KANSAS CITY, Kan. - With a handful of laps left in a pitched battle between Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson joined the party.
Larson needed a victory Sunday in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway to advance to the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Late in the race, he began making dramatic gains on Busch, who was running second, and Elliott, who held the lead.
Larson, however, stalled out in third place and saw his chance for a championship end two positions short at the finish of a remarkable weekend for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team.
Larson wrecked his primary car on Friday two laps into the opening practice and qualified 27th in a backup. Because of the change to the backup car, he had to abandon his starting position and drop to the rear at the start of the race Sunday.
By the end of the second stage, Larson had raced his way to sixth before mounting his charge in the late going.
Unlike in previous years, when quirky circumstances took him out of the playoffs, Larson could cite overall performance as the reason he didn’t advance to the Round of 8 this season.
“I’m actually glad that nothing stupid took us out of the playoffs this year,” Larson said. “We had that battery come out at Dover a couple years ago. Blew up an engine here last year.
“Obviously, I would have liked to have made it into the next round. But I’m glad it wasn’t anything other than just us not performing where we needed to be that kept us out of the next round.
“Just trying to figure out how to make our cars better. Try to figure out this new package we’re running next year, try to be prepared, good all season long.”
Below the playoff cut line entering the Sunday race, Ryan Blaney made a concerted run toward advancing to the Round of 8.
With one of the fastest cars in the field, Blaney finished third in Stage 1, earning seven points. He added another eight points with a second-place run in Stage 2.
When Blaney was holding second place at Lap 189, he was one point to the good over Kurt Busch, who was hit with a pass-through penalty for a tire violation and lost a lap in the process. But Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford slapped the outside wall on Lap 204 and quickly dropped to fifth, once again below the cut line.
He finished the race in seventh place and failed to advance to the Round of 8 by six points.
“Obviously, it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys (Kevin Harvick and Elliott), and I pushed too hard and got in the fence,” Blaney said. “It’s all my fault. Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know.
“I don’t think we had the speed the 9 (Elliott) or 4 (Harvick) had. The 9 was super-fast. I don’t know. I messed up and cost us a shot. The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”
STRATEGIC CALLS CAN’T SAVE KESELOWSKI’S PLAYOFF HOPES
Brad Keselowski desperately needed a caution in a race that produced only three — for two stage finishes and a blown engine.
Knowing Keselowski didn’t have the speed in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford to win the Hollywood Casino 400 heads-up, crew chief Paul Wolfe kept Keselowski on the track until the end of two successive fuel runs, hoping to catch a caution and leap-frog the cars that had already stopped.
But the caution never came, and Keselowski’s eventual sixth-place finish wasn’t enough to earn a berth in the Round of 8 of the playoffs.
“I would say about the end of that first stage it was pretty obvious that we needed something, after I saw some things on the other cars,” Keselowski said. “We needed something to step up, but it just wasn’t there. We just weren’t as good today as we were (Saturday in practice), and I’m not sure why. Everyone else seemed to find a little from practice and we were about the same, maybe a little worse than we were in practice.
“I’m proud of what we did down the stretch of the year. We won three races and did all that. I feel like we can go win Martinsville next week, so I’m excited about that. But, of course, the ultimate goal is to win a championship, and we won’t have an opportunity to do that this year.”
BETTY JANE FRANCE HUMANITARIAN AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCED; VOTING OPENS
With the four finalists for the prestigious Betty Jane France Award Humanitarian Award announced on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, voting is now open to choose the winner of a $100,000 grant toward a creative and important children’s cause.
This year’s finalists are:
*Carl Dakes of Harwood, Md., an 18-year volunteer representing the Believe In Tomorrow Children’s Foundation, Inc., of Catonsville, Md. The foundation provides hospital and respite housing services to critically ill children and their families.
*Sarah Kersey of Dublin, Ohio, a cancer survivor who represents Flying Horse Farms in Mt. Gilead, Ohio. The facility, where Kersey has served as a volunteer since 2010, provides transformative camp experiences for children with serious illnesses, at no cost.
*Cliff Preston of Gainesville, Fla, representing UF Health Shands. He has volunteered for more than 25 years as a “cuddler” to soothe hospitalized newborns in the NICU during a parent’s absence.
*Rex Reynolds of Hazel Green, Ala., representing the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Alabama. A former Huntsville, Ala., police chief, Reynolds grew up participating in club programs and has now served in a volunteer role for 13 years.
“The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award was named after my late mother, Betty Jane France,” International Speedway Corp. CEO and vice chairperson of the board Lesa France Kennedy said during the introduction of the finalists. “She founded the NASCAR Foundation back in 2006.
“If you knew my mom, what you would know is that she had a special place in her heart for children and their special needs. She also recognized that there were so many NASCAR fans that gave back so much, and she wanted to recognize them as well. That’s the genesis, and that’s how the award started.”
NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton sees the award as an appropriate memorial to its namesake.
“Betty Jane is the heart and soul of the human factor in the NASCAR community,” Helton said. “Always was. Even before there was a NASCAR Foundation, Betty Jane would show us, tell us, teach us, ask us to remember your community, remember people who you can help, not just our fans but anybody that they touch.
“So the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, when you ask has it reached what we wanted it to, yes. What we expected it to. As soon as Betty Jane and the NASCAR Foundation created this award, we knew it was going to be something special for a long, long time. And it is. And it will be.”
The award winner will be determined via an online fan vote through Nov. 19 at 5 p.m. ET at NASCARfoundation.org/Award. The winner will be announced on Nov. 29 during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas.
The NASCAR Foundation will donate $25,000 to the charities represented by the award finalists, with the winner’s charity receiving a $100,000 donation.
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.