Hope remains strong for those below cutline heading to Martinsville
KANSAS CITY, Kan. - It could have been worse.
Such was the feeling for those who left Kansas Speedway below the cutline after Sunday’s playoff race.
With the Round of 8 concluding next weekend at Martinsville Speedway - providing a final chance for drivers to advance to the title race - disappointment turned to hope.
Kyle Larson’s win Sunday meant that at least two playoff drivers will advance to the Nov. 7 title event at Phoenix Raceway via points.
Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano all left Kansas outside a transfer spot.
Blaney scored no stage points and finished 37th because of a crash. Even so, he goes to Martinsville one point out of the cutline.
Blaney has finished second in two of the last three races at Martinsville.
Pit road penalties have stymied in him in those three races at Martinsville. In April, he won both stages and led 157 laps before finishing 11th after a penalty for running over equipment on pit road with less than 50 laps left.
“I feel like we’ve kind of given the last three Martinsville races away,” Blaney said before Sunday’s race. “I thought we had the best car.”
Sunday, he saw his hopes for a top-10 finish go away after a wreck. Austin Dillon lost control of his car and got into Blaney’s car, sending it into the wall.
“Yeah, we got run into from two lanes below me,” Blaney told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch. “I have no idea. Obviously, it hurts. Finishing 37th is not prime. We didn’t have a great day but we did a good job of fighting back and getting back into the top 10 but then just got wiped out when we had plenty of room. That sucks. It is very unfortunate.”
Austin Dillon told NBC Sports: “I turned off the wall and felt like I was in a pretty decent position. (Denny Hamlin) was in front of me. Got a little dirty air on the front nose. Got a slight push. I don’t know if it was Blaney or whoever it was on the outside. Everybody side drafts and it’s part of what we do. I’ve done it. I hate it for his team and him and everybody involved. I tried to save it the first time, and the second time I just lost it.”
Truex, who entered Sunday 22 points below the cutline, suffered early damage and a cut tire after contact early with Keselowski. Truex scored no stage points but came back to finish seventh. He goes to Martinsville three points below the cutline.
“Can’t complain about that,” Truex said of his position. “It was looking pretty bad before the day started. It was looking pretty bad at the end of stage 1, two laps down with damage. Good comeback. We did what we always do, fight hard. … Now we’re in a doable position going into Martinsville.”
Truex has won three of the last four Martinsville races, including in April.
Keselowski scored no stage points, had early damage that cut a tire and had to pit later in the race when debris on the front of his car caused his engine temperature to spike. He finished 17th and is six points from the cutline.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Keselowski said. “It could have been a lot better. I feel like I left a lot on the table.”
He still has a chance. Keselowski has nine top-five finishes in the last 11 races at Martinsville.
Logano, who was needing a win to make it to the title race, likely still is in such a position at Martinsville. He is 26 points below the cutline.
“All things considered, it isn’t just that it is 20-something points out, but I am still eighth,” Logano said of his points position. “I have three or four cars in front of me that I have to get in front of, assuming there isn’t a different winner.
“It is still pretty much a must-win situation. It would be far-fetched for it to happen. But hey, look at today. Maybe it could happen.”