Given he already was locked into the upcoming Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. had nothing to lose in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 — so he went out and won his third race of the playoffs (Chicago, Charlotte and Kansas) and seventh race of the season.
Truex led a total of 91 laps — including the last 57 laps — to capture the win at Kansas Speedway, his second win there this season and an uncanny sixth win on a 1.5-mile track in 2017, a new single season NASCAR record by a driver. His seventh win was on the road course at Watkins Glen.
Truex’s seven wins are the most in a season by a driver since Matt Kenseth won seven in 2013. And Truex still has four more races — including 1.5-mile races at Texas and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway — to add to his wins total.
Truex has now doubled the number of wins he had coming into this season, from seven to 14 now.
Sunday’s race was the cut-off race for the Round of 12. The four drivers that were eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8 semifinal round were Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson.
Following the first two stages, among incidents in the 167 laps of the final stage:
* Jimmie Johnson spun coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 187. He tore up a good chunk of the frontstretch grass but did not hit any other cars. He brought his car to pit road to fix some damage to the hood, strapped on four new tires and fuel and returned to the track. Shortly after the restart on Lap 192, Johnson spun again, clipping the Turn 3 wall and flatspotted all four of his tires.
* A big wreck on the restart on Lap 197 involved a number of cars, including playoff contenders Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray. The incident brought out a red flag race stoppage. The wreck occurred when Erik Jones got loose, turned right and head-on into the wall, and collected a number of other drivers including Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer.
* Kenseth suffered a huge penalty on the ensuing pit stop. Because he had seven crew men over the wall, violating the damaged vehicle policy, NASCAR ruled Kenseth was out of the race. As a result, he will not advance to the Round of 8 and has been eliminated from the playoffs in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
* As for McMurray, his car could not be repaired and his championship hopes are done. “We just unfortunately had two bad races in a row and couldn’t do nothing about it,” McMurray told NBCSN. “You race all day to the end and we didn’t make it today.”
STAGE WINNERS: Kyle Busch won Stage 1, Denny Hamlin won Stage 2.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Runner-up Kurt Busch had his best outing of the season since winning the season-opening Daytona 500. … Sixth-place finisher Chris Buescher tied for his best finish of the season.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Larson came into the race third in the standings, 29 points above the cut-off line. Unfortunately, his engine blew up – the first time in his career with Chip Ganassi Racing – on Lap 74, and he was eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8. … Matt Kenseth was eliminated from the race and advancing in the playoffs when seven crew men went over the walls on a pit stop, violating NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy.
NOTABLE: When Truex climbed out of his car, he looked up to the sky and then paid tribute to Furniture Row Racing crew member Jim Watson, who died Saturday night in a local Kansas City hospital from a heart attack at the age of 55: “We were racing with heavy hearts and just wanted to do good for him and know he’d love to be celebrating here with us today.”
QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I can’t believe how this day went. That’s why you never give up, because you never know what can happen.” – Race winner Martin Truex Jr., who overcame the death of a team member, as well as a restart penalty and a vibration in the race, to win Sunday.
WHAT’S NEXT: Sunday, Oct. 29, First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)