By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Twelve drivers entered Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas still in the running for the championship, but by the time the checkered flag flew, four of them were on the outside looking in as their hopes for a title were erased.
Starting the day, Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, William Byron, and Clint Bowyer were the four drivers in the danger zone, sitting 18 points or more below the cut-off line, with all of them in a virtual must-win situation.
Among the four, only Elliott was able to climb his way into the top-eight in points with Brad Keselowski joining the others in the foursome that was eliminated at the end of the day.
Here’s what those drivers eliminated had to say as their playoff hopes were dashed.
Brad Keselowski – Finished 19th – Ninth in Points
Brad Keselowski came into the day with a double-digit advantage over the cut-off line, but that wasn’t enough to keep his pursuit of a second championship alive by the time all was said and done. Near the end of the race, Keselowski and Elliott were in a neck and neck points battle to see which of them would make it through.
With Elliott running at the front of the field and Keselowski mired back in traffic, the two drivers swapped positions at the cut-off line numerous times. When the race went into overtime, it looked as if Keselowski would be able to sneak in by the skin of his teeth, but the caution flag flew before the leaders took the white flag, sending the race into a second overtime.
It was then that Keselowski’s race truly went awry as he got banged up while racing back in the pack, and started sinking back like a rock, eventually crossing the line in 19th – too far back to be able to advance onto the next round.
“We didn’t make it,” Keselowski said. “I pushed as hard as I knew how and didn’t quite do good enough on the last restart and that was it. We clawed as hard as we could and there were times it looked like we were going to be fine and times it didn’t. In the end it didn’t work out.”
So, what’s next for the 2012 Cup Series champion?
“Go win Martinsville,” he said.
William Byron – Finished Fifth – 10th in Points
For Byron, it was win or go home at Kansas and the youngest member of the Hendrick Motorsports nearly pulled it off.
Rolling off 25th, Byron finished the first stage in 11th and the second stage in fourth place. As the final stage progressed, Byron kept his No. 24 Chevrolet in the top-five and with the race being pushed into overtime, Byron had his shot to try and make it happen.
Unfortunately for Byron, he was only able to maintain a fifth-place run to the checkered flag. Not enough to advance on to the next round.
“It’s just a bummer,” Byron said. “But we had a great run today and we can take pride in that, for sure. We had a great car, one of the best cars we’ve had on a 1.5-mile track. It was fun, but we just needed to win and we couldn’t do that. But it is what it is. It was a great day for us overall, we’ll move onto the next couple of weeks and keep fighting. If we can go out and win, that’s all that really matters now.”
Alex Bowman – Finished 11th – 11th in Points
After crashing out in spectacular fashion last weekend at Talladega, Bowman came into Kansas hoping to improve his finish from the spring by one position.
Starting the day in 16th, it took Bowman just 10 laps to climb into the top-10, but contact with the wall shortly thereafter handicapped the No. 88 team as the battled handling issues for the remainder of the race and Bowman was only able to bring home an 11th place finish.
“We got up to fifth or sixth there pretty quickly and obviously had a really good car to start,” Bowman said. “I got loose, I saved it and it was all good; that’s just racing. I guess just the 6 (Ryan Newman) being right there tore the left rear off of it.
“You wouldn’t think it, but that’s probably the most sensitive corner on these cars for rear downforce and rear side force. We really fought with it the rest of the day and all but crashed it for the remaining 260 laps or however long it was.
“We didn’t get in, so that sucks. We had a good start and a really good car there for five laps or however long it lasted. It just sucks driving a wrecked race car for the rest of the day.”
Clint Bowyer – Finished Eighth – 12th in Points
Kansas Speedway is always a special place for Clint Bowyer, with the Kansas native looking to win on his home track each time the Cup Series rolls into town. This go around, Bowyer would have to claim his first Kansas win if he was going to be able to move on in the Playoffs.
As much as Bowyer and the No. 14 team would have liked to have made that a reality, it was not to be as his eighth-place finish left him last on the Playoff Grid as the Round of 12 came to a close.
“Obviously we wanted to be in victory lane,” Bowyer said. “I like the situations that we could put the car in and it would withstand. We got a little bit of damage there on that last stage. I don’t really think that affected it that much. It was a decent day. It wasn’t a stellar day by any means. I am proud of our effort. I am proud of trying something there and it working out.
“In the playoffs we stepped up in a big way. Not having a points pad or anything like that and going into these rounds is difficult. Those guys have 20 or 30 points on you, so to come within a fighting chance. Had that deal not have happened last weekend we would be right there. You knew that was the opportunity last weekend but unfortunately it just wasn’t our day.”