KANSAS CITY, KS – Chase Elliott wasn’t around to watch the fireworks at the end of last weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race in Darlington.
Or, for that matter, the fire coming from Kevin Harvick’s car.
Elliott’s game opener ended early after the regular season champion lost control of his No. 9 Chevrolet and smashed the wall in Turns 1 and 2. to overpower him.
The Elliott crew of Hendrick Motorsports tried to fix the broken lower control arm and toe joint but time ran out.
The result was a 36th place – the last dead – and a big hit in the playoffs. Elliott dropped from the top seed to ninth heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway, the second of three stops before the court was reduced from 16 to 12.
Elliott said this week, “That’s not to say I don’t care, but I do realize that when something happens, you can’t do anything after it happens. As much as I’d like to go back and change things and try again, that’s not how it works. Really, your only option.” In that situation – having a bad day – is preparing for the week ahead.”
In fact, Elliott turned his attention to Kansas before Harvick’s car caught fire in Darlington, which led to more conversation about the safety of the next-generation car, and Eric Jones gave the #43 car its long-awaited 200th victory.
This last point was welcome news.
Jones is not in the playoffs, which means no one automatically wins the next round with a win. So, should he reach Elliott’s standings for advancement, the 2020 champ will have plenty of wiggle room.
“I didn’t really think about how things would turn out,” said Elliott, who is 14 points ahead of Austin Sendrick, the first driver below the cut-off line. “My thought process was just, ‘Dang, I hate that our day is going like this,’ and I think, you know, in those moments with the dots and everybody as close as everybody else, you’re going to be in the situation where there are a lot of guys that are really close to you, and that’s what it’s going to be over the course of three weeks.”
Unless he gets a win. This would cure most of the ills.
Elliott has done it before in Kansas, winning the 2018 race to advance to the quarter-finals, and was second on the middle track last fall. In fact, Elliott was in the top five out of five from his last Kansas run, and one of those other two races — the race last spring — drove 10 laps before punctured tires.
“Honestly, I don’t really care about the other players, and I wouldn’t be excited about the other players’ misfortune,” Elliott said, referring to Inferno of Harvick and fellow finalist Kyle Busch. “This is not the way I work and this is not the way our team works.”
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Kyle Larson was heading for a bad day in Darlington when engine problems caused him to lose three laps while sitting on a pit road. But taking advantage of the waves around the wave and ring position, Larson climbed to 12th, leaving him in seventh place and just 21 points behind playoff leader Joey Lugano.
“I think in the playoffs you have to be more careful about everything, definitely in this first round,” said Larson, the cup champion. “If you can get through each race fairly safely, you should make it to the next round safely.”
This will be the first fall race to be held in Kansas, and the unpredictable weather that comes with this time of year can cause problems. Friday’s highs approached 90 degrees, but the front that moves on Saturday could lower temperatures by 20 degrees and threaten precipitation for training and qualifying. Cold temperatures are expected to remain on Sunday.
“Hopefully the wet and cold weather doesn’t come until Monday and it’s still nice and warm,” said Ross Chastain, who is eighth in the playoff standings. “Although everyone wants the top, if your car is better, you can move down the hill and pass. Restart, you have a lot of options. We don’t have to spray anything on the track to make it good. We don’t have to do anything. We can just go racing, And that’s a beautiful thing in today’s world.”
Possibilities and endings
Denny Hamlin, who is third in the playoff standings, is the favorite 5-to-1 to win the fourth time in Kansas, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Kyle Busch 6-1 and Martin Truex Jr. 7-1. …Christopher Bell’s victory in New Hampshire is Toyota’s only win in the last 13 races. All six Toyota vehicles finished in the top ten in Kansas in May.