What Drivers Said after Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr. continues to be the most dominant – and winning – driver of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season and playoffs.

Truex’s win in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway was his third in the first six playoff races and his series-leading seventh win of 2017 – six which have come on 1.5-mile racetracks.

Now the playoffs advance to the Round of 8 semifinal round. Kyle Busch is second in the points, 27 points behind Truex, and Brad Keselowski is third, 43 points back.

Four drivers were eliminated from advancing to the next round: Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

All of them, as well as many other drivers, had a lot to say about Sunday’s race:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (team member Jim Watson, who passed away Saturday night from a heart attack) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here. Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome. It’s really Furniture Row’s home track. We got that one in the spring after so many heartbreaks and then today it looked like it was going to happen and we just persevered.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 2nd: “I really wanted that one bad. I don’t know what it is about this place. Kyle (Busch) struggles here too. I feel like I’m on pins and needles most of the day. (Crew chief Tony) Gibson always throws nice adjustments at it and the race comes to us and we’re right there. We had a shot at winning. When we get it right, we’re right there.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 3rd: “It was a good race. We did a nice job coming from the back and I thought we got our car pretty decent there in the second stage. Then there was a mixup with some strategy stuff and pit calls and it felt like we were kind of at the back part of that but we were able to recover and miss that wreck which was big for us. We ran strong enough all day that we should have been in with where we ran. I am really proud of my team for the effort and we will move on to the next round and Martinsville.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 4th: “It was a wild day for sure. We fought our balance all weekend. I know the result wasn’t terrible, but definitely feel like we could have been a lot better this weekend and just the way things worked out for us. But, our car got better as the day went along, we just didn’t have the balance on a very long run to go up and pass guys like you need to have. So, we will go to work and get this side of things ready for Texas.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 5th: We definitely got our car better from where it was yesterday, but still a little bit off today. Just fought a terminal condition that we just couldn’t fix on pit road, but proud of the whole FedEx Toyota team for giving me something I could battle up front there with a little bit. Just got to get a little faster on the short run and we’ll be fine. The biggest thing we need to work on is short run speed. If we can do that, then we could contend, but we’re heading to a mighty good race track for us next week (Martinsville) that hopefully we’re able to capitalize.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 6th: “Yeah, absolutely that was an awesome day for our Scott brands Chevrolet. But, just proud of everybody back at JTG Daugherty Racing. We have been working really hard the last several months to try and get it turned around. We have hit the summer months and we haven’t had the speed we wanted. So, this weekend was a big step in the right direction for us. It’s excited. It’s fun to come back and run well.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 7th: “We ended up having a decent run. I am just glad that we brought another good finish home. I think that is about where the car should have finished this weekend. … (On missing the big wreck) It’s all luck.  A lot of times if you just run the back of somebody and push them through it that kind of works for you too. I did a little bit of that too. Just real lucky. That helped us on our finish today. I don’t know if we could get the track position and get a top 10. The car was fast enough at times to run up there and finish up there, but we will take it.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 8th: “As you look at the result of the day you want to have a chance to win. We had a car capable of winning. Just got stuck in a box and the box kept on getting smaller and smaller. The caution came out with the 47 (A.J. Allmendinger spin) and that put us and the 18 in a bad spot. That was it. Our focus was one stage at a time and we accomplished that. After that it was about trying to win the race.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 10th: “I thought we had a good shot to go for the win today and got off on tire strategy a little today. (Martin) Truex got by us and he was checking out, but was just going to play it out when we pitted and the rest of those guys pitted, where it would all shake out. But obviously that caution came out and it bit us and got us behind. Fortunately, our situation today was that we had to race guys that ended up crashing out, hate it for them. I would have liked to race it heads up and that might have been a different situation, but all in all we’ll take what was given to us today and we’ll live to see another day and fight again next week going to Martinsville.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 11th: “(On Martinsville, where he has nine wins) It’s not a bad track for us. So, hopefully we can repeat last year’s performance there. And then we have Texas coming up. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about it. But, we’re staying alive and I know this team so well, we can find something and we’re going to sure as hell try to get it. It’s not back to zero with all those stage points. For us to advance moving forward we’ve got to win. We’ve got to win one of these next few races coming up. It’s really simple from our stand point. We’ve got to get some speed in our cars and we’ve got to win a race.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 13th: “We were good enough and better than our finish. The pit road speeding penalty was ridiculous because I was way under pit road speed and running right with everyone else both times and they didn’t get a penalty. I will have to see that one for my own eyes. All in all, my guys put a good effort in it and I think we were better than we finished.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Today was a definitely a crazy day at Kansas Speedway. With the changing track conditions as the sun set and shaded parts of the track, we had to be on top of the adjustments to our GEICO Chevrolet for the entire race. My team did a great job making calls, and I didn’t struggle with balance much at all. Track position was just key, and it was hard to make passes out there. Overall, I think this was a good weekend and shows the improvements to our intermediate-track package. There’s still work to be done, but we are definitely getting closer.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 19th: “We just couldn’t get on the right side of anything, strategy-wise, nothing. We got caught up in the wreck. Certainly not the way you want to finish at home. I had a top-five car all weekend long, just wasn’t meant to be.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 20th: “We really didn’t have anywhere to go during that deal on the backstretch. … It’s really unfortunate we didn’t get the result we deserve but we will keep fighting and get after it next weekend at Martinsville.”

Joey Logano — Finished 21st: “We had a tough day with our Shell-Pennzoil Ford. We struggled on short run speed and once the field got spread out it was tough to make up spots. Then we got caught up in the wreck later in the race and that damage certainly didn’t help us. We’ll regroup and head to Martinsville next week.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 29th: “We really struggled today with the handling of our Fastenal Ford. It’s a bummer we couldn’t advance but no one really gave us a chance to make the Round of 12. Overall, we have had a great season so we can’t hang our heads. We have four more races to gain as many points as we can and finish off the season strong.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 34th: “I had a really fast car. I thought we had one of the best cars, and I felt like if we could have gotten to the lead, I could have led the race for a while. It was a good Cessna Chevy. But we’ve had two bad races in a row and there’s nothing you can do about it. We had a car that could have won. I think if we could have gotten to the front, but just didn’t make it to the end.”

Erik Jones — Finished 35th: “(On his wreck) I just lost it. It’s unfortunate and I feel bad for my guys and my team and I also feel bad for the cars that we took out of the race. It’s just a shame, I made the same mistakes here in the spring and this place has just been tough to me. Fortunately we had a fast 5-hour ENERGY Camry and it was up front, we had worked our way back up to that point after having mishaps at the start of the day. Nonetheless, not the ending that we wanted, but hopefully we can come back a little stronger for Martinsville.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 36th: “You have to thank NASCAR very much for all the work that they do on these race cars to make them very safe because I got hit from everywhere and I hit the 77 (Erik Jones) very, very hard. I’m perfect – the car’s not, but I’m good. Honestly, I don’t really know what happened. I just know that the 77 got very loose somehow and the next thing I saw was his door and my nose. I really couldn’t do anything at that point, but I haven’t seen a replay yet.”

Matt Kenseth — Finished 37th: “I don’t know what any of the rules are. Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lugnuts out of pit boxes to one too many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it, to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed. We showed some flashes of brilliance this season, been off and on, been fast at times, had great pit stops at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together like a championship team needs to. Unfortunately this is an example of that. I hope that I can do a better job here the next four weeks and hopefully go get a win. … Honestly, I’ve never heard of disqualifying somebody from a race if you got one too many guys over the wall or whatever happened there. Couldn’t be any more disappointed.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 38th: “I came out and said, ‘I got a turkey,’ three in a row. That is some bad luck. The Code 3 car had just started to get better, just starting to get hooked up, actually. I actually felt like I was catching the right lanes and right movements on the track and having good restarts. Would have been nice to finish one off. We haven’t done that in awhile.

Kyle Larson — Finished 39th: “I guess, I’m not stunned because freak things happen in every sport.  I mean you look at every year in the past and a lot of times – most every time at least in the new playoff format era – not always does the best team win. Not saying we are the best team, but we have been one of the contenders all season long. So, I’m not stunned, because it is a long 10 race playoff season, so anything can happen, but we have had a solid playoffs.  We have been consistent and just now got bit. … (On winning 4 races and gets eliminated) It’s painful. A part of me, I guess, will maybe be thankful that it wasn’t on my doing. I keep saying everything sucks. I don’t really know how to answer these because it’s the same answer for every question.”

Stats, results for Cup playoff elimination race at Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr. led 91 laps and bounced back from an early restart violation to win his seventh Cup race of the year in the playoff elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

The win by Truex in the Hollywood Casino 400 is a Cup record sixth win this year on a 1.5-mile track.

Truex was followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were eliminated from the playoffs.

Click here for the full results.

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. wins at Kansas; Kenseth, Larson, McMurray, Stenhouse Jr. eliminated

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. remains at top of heap as NASCAR Cup playoffs advance to Round of 8

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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Kasey Kahne, Matt DiBenedetto marking Cup start milestones at Kansas

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway will mark career milestones for Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto.

Kahne, who is in the final five races of his tenure driving the No. 5 for Hendrick Motorsports, will make his 500th Cup Series start.

DiBenedetto, driver of Go Fas Racing’s No. 32 Ford, will reach the century mark with his 100th Cup start.

The two join the ranks of drivers who have celebrated similar milestones this season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. marked his 600th start at Auto Club Speedway. Kevin Harvick made his 600th start in the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway and Kurt Busch made his in the Bristol night race.

Brad Keselowski won Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in his 300th Cup start.

Kahne, 37,  made his first Cup start in the 2004 Daytona 500 for Evernham Motorsports. The 24-year-old driver won the Rookie of the Year that season, making him the youngest winner of the award at the time since Jeff Gordon earned it at the age of 22 in 1993.

Since then he has earned 18 wins, 92 top fives, 175 top 10s and 27 poles. He has yet to miss a race in his 14-year career in the Cup Series.

DiBenedetto, 26, made his first Cup start on March 15, 2015 in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix Raceway. The start, in the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing, came after he failed to qualify for the previous two races at Atlanta and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the two years since, DiBenedetto has earned three top 10s, including two this year in the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

His career-best finish is sixth in the April 2016 race at Bristol.

Through 31 races this year, DiBenedetto has an average finish of 26.8, an improvement over his totals in 2015 (32nd) and 2016 (30th).

In five Kansas starts, DiBenedetto’s best result is 24th in the fall 2016 race. His average finish is 28.2.

“I really enjoy racing at Kansas Speedway,” DiBenedetto said in a press release. “Our mile-and-a-half program has been very strong this year and (Crew chief) Gene (Nead) has been giving me fast race cars to compete with. We qualified in the second-round here at Kansas earlier in the season, so that gives us a lot of hope.

“I like the racing at Kansas because you can move around a lot groove-wise and find a line that works with the balance of your race car. I’m usually one of the first people to move up into the high-groove and that seems to help find us some speed. If we can get a balance on the race car like we had in the spring, I know we’ll be fast and competitive.”

Martin Truex Jr. still hottest in Who’s Hot, Who’s Not heading into Kansas

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With so many of the remaining 12 playoff drivers finding trouble at Talladega this past Sunday, several find themselves in further trouble heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas.

Once the checkered flag falls, four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will be eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8 that begins next Sunday at Martinsville, followed by Texas and Phoenix.

Here are the drivers that are hot coming into Kansas, as well as those that are not:

Who’s Hot:

 No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Won at Charlotte, sixth win this season (most of all drivers and personal best), finished 23rd at Talladega.
  • Finished in the top 10 21 times this season, a series-best.
  • Won 19 stages this season, series-best.
  • Sixty-four playoff points this season, series-best.
  • Led a series-high 1,977 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races.
  • Won at Kansas in May.
  • Average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season is third.
  • Won five of the eight 1.5-mile races this season.

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Hot, Good at Kansas lately)

  • Finished third at Charlotte after winning the first two stages and 20th at Talladega.
  • Five fewer top fives and top 10s this year compared to last year (three less wins).
  • Fourth in the standings, +22 to the cut line.
  • Two Kansas wins, both coming in the playoffs.
  • Finished top three at Kansas the last three years including a win in this race last year.

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot)

  • Finished fourth at Charlotte, sixth at Talladega.
  • Finished top six in six of the last eighth races.
  • Fifth in the standings, +21 to cut line.
  • One Kansas win, Spring 2012.
  • Finished 15th or worse in four of the last five Kansas races including 23rd in May.

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished 29th at Charlotte, hit the wall while running second. Finished 27th at Talladega after crash.
  • Ninth in the standings, -7 to the cut line.
  • Four wins this season, all in the last 11 races.
  • Led laps in the last 14 races this season, career-best
  • One Kansas win, Spring 2016.
  • Finished top five in his last five races at Kansas, tied for longest streak ever at Kansas.

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (sneaky good, pretty good at Kansas)

  • Finished 11th at Charlotte, 14th at Talladega.
  • Worst finish in the playoffs is 14th.
  • Tenth in the standings, -8 to the cut line.
  • Two Kansas wins, last coming in 2013.
  • Worst finish at Kansas in the last 14 races is 14th.
  • Won the pole, led over 100 laps in this race last year, finished ninth. Finished 12th in May.

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Good)

  • Finished 15th at Charlotte, won at Talladega after having radio issues.
  • Advances to the Round of 8
  • One Kansas win, fuel mileage in 2011.
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the five races at Kansas including runner-up in May.

No. 24 Chase Elliott

  • Finished second at Charlotte, sixth career runner-up finish. Finished 16th at Talladega.
  • Finished second in three of the last five races this season.
  • Sixth in the standings, +20 to the cut line
  • Worst finish in the last seven races is 16th.
  • Best Kansas finish in three starts is ninth in Spring 2016.
  • Finished 29th at Kansas in the Spring.

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Not great at Kansas)

  • Finished 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Talladega after crash.
  • Third in the standings, +29 to the cut line.
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season.
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2014, only finish better than 15th since is sixth in May.

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson

  • Finished seventh at Charlotte, 24th at Talladega after accident
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the last six races.
  • Eighth in the standings, +7
  • Four top-five finishes this season, three were wins.
  • Three time Kansas winner (tied for the most), last was Spring 2015.
  • Only two finishes outside the top 10 in his first 16 starts at Kansas, three in the last six including 24th in May.
  • Only three top 10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this season

No. 77 Erik Jones

  • Top-10 finishes in seven of the last 11 races this season.
  • Two Kansas starts including the first of his career driving the No. 18.
  • Finished 22nd at Kansas in May, multiple spins

Who’s Not Hot:

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Not)

  • Finished 13th at Charlotte, 26th at Talladega
  • 11th in the standings, -22 to the cut line
  • Best finish since his win at Daytona in July is 13th
  • Best Kansas finish is 11th, twice including in May

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • Finished fifth at Charlotte and 37th at Talladega after crash.
  • Twelfth in standings, -29 to cut line.
  • Sixteen top-10 finishes this season, six more than this point last year.
  • Best Kansas finish is seventh, twice in 21 starts.
  • Finished eighth in May at Kansas.

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Just OK)

  • Finished eighth at Charlotte, 18th at Talladega after accident after leading 27 laps.
  • Currently seventh in the standings, +9 to the cut line.
  • Last top-five finish was his win at Pocono in June.
  • Eleven top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races.
  • Top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts at Kansas.
  • Won the pole, finished fourth in May, led 83 laps, won Stage 2.

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Not hot)

  • Finished 29th Talladega.
  • Only two top-15 finishes in the last 12 races.
  • Finished 14th in the first round
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 12 at this point last year.
  • Finished top 10 in two of the last three races at Kansas.

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not hot)

  • Finished eighth at Talladega, first back-to-back top-10 finishes since the first two races of the season.
  • Only three top-10 finishes in the last 21 races.
  • Finished 15th in the first round
  • Six DNFs this season.
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak.
  • He has finished on the lead lap in 54 percent of the races this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second, twice.
  • Worst finish in the last four races at Kansas is 16th.

No. 31 Ryan Newman

  • Finished second at Kansas, broke a four race streak of finishing outside the top 10.
  • Finished round one 13th in the standings
  • One Kansas win, 2003.
  • Only three Kansas top fives, all came in the first three races at Kansas.
  • Finished last at Kansas in May.

No. 41 Kurt Busch

  • Finished 25th at Talladega
  • Finished 19th or worse in the last five races.
  • Finished 16th in the first round, 25 points below the cut line.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2013.
  • Finished 19th in May at Kansas.

No. 14 Clint Bowyer

  • Finished 35th at Talladega.
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017.
  • Twelve top 10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2007.

No. 22 Joey Logano

  • Finished fourth at Talladega, only his fourth top-five finish since his Richmond win.
  • Eleven finishes outside the top 20 in the last 22 races.
  • Won at Richmond but was encumbered.
  • First time he has missed the playoffs with Team Penske.
  • Two-time Kansas winner.
  • Finished top five in six of the last eight races at Kansas.

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

  • Finished seventh at Talladega
  • Finished top 12 in the last three races, best streak this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2011
  • Finished 15th or worse in three of his last four Kansas starts.