Martin Truex Jr. Advances to the Round of Eight with a Heavy Heart
Coming into final NASCAR Cup cutoff race for the "Round of Twelve", Martin Truex, Jr. didn't feel a lot of pressure to win at Kansas. Having claimed a victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Trenton NJ-native had ensured the No. 78 Toyota Camry for Furniture Row Racing would advance to the next round. However, that was not the case for a handful of contenders, who along with Truex Jr. had suffered major damage and lost valuable playoff points at the crashed-plagued Alabama 500 the previous weekend. Roger Penske's lead driver, Brad Keselowski, eventually survived the 15 caution flags at Talladega to win his way into the "Round of Eight."
Based on the 2017 NASCAR rules, all a driver has to do is "Win and You're In." Without a win during any given round, drivers have to rely on stage points and playoff points to continue to advance in the "Chase for the Championship." When teams unloaded at the Kansas Speedway, the playoff contenders knew that four drivers would be eliminated at the day's end. After almost a full season of racing, the contenders battled every lap as changes on the leaderboard would reflect a change in the playoff picture. A late race crash on lap 197 didn't eliminate Joe Gibbs Racing's Matt Kenseth but a penalty for too many men overall the wall during a pit stop did.
Kyle Larson's hope for winning a championship for longtime sponsor Target ended early when the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 let go of an engine. Along with Kenseth and Larson, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also were eliminated from the Chase at Kansas. In addition to Truex Jr. and Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson advanced to the "Round of Eight" starting at Martinsville VA on Oct. 29. The November 5th race at Texas Motor Speedway will be the cutoff for determining the "Championship Four" who will compete for the title at Homestead.
The seventh win of the season for the Furniture Row Racing Team was in honor of Jim Watson. The body fabricator for the No. 78 passed away Saturday night of a heart attack while in town for the race. Truex Jr. told reporters that the team was racing for Jim, as he exited the Furniture Row car in the winner's circle.
*Photo by Alex Grichenko