Martin Truex Jr has taken victory in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. The victory was especially meaningful for him and his Furniture Row Racing team after their crew member, James Watson, passed away the night before the race.
As a result of today’s race, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr have been eliminated from the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs; with all four having a troublesome race that saw them fall below the cutline and out of championship contention.
Truex Jr himself had to bounce back from early adversity in the race to get himself back into the contention. Having led the race early from pole position, Truex was penalised early on lap thirty-six during a race restart after a competition caution. On the restart, Truex moved below the white line at the bottom of the circuit before he had crossed the start/finish line to restart the race. This was warned against by NASCAR officials in the drivers briefing and thus earned the race-leader a pass-through penalty.
Over the course of the race, Truex would slowly begin to work his way back into the lead fight. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin would capitalize in the mean-time by each taking a win in stage one and two, but by the end of the race, Truex was back in the mix and would hold on during rapidly changing circumstances in the final stage to take his seventh win of 2017, a record-breaking sixth win on a 1.5-mile oval during a single season and his third win out of the first six of the playoffs.
“Just can’t say enough about all these guys on this Furniture Row / Bass Pro Toyota. Just really proud of them.” said Truex Jr in victory lane, “Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (Watson) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here. Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome.”
Many playoff contenders were caught up in a huge wreck a week ago in Talladega. During the final one-hundred laps, a similar situation arose. The field had just restarted after a previous caution. As the pack came out of turn two, Erik Jones got loose in his #77 Camry and wound up nose-first into the outside wall. With the rest of the field so close behind, many had no chance to react. Thirteen cars were caught up in the ensuing melee, with playoff contenders Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth being among them.
McMurray was out of the race almost instantaneously. His car was one of the first on the scene and thus suffered heavy damage. He would be forced to retire and would, therefore, have no chance of lifting himself above the elimination cut-line. The damage to Kenseth’s #20 Toyota was less substantial, but he came to pit-road during the caution for repairs, too many mechanics would come over the wall to tend to the car. This resulted in a penalty. As the incident took place whilst he was on the five-minute repairs clock, NASCAR officials declared that he was done for the day would take no further part in the race. He would be unable to return to the track and would join McMurray in certain elimination from the championship playoffs.
Among the drivers who managed to weave through the wreck was Kurt Busch. The #41 Stewart-Haas driver had great pace in his Ford Fusion and managed to hold on to second place by keeping tabs on race-leader Truex during the closing stages of the race. Ryan Blaney would follow next in third place for Wood Brothers Racing, with Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin completing the top five.
The late wreck really jumbled up the race order. Chris Buescher took a superb sixth place for JTG Daugherty Racing in the #37 Chevrolet, with Dale Earnhardt Jr just behind in seventh in the Hendrick Motorsports #88. Kevin Harvick showed race-leading pace on several occasions but could only take eighth place, just ahead of the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion of Aric Almirola.
Finishing in tenth and eleventh would be two drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs, but they had a tough time doing so in today’s race. After two dreadful finishes in the last two races at Charlotte and Talladega, Kyle Busch entered the event below the cut-line. Despite winning the first stage, Kyle found himself right on the cusp of elimination. With fellow playoff-contender Kyle Larson already in the garage following an engine failure early in the race, all Busch had to do was earn enough points to beat Larson’s tally. Busch would manage to overtake enough cars during the final thirty laps to take tenth place; thus pushing Larson below the cut-line and out of the championship hunt; an incredible shame for Kyle in the #42 Chip Ganassi Racing car who had entered the playoffs with so much potential.
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson would also advance despite a number of troubles throughout the race. Most notably the #48 would spin into the infield and bring out a caution on lap 188. He would bring out the caution again just a few laps later on lap 193 after spinning in the middle of turns three and four. Even though he hit the wall, the Hendrick Motorsports mechanics would get him back out on track. When the major wreck soon after on lap 197, Johnson would somehow manage to weave his way through and put himself right back up the order and into an eventual eleventh place finish; a result good enough to advance to the round of eight of the playoffs.
The only playoff contenders to finish any lower were Brad Keselowski and the four now-eliminated drivers. Keselowski entered the race with an assured spot in the next round thanks to his win a week ago at Talladega. Joining the aforementioned McMurray, Kenseth and Larson in playoff elimination would be the #17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The Roush Fenway Racing driver hit the wall several times early in the race and would be trapped ten laps down by the end of the race. He will take no further part in the championship hunt.
In non-playoff news, Starcom Racing made their NASCAR Cup Series debut in today’s race with the #00 Chevrolet of Derrike Cope. Sadly, the debut wouldn’t last long, with Cope having to bring the #00 to the garage with handling issues after thirty-five laps. Nevertheless, it’s great to see a new team join the championship.
After a chaotic last three-races, Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott will be the eight drivers that will continue to fight it out over the last four races for the 2017 championship. Three more races will reduce that number down to just four drivers who will go to the winner-takes-all race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The opening race of the penultimate round of the playoffs, the First Data 500, will take place next weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Hollywood Casino 400 – Race results:
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