KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Emporia native Clint Bowyer didn’t have one of his best days in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, but it was good enough to continue his quest for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Bowyer, who had finished second a week earlier at Talladega, was never really a contender Sunday in a race won by Chase Elliott, but Bowyer’s 13th-place finish was good enough to advance to the Round of Eight in the playoffs by a scant 6-point margin.
“It was enough, barely,” Bowyer said. “We were lucky really. It was ugly. I wanted to be better than that.”
Kansas is Bowyer’s home track, but not necessarily one of his better tracks lately, with the driver of the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing managing just one top-10 finish over his past 11 starts at the Speedway.
“I don’t know what I’m missing here,” he said. “It isn’t my guys. They are giving me good cars. They are fast. I just can’t figure out how to get around this damn place. I definitely have to be better than that. We were lucky enough to get through Talladega and get some points going into this with a little bit of insurance, and I am damn glad we did.”
In the end, the day belonged to Elliott and the No. 9 team, who won for the second time in the Round of 12 and the third time this season.
Elliott took advantage of a penalty on Kevin Harvick (speeding on pit road) that put the No. 4 car out of contention after he led 76 laps.
Elliott led the final 44 laps and held off late charges from runner-up Kyle Busch and third-place Kyle Larson to win by 0.903 of a second over Busch.
“It was a great round for us for sure and I’m just proud of the effort,” Elliott said. “We certainly weren’t where we wanted to be at the beginning of the year and have had a good few weeks. We obviously got fortunate with Kevin and his misfortune there with his penalty. We would have loved to have raced him straight up, but I’m just proud of my team.
“It’s been just an unbelievable year. After last year and coming close so many times, you just have to enjoy these. You never know when or if you’re ever going to get another one, so I’m so appreciative. It’s crazy to have done it a couple of times in a few weeks, but I’m definitely not taking it for granted.”
Busch was happy with his second-place finish.
“It was a good day for us,” he said. “We just had to make sure we had a solid day here to make sure we got into the next round. We had a great race there at the end. We were trying to chase down Chase. We were close.”
Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman were eliminated from championship contention.
Blaney, who started the day 22 points below the cut line, led nine laps and ran up front all day before making contact with the wall in the third stage of the race and dropping back to seventh and out of the top eight in the standings.
“Obviously it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence,” Blaney said. “It is all my fault.”
Larson, who started the day 36 points below the cut line, needed a victory to advance. Despite starting at the back of the field after crashing in practice, Larson almost pulled that off with his late charge to third.
“It was a good race for us,” Larson said. “I’m actually glad that nothing stupid took us out of the playoffs this year. We had that battery come out at Dover a couple years ago. (We) blew up an engine here last year. Obviously I would have liked to have made it into the next round, but I’m glad it wasn’t anything other than just us not performing where we needed to be that kept us out of the next round.”
The points have been reset for next weekend’s first race in the Round of Eight at Martinsville, with Kyle Busch leading Harvick by a single point. Martin Truex Jr., the defending Cup champion and fifth Sunday, is sitting third on the playoff grid, followed by Elliott, Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola.