Talladega wasn’t good to Chase Elliott.
As a matter of fact, it was so unkind that it left the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ reigning most popular driver in a probable must-win situation in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Last Saturday, Elliott won the pole for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega. From that point on, however, the weekend went south in a hurry. Despite starting up front, Elliott failed to collect points in the first 55-lap stage of the race.
Three laps from the end of Stage 2, he was caught up in a 10-car wreck. Again, no stage points. Though Elliott recovered to finish eighth in the event, third best among the Playoff contenders, he left Talladega 22 points below the cut line for the Round of 8 — the residue of a blown engine early in the opening Round of 12 race at Dover.
“I knew that, after we didn’t score any points in that first stage on Sunday, that we pretty much needed to win that second stage and probably finish in the top five to still be in the points situation to points our way through,” Elliott said.
“We knew then that we were going to be in trouble. After we crashed coming to the end of the second stage, we pretty much knew our fate was going to be to have to win the race or win at Kansas. It didn’t work out at Talladega, but we have an opportunity here, and we just have to embrace that. Hopefully it works out.”
Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Alex Bowman and William Byron are in the same leaky boat. Bowman is 18 points out of the last Playoff-eligible spot, currently held by Joey Logano. Byron is last among the Playoff drivers in 12th place, 27 points behind Logano.
The odds are that the three Hendrick drivers at best are competing for one spot in the Round of 8.
“Obviously, one of us could make it through, and the rest of us couldn’t,” Elliott said. “So there’s definitely more at stake. I’m not really sure it changes how we do things, though. I feel like our weekly routine has been the same all year long. It’s going to stay the same.”
CLINT BOWYER HAS POSITIVE MOJO TO COUNTERACT RUN OF BAD LUCK
The good news? Clint Bowyer just signed a one-year extension to drive the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.
And he’s racing at his home track, Kansas Speedway in the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
On the flip side, Bowyer enters Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 in 11th place in the Playoff standings, 24 points below the current cut line for the Round of 8.
Accordingly, Bowyer likely must win on Sunday to stay eligible for the series championship. It was a bad turn of luck that put him in dire peril of elimination.
For two stages, last weekend’s race at Talladega was going well. In fact, Bowyer picked up his first stage victory of the season in the second 55-lap stage. But on Lap 153 of 188, Bowyer spun in Turn 3 with a flat tire, and his car came to rest on the apron, unable to move.
By the time Bowyer’s car was liberated by a push from a safety truck, he was two laps down, leading to a 23rd-place finish and as a result a large deficit in the points. At Kansas, however, there’s still hope.
“We have a lot of positive mojo going on,” Bowyer said. “That sucked last week. The thing that bummed me out the most was that I finally felt like we had some things going our way. All summer long, it’s been one crummy thing after another of just a letdown. A strong run only to be let down with something crazy happening. I thought we had that shook off, but I will be damned if I wasn’t stuck on the apron. I didn’t see that coming.
“Out of 1,000 things that I could have wrote down of possibilities of what could happen and keep us out of this thing at the Talladega wild card race, being struck in the apron — not in the grass but on the apron — would not be one of them. Then going two laps down because nobody could push me was another thing that wouldn’t be on the list. Yes, I am a little bitter about last weekend, but there’s nothing but pulling into Kansas Speedway and worrying about what is in front of us.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI THINKS VERSATILITY IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS AT KANSAS
Playoff driver Brad Keselowski isn’t a consummate dirt-tracker, but he believes that sort of mentality may be necessary to win Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
Kansas offers multiple racing lanes, and Keselowski expects the race winner will have to be able to negotiate all of them.
“To win the race on Sunday, you’re going to have to be able to be good in all the lanes,” said Keselowski, a two-time victor at the 1.5-mile track. “When you catch lapped traffic and get in dirty air, you’re going to lose so much speed that, if you can’t find another lane to run in, you’ll get passed by someone behind you.
“You need to be good in all the lanes, and we were able to do that here in the spring (when Keselowski picked up his second win). It’s hard to do, because the cars drive differently in all the lanes. The cars have really big splitters on them, and they’re very sensitive to how high off the ground they are. One of the biggest things that impacts them is the load off the corners. When you run different lanes, the aerodynamics change dramatically and the handling changes. You can have a car that is really loose on the bottom of the track and maybe be really tight on the top of the track.
KANSAS SPEEDWAY PAINTS PIT WALL TO RAISE AWARENESS OF OVARIAN CANCER
The teal-colored pit wall at Kansas Speedway was not lost on Sherry Pollex, Martin Truex Jr.’s longtime girlfriend. Pollex reacted to the paint job on Twitter.
“Can’t get over how amazing this is!!!” Pollex posted. “Thank you @kansasspeedway for the teal walls to raise awareness for #OvarianCancer!! Looking forward to seeing everyone Sunday!”
The teal walls had special meaning for Pollex, who has battled the disease since her diagnosis in 2014. Pollex and Truex also have raised substantial amounts of money for children with cancer through the activities of Truex’s foundation.
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media