Joey Logano said it best following Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway: “I’ve never seen so many issues in this round.”
Indeed. After a chaotic Round of 8 opener at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend, Kansas only added to it, with five playoff drivers having issues during the race.
But the biggest shift came one lap following a restart with 44 laps to go, when Austin Dillon got loose underneath Ryan Blaney, sending the No. 12 Ford into the wall.
Blaney’s car, destroyed, ending the day in the garage, finishing 37th. Having scored zero stage points, the No. 12 team earned just one point for the race, and they now enter the cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway one point below the cutline.
Ryan Blaney crashes late at Kansas!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 24, 2021
“We got run into from two lanes below me,” a frustrated Blaney told NBC Sports. “I have no idea. Finishing 37th is not prime. We didn’t have a great day but we did a good job of fighting back and getting back into the top-10 but then just got wiped out when we had plenty of room.”
When the checkered flag waved, Kyle Busch found himself, somehow, fourth in points, one point to the good. That came after the No. 18 Toyota got into the wall twice, making two unscheduled pit stops.
On lap 23, Busch got loose off Turn 2 and smacked the wall. Having brought out the caution, the No. 18 car didn’t lose a lap and rebounded to finish ninth in the opening stage, earning two points.
But on lap 134, Busch’s day went from bad to worse. Like 111 laps earlier, Busch hit the Turn 2 wall, this time pancaking it. Later that lap, the No. 18 Toyota blew a right side tire, causing severe damage.
Busch limped around to the checkered flag to finish 28th, six laps down.
“It started rough and I thought it was going to go rough, but not that bad,” Busch said following the race, knowing his points position. “Just could not get the right rear feel in the racetrack on entry and exit, especially with the way the wind direction was. Super, super loose off of Turn 2 all day, slipped out from underneath me and got in the wall the first time and that was going to be manageable, but the second time it just killed it.”
With wind gusts reaching upward of 35 mph, Busch said he needs to look back at how he’s ran competitively at the track with past wind directions.
Busch wasn’t the only playoff driver to have an issue in the opening stage. Coming off Turn 2 on lap 34, Brad Keselowski checked up from pounding the outside wall on the backstretch. When doing so, Martin Truex Jr. plowed into the rear of the No. 2 car. Both playoff cars had damage.
Just four laps later, Keselowski, who fell outside the top 10, reported a right rear tire was flat. Just 14 laps later, Truex pitted for a flat right rear tire of his own.
Ultimately, neither car earned a single stage point. But heading to Martinsville, a track Truex has won three of the last four races contested at, he sits just three points below the cutline. Keselowski, a two-time Martinsville winner, is a manageable six points back.
“It was a long day,” Truex said. “You never quit fighting and the best you can do is the best you can do. Just kept working on it and making adjustments, just kept trying to do what we could. Luckily, we were able to get on the lead lap, take a wave around and get a quick caution and then just battle from there.”
Later in the race, Keselowski raced up to 16th, sitting in the free pass position. However, with his car temperature rising, he brought the No. 2 Ford to pit road with 54 laps to go, going a second lap down. Four laps later, the No. 6 car of Ryan Newman (the car Keselowski will pilot next year) spun and brought out the caution.
Come the checkered flag, Keselowski raced back up to 17th, and he has a fighter’s chance going into Martinsville.
6 points or bust! pic.twitter.com/kRDVmRV2Yd
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) October 25, 2021
“There’s four of us racing for one spot,” he said. “We’re all fighting hard for that one spot and it should be a heck of a race.”
Meanwhile, Logano entered Kansas 40 points below the cutline, believing he needed to win at either Kansas or Martinsville to be in championship contention come the Championship 4 race at Phoenix Raceway.
Because of that, Logano played different strategies throughout the race, including stretching his fuel mileage during the second stage, hoping to catch a caution. Finishing 11th in both stages, the No. 22 missed out on any stage points, ultimately ending the race in ninth.
Going to Martinsville 26 points below the cutline, it’s still a must win for Logano, something he’s done once before at the famed paperclip.
“It’s crazy watching this, they’re trying to give it away, it seems like,” Logano said of the playoff trouble at Kansas. “It seems like survival was the key in this round so far, but for us, we’re still going to have to win.
“It’s not just that it’s 20 something points out, but I’m still eighth so there are still four cars in front of me that I’ve got to get in front of, assuming there’s not a different winner. It’s still pretty much must win. It would be far-fetched for it to happen, but, hey, look at today, maybe it could happen.”
Dating back to the playoff race at Martinsville in 2017, these five drivers have won six of the last eight races in southern Virginia. Just Blaney hasn’t experienced victory lane on the frontstretch, despite having a handful of top-five finishes in that stretch. In the spring, the No. 12 car led 157 laps.
The coveted playoff race at Martinsville is scheduled to go green shortly after 2 p.m. ET next Sunday (Oct. 31). Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin are 34 and 32 points above the cutline, respectively.