Hope fuels Cup drivers facing playoff elimination at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Brad Keselowski doesn’t wax poetic about his position heading into Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Ain’t good,” he said.

Even so, Keselowski and the other three drivers in danger of being eliminated — Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman — have hope that they can advance in the playoffs with a victory.

“I’m going into the race to try to win it,” said Keselowski, the 2012 champion. “It’s the only way I can guarantee what happens … is to win.

“Just going to lay it all out there.”

Keselowski enters the race 18 points behind Martin Truex Jr. for the eighth and final transfer spot to the next round. Blaney is 22 points behind, Larson is 36 points behind (after his team lost two appeals of its Talladega penalty Friday) and Bowman is 68 points back.

Although Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex have combined to win the last five races at Kansas, the four drivers outside a playoff spot feel this is as good a track for them to win.

We have to most likely win the race from where we are in points with how much we have to make up and with the drivers that are ahead of us (Clint Bowyer and Truex),” said Blaney, who led 54 laps in May at this track before contact with Kyle Larson ended his race early. 

“This is a good track for us. I can’t think of another track to try to go to and try to win at. We’ve had a shot here multiple times, especially the first race this year here before I wrecked ourselves. It is a good place for us. Hopefully, we can have a shot at it come Sunday and try to move on.”

Larson also has been strong at this track. He led a race-high 101 laps and finished fourth in the May race after starting at the rear for a tire change before the event.

Larson knows he’ll need to be as strong again today but his challenge will be greater. He’ll start from the rear in a backup car after hitting the wall in practice Friday.

“Looking at the run we had earlier this year and runs we have had in the past, I’m excited that Kansas is a place where you have to go and get a win,” Larson said. “If Talladega was the cutoff race, I would be less confident I guess, but with it being Kansas, I’m really excited.”

Even Bowman, who would need to score his first career Cup win to advance, exudes confidence.

“I love this place,” Bowman said. “I really enjoy it. I haven’t had the best days here by any means, but I’ve won a few times in ARCA and ran really well here in ’16. So, I think it’s a good place for me. I’m just going to try to make the most of it and have the best day we can.”

The question is if that will be good enough for Bowman and the other three drivers below the cutoff line to advance and keep their title hopes alive.