Hopes end of advancing in Sprint Cup Chase for Chase Elliott

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With advancement to the Round of 8 on the line, Chase Elliott’s task Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway was plain and simple: He needed to win.

That’s it.

Coming into the race last on the Chase grid and 62 points behind series leader Jimmie Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, there was no other way Elliott could move on in the playoffs unless he ended up in victory lane.

As it turned out though, the rookie Sprint Cup driver wound up with a no-win situation, finishing 12th, falling short of the checkered flag and being eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8.

“We just came up short,” Elliott said. “We had a really good car again. You try to make stuff happen, and I felt like we were pretty aggressive trying to get to the bottom and try to make things happen there when it was at the top.

“I just couldn’t find myself in the right spot at the right time with the right folks behind us, or at least enough folks. We had some great pushers all day, and they knew our car was fast. It was helpful. We just came up short.”

Elliott was shuffled back on the final restart and couldn’t mount a last-ditch comeback in the final laps of the extended 192-lap event (original length was 188 laps).

“I don’t know what happened and how we got shuffled out,” Elliott said. “It was just kind of the sequence of events.

“All it takes is one move on someone’s part, and it can take you from the top five and outside the top 10. It doesn’t take much. We just came up a little short.”

Even though he fell short, there were some high points for Elliott. He led nine laps, looked strong early on and ran a very strategic and tactical race.

“We were trying to be as aggressive as we could and try to make stuff happen,” Elliott said. “It’s tough to do as you get back in the pack and try to make your way through the pack.

“It just takes time. There’s definitely a lot of power in numbers. We’re disappointed that we came up short. The NAPA team has been fighting hard the past few weeks. We’ve had some awesome racecars. … We’ll move on to Martinsville and try to go get them.”

Elliott admittedly was disappointed with the outcome but still felt he and his team gave it everything they had.

“We tried hard again this weekend, and we were able to lead some laps and stay up front for a good portion of the race there at the beginning,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t work our way back through there at the right time there at the end.

“It was just a matter of trying to get some power in numbers. Unfortunately we couldn’t get our lane to go when we needed it. By the time things started to happen, everyone was in a big rush. I don’t know what you can do. We’ll just look forward to Martinsville and go get it there.”

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Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in must-win scenario at Kansas

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Going into Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are likely to be among the four drivers eliminated from playoff contention.

Stenhouse is 22 points back from the final transfer spot and McMurray is 29 points back.

Both drivers talked with NASCAR America before the race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) about being in a must-win scenario to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Watch the above video for the interviews.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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