It’s been 14 years since anyone reached double-figures in Cup Series victories in a season. The most recent was seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who won 10 times for Hendrick Motorsports in 2007. With two more chances this year, Kyle Larson is poised to reach that figure.
Larson’s not-unexpected victory in Sunday afternoon’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway was his ninth this year, his third consecutive (after Charlotte and Fort Worth), and 15th of his still-developing NASCAR career. He started on pole and led nine times for 130 of the 267 laps, including the final 39. He won by an unimaginably easy 3.62 seconds over Hendrick/Chevrolet teammate Chase Elliott, the defending series champion. Well behind those two were former champions Kevin Harvick in a Ford and Kurt Busch in another Chevrolet, then fifth-place Denny Hamlin in a Toyota.
Sunday marked the second time this year Larson and crew chief Cliff Daniels have cobbled together a three-race winning streak. The last time anyone did that twice in a season was 1987, when the late, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt did it with Childress Racing. Sunday also was the 17th anniversary of the tragic Hendrick Motorsports aviation accident in Virginia on October 24, 2004. The team plane crashed in the mountains near Martinsville, killing 10 people, including several family members and team personnel.
The second race in Round 3 of the four-round Championship Playoff Series brought mixed results for the remaining eight Cup title hopefuls. By virtue of winning at Texas last weekend, Larson had already advanced to the championship playoff race in two weeks near Phoenix. After Kansas, Elliott sits 33 points above the cut line with only next week’s 500-lapper at Martinsville Speedway between him and being among the final four again.
Hamlin, is third-ranked, 31 points above the cut line. Two-time champion Kyle Busch struggled to an issue-filled 28th-place finish, but remains above the cutline… by one point. Ryan Blaney was a DNF 37th, but is still only one point below the cut line. Former champion Martin Truex Jr. is two below after finishing seventh, and former champion Brad Keselowski is three points below after his 17th-place finish.
The only driver facing something of a “must win” situation going into Martinsville’s rough-and-tumble half-mile is former champion Joey Logano. He finished a credible ninth on Sunday, but remains 20 points below the cut line to advance. He did well enough in the first race in Round 3, finishing seventh on the Charlotte roval. But an engine-related DNF 30th last weekend at Fort Worth left him floundering to stay in the championship hunt.
“We have one more shot to do it at Martinsville,” Logano said afterward. (He has one victory, eight top-5 finishes, and 13 top-10s in 25 starts there). “It’s crazy watching this (Playoff) thing; it seems like they’re trying to give it away. I’ve never seen so many issues in this round. Survival has been the key in this round.”
As for his chances of staying eligible for a second NASCAR championship run.” It’s still pretty far out,” he admitted. “It’s not just the 20-something points out, but I’m still eighth with three or four cars I have to get in front of. It’s still pretty much a must-win situation. It would be far-fetched for it to happen (on points), but look at today. Maybe it could happen.”
Updated Playoff Standings
*Kyle Larson 4,181
Chase Elliott 4,107
Denny Hamlin 4,105
Kyle Busch 4,074
Ryan Blaney 4,073
Martin Truex Jr. 4,071
Brad Keselowski 4,068
Joey Logano 4,048
*Qualified for Championship 4 based on wins.
Field will by cut to four following Oct. 31 race at Martinsville.
Xfinity Series Weekend Wrap-Up
NASCAR’s next big deal won Saturday afternoon’s Xfinity Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway, stealing some of the thunder from the playoff battle. Ty Gibbs, grandson of NASCAR Hall of Famer team owner Joe Gibbs, got his fourth victory in this, his abbreviated rookie season of just 17 races. Because he is not running the full schedule, he is not among the eight drivers still in title contention
Driving a Toyota, the 18-year-old beat defending series champion Austin Cindric, A.J. Allmendinger, Justin Haley, and Ryan Sieg in the 200-lap, 300-mile race. Cindric dominated, leading seven times for 151 laps, but Gibbs was in front when it counted. He led only three times for 14 laps -- including the last 11 – and won by 0.759 seconds.
Next weekend’s “Dead On Tools 250” at Martinsville Speedway will determine which four of the eight remaining championship contenders will race for the title in two weeks near Phoenix. The final eight include Cindric, Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Justin Haley, Noah Gragson, Brandon Jones, and Harrison Burton.