Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images via NASCAR

Truex Leads Drivers in Danger of Round 1 Playoff Elimination After Kansas

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

Martin Truex, Jr. entered the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs riding high on the regular season championship, but after a dismal start to the postseason, his hopes of staying alive in his chase for a second title come down to next week’s elimination race at Bristol.

After entering the Playoffs with a surplus of 36 playoff points, Truex and his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team stumbled out of the gate at Darlington with an 18th place finish, which dropped him to sixth in the standings heading into Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Needing a solid day to keep his place in the points from eroding any further, Truex got exactly what he didn’t need shortly after the green flag dropped.

Just four laps in, Truex’s Toyota started fading fast from its third-place starting position and entering Turn 3, the right-rear tire gave way and sent him spinning into the outside wall. With the damage too severe to continue on, he would be credited with a 36th place finish, dropping him below the cut-off line with a seven-point deficit to the top-12.

“Just unfortunate and very unlucky,” Truex said. “I took off really tight and I knew something was up, and then cut a right rear. Not really sure what happened, obviously, but it blew in the worst place possible. I hate it for my guys. We had an awesome Bass Pro Toyota Camry. We were going to have a great day, just not sure what we need to do to get some luck here.”

Kevin Harvick, in his final season in the Cup Series currently holds the 12th and final transfer spot into the next round, with Joey Logano (+12), Christopher Bell (+13), and Chris Buescher (+13) sitting just ahead of him in the standings.

Along with Truex, the remainder of the drivers that are in danger of being eliminated next weekend at Bristol are Bubba Wallace (-19), Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (-22), and Michael McDowell (-40).

Like Truex, blown right-rear tire was the downfall of the day for Wallace, who came into the day looking to repeat his Kansas win from a year ago. Running second on lap 108, the tire on his No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota gave way, sending him into the wall.

Wallace was able to limp back to pit road, but by the time he returned to the race, the damage had been done and he was scored in 34th place, three laps down. He would gain a couple of positions before the finish, but still heads to Bristol needing some help to turn things around and advance in his first Playoffs appearance.

“I got loose like five laps before, but I realized that was kind of like my line and my approach to the exit of Turn 4. And then three or four laps later, it blew out,” Wallace said.

“No indication going into [Turn] 4. I was pissed at myself that I wasn’t closer to the fence. Maybe we would have gotten by with less damage. But you’re never going to get a flat tire when you’re running 20th, you’re going to get it when you’re really fast and lights out versus the competition.”

As far as Stenhouse and McDowell, it was a 23rd and 26th place finish, respectively for the two drivers, with a win next weekend being the only guarantee for either of them being able to advance on.

Stenhouse has had success at Bristol in the past with four top-fives and six top-10s in his career at the half-mile bullring, but as of late, it’s been nothing but trouble, with crashes taking him out of four of the last five night races. It hasn’t been much better for McDowell, who only has one previous top-10 finish at the track and brought home an 11th place finish last year.

The Bass Pro Shops Night Race is scheduled for 7:30 pm ET next Saturday on USA Network.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.