Checkered Flag Waves on Some Drivers’ Championship Hopes

Photo Courtesy: Kansas Speedway

Rajan Khanna/Staff Reporter

If you made a bracket for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, there is no doubt that it’s ruined now. NASCAR visited Kansas Speedway for the thirty-second race of the 2017 season for the Hollywood Casino 400. Unlike the 2016 season, Kansas was the elimination race for the round of 12. The eventual race winner was Martin Truex Jr. scoring his seventh win of the season. He had over a two-second lead on second place finisher, Kurt Busch, with Ryan Blaney rounding out the top three. The real storyline rests in the drivers who did not advance into the round of 8, most notably Kyle Larson. Larson had a breakout season, scoring four wins and securing the second seed in the playoff grid. He appeared to have the momentum to push him to Homestead Miami Speedway to battle for the championship. Unfortunately, he was knocked out of contention after an engine failure on the seventy-seventh lap of the race and finished thirty-ninth. Larson ended up in the ninth seed for the round of 8 and was subsequently eliminated. Hendrick Motorsports, the engine provider, took blame for the failure and was apologetic about the incident, having cost Larson the chance to become a champion. This was the first time in his career that Larson had to retire from a race due to a mechanical failure. Later in the race, Jimmie Johnson, who needed a good finish to advance, drove poorly and brought out the yellow flag twice. He was thought to be out of contention to advance into the round of 8, but “the big one” struck on lap 199 taking out many big names such as Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones. This series of events put Johnson back into contention while taking both Kenseth and Jamie McMurray out. Kenseth was also forced to retire by the new “crash clock” where teams cannot have more than six crew members over the wall. The race remained mostly uneventful except for a lead change with forty laps to go when Truex Jr. took the lead from Kyle Busch. He held on to capture his fifth straight win on one-and-a-half mile ovals. He has the first seed into the Round of 8, leading Kyle Busch by twenty-seven points. The next race will be held at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia where  Jimmie Johnson is statistically the best driver    with  an average finish  of 3.34. The defending    winner of the fall Martinsville race is also Jimmie  Johnson who clinched a spot in the season finale and won his seventh title.