at Martinsville in a fierce battle with three other drivers. Blaney is only one point below the cutline, Martin Truex Jr. is three below, and Keselowski is six below. Joey Logano is in the worst position at 26 points below the cutline.

A Non-Playoff Driver Disrupted Blaney’s Strong Run

The driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang entered the race at Kansas in a solid position to reach the championship four for the first time in his career. He sat 17 points above the cutline after the Texas Motor Speedway race on October 17, and he spent much of the Kansas race recovering from early issues.

Blaney cracked the top-10 in the final stage and appeared to be within reach of his sixth top-10 finish of the playoffs, but another driver disrupted his day. Austin Dillon got loose on Lap 224, slid up the track, and hit the rear left fender of Blaney’s stock car.

The No. 12 slammed into the wall and remained pressed up against it for several seconds. Blaney was able to pry his stock car away and head toward the pits. He could not continue in the race and ended the day 37th overall, dropping below the cutline in the process.

“Finishing 37th was not fun,” Blaney told NBC Sports after his release from the infield care center. “Didn’t have a great day, but we did a good job of fighting back and getting back in the top 10. Just getting wiped out when you’ve got plenty of room sucks, so that’s very unfortunate.”

Truex & Keselowski Are Within Reach of Unexpected Comebacks

Heading toward Kansas, three former champions sat in unfavorable positions. Logano was 43 points below after his engine expired at Texas while Truex was 22 points below after contact with the wall. Keselowski, on the other hand, finished fourth overall but only moved from 16 points below the cutline to 15.

Based on these past races, the trio appeared out of reach of a playoff spot. However, Truex and/or Keselowski could overtake Busch for the final transfer spot at Martinsville. The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is only three points out of the championship four after a seventh-place run at Kansas.

Truex will now head to a track where he has multiple wins in recent seasons. He won the playoff race at Martinsville in 2019, as well as the June 2020 race, before finishing 22nd in the 2020 elimination race. Truex also won the April 2021 race, his second of four trips to Victory Lane during the season.

Keselowski didn’t have the strongest day at Kansas with a 17th-place finish and no stage points due to a collision with Truex and picking up debris on the grill of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford. However, he remains within six points of another appearance in the championship four after struggling with speed for much of the 2021 season.

Keselowski will now join his peers at Martinsville, a track where he won two previous times. He reached Victory Lane during the spring races in 2017 and 2019. Keselowski finished fourth at Martinsville in the 2020 elimination race and reached the championship four by virtue of points.

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