The Round of 12 came to a close on Sunday at the Kansas Speedway. The Hollywood Casino 400 served as the elimination round for 2017 instead of the unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway, but many were not expecting major playoff implications to occur anyway as four playoff drivers saw their title hopes come to an end. However, Martin Truex Jr. had no concern about this as he continued his string of success en route to victory.
Truex started on the pole alongside Kevin Harvick, while playoff contender Ryan Blaney failed post-qualifying technical inspection and was relegated to the rear. By lap 15, however, Blaney had moved into the top 20. A lap later, Derrike Cope, driving in newly-formed StarCom Racing’s NASCAR debut, retired from the race for handling problems.
On lap 17, Kurt Busch pitted for an unscheduled stop. At the front, Truex had built an early lead as early as the first lap, holding a half-second lead by the conclusion of the lap. 21 laps later, his lead over Harvick was by over three seconds. The competition caution came out on lap 30. Although Truex won the race off pit road, he was caught jumping the lap 36 restart and was forced to serve a pass-through penalty.
On lap 46, Brett Moffitt hit the turn two wall to bring out the caution. While drivers like Truex, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick pitted, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Chris Buescher stayed out. As a result, the front row for the restart on lap 51 consisted of Keselowski and Blaney. Keselowski led the lap followed by Blaney and Ky. Busch. On lap 65, Kyle Larson reported problems with his car and pitted, returning to the track ten laps later, albeit three laps down and in 37th. A lap later, Larson’s engine gave in, placing his playoff hopes in jeopardy. Larson’s engine failure resulted in a caution and Stage #1 ending under the yellow flag; Ky. Busch was awarded the stage win, followed by Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Blaney, Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Truex, Matt Kenseth, and Erik Jones.
Busch led the field to the start of Stage #2 on lap 86. Eight laps later, Truex pitted for a tire change after reporting a vibration; upon completing his stop, he had been lapped and was in 32nd. Fellow playoff driver McMurray also reported problems of his own as his car’s water temperatures rose. Green flag stops began on lap 127 as Johnson and Kenseth hit pit road, with others following. Keselowski became the leader when Busch pitted, though he was cycled back into the lead when Keselowski hit pit road on lap 144. On lap 155, Moffitt cut his right-rear tire and hit the wall to bring out another yellow flag. Hamlin and Johnson led the field to the one-lap restart on lap 159, with Hamlin leading the way to the stage victory. Behind him were Harvick, Keselowski, Kenseth, Ky. Busch, Jones, McMurray, Blaney, Elliott, and Johnson. Between stages, Hamlin and Keselowski were penalized for speeding on pit road, which resulted in a Harvick/Kenseth front row for the start of the final stage on lap 178.
On lap 187, Johnson spun while running in 10th, sliding into the infield grass from turn four. Shortly after the restart on lap 191, Johnson once again spun, this time in turn three. Another restart took place on lap 196 with Harvick leading Ky. Busch. A lap later, however, chaos unfolded when Jones was turned into the wall, sending his car airborne. Kenseth and McMurray were collected in the wreck, along with Daniel Suárez, Joey Logano, Newman, Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, and Kasey Kahne. The red flag was brought out and lasted 10 minutes, 10 seconds. Already in serious trouble, Kenseth’s playoff hopes were delivered a death blow when he was parked for having seven crewmen over the wall repairing his car.
The restart took place on lap 204 as Truex quickly passed Harvick, engaging Ky. Busch in a battle for the lead. Six laps later, Truex finally cleared Busch for the position. After just four laps, his lead had grown to 1.5 seconds. On lap 222, Harvick pitted after reporting a tight race car. 13 laps later, the caution came out for A.J. Allmendinger’s spin in turn four. Truex and Ku. Busch won the race off pit road, while Keselowski was caught speeding and was ordered to the rear. A restart occurred on lap 242, and despite a hard charge by Busch, Truex proved to be the dominant car as he pulled away for his seventh win of the year. Busch was forced to settle for 2nd, followed by Blaney, Elliott, Hamlin, Buescher, Earnhardt, Harvick, Almirola, Ky. Busch, and Johnson. Stenhouse (29th), McMurray (34th), Kenseth (37th), and Larson (39th) were eliminated from playoff contention. It is the second consecutive year in which both Chip Ganassi Racing cars of McMurray and Larson were eliminated in the same round.
The win is Truex’s sixth at a 1.5-mile track, breaking Carl Edwards’ record set in 2008. It also comes at an emotional time for Furniture Row Racing, who had lost crewman Jim Watson to a heart attack the night before.
“Racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim last night,” Truex stated. “Want to send our condolences to his family and all his friends. And 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 here one today.”
Next week, the Round of 8 begins at the Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, October 29. Johnson is the defending race winner.
Featured image by @FRRacingTeam