The Chase continued on Sunday, at the iconic Kansas Speedway for the legendary Hollywood Casino 400. The race formerly and memorably known as the Protection One 400, the Banquet 400 Presented by ConAgra Foods, the LifeLock 400, the Camping World RV 400 presented by Coleman, and the Price Chopper 400 presented by Kraft Foods has been making memories since 2001. No doubt, its status as one of NASCAR’s marquee venues was cemented with Jeff Gordon winning the first two, or maybe it was with Joey Logano taking the last couple. It is hard to determine through all of the excitement. Paraphrasing the words of Wilbert Harrison, we were goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City here we come.
All sarcasm aside, and you might have noticed some, only Jimmie Johnson was locked in, with 11 others still with a good to fair shot at advancing to the next round. The trouble is, there was a sizable gap between seventh and eighth coming in, with Denny Hamlin sitting on the bubble and four guys right behind him seeking to burst it.
If not for Hamlin’s blown engine late at Charlotte, the four outsiders would have had major hills to climb to get back in the running. Just 50 miles after the start at Kansas, Hamlin again had issues with the splitter causing his car to get way too tight. After a fortunate caution, Hamlin’s crew went to work, but that left him outside the Top 30 at the time. Bad for him, but very generous to his competitors. Well, at least that seemed to be the case for a few miles.
Then it appeared that Martin Truex Jr. would be the story of the day. At the 150 mile marker, a fuel stop left him 10 gallons short. It happened again later, and even after that due to some in-take issues with the car. Instead of feeding from the bottle, it kept burping up. Still, they managed, and 11th does not a story make as we were still without a headline.
Our search for heartbreak finally paid dividends by the three-quarter pole. Hamlin came from up top in the corner, while Brad Keselowski came up from the bottom, then wiggled. With his momentum, Hamlin punted ole Brad to be torn to bits in the infield grass in a Sea of Heartbreak and ripped up sheet metal.
After that, Hamlin started to drift back. A late pit penalty did not help his cause. He finished 15th, dropping him six points out of a desired place in the Chase, a point ahead of Keselowski. Ahead of them both, is Logano, who finished third to hold down the final berth in a tie-breaker ahead of Austin Dillon. Joey now knows who he needs to keep in his mirror next week.
The other two who were outside looking in when the race started went in opposite directions. Chase Elliott was a contender, he was among the Top Three on Sunday, but a tire rub brought him in early for new treads. Back in the pack, he brushed the wall twice, and later on, that same tire gave out again. That left Elliott 31st on the day, and 25 points in the weeds. Along with Hamlin and Keselowski, the rookie became our third story of the day. It would be advantageous for him if that first win would come in Alabama.
The fourth headliner had a totally different outcome. After the bad tidings at Charlotte, Kevin Harvick was up front most of the day in Kansas City, and while Carl Edwards, Logano, Johnson, and Kyle Busch were nice enough to give him some company, it was Harvick punching his ticket to the next round with his 35th career victory.
Johnson and Harvick are in, but Talladega looms for this Sunday’s date. The implications for 10 drivers are huge, and the racing is expected to once again keep fans on their edge of their seats. Invite your friends over. Tell them this is what NASCAR presents each and every week. They probably won’t even note your sarcasm.