Imagine a race that featured the excitement of Daytona or Bristol. Imagine a race with a broadcast crew that featured the talent of a Chris Economaki, Vin Scully, Danny Gallivan, or a Keith Jackson. Imagine that Yoko Ono co-wrote that song with her husband. That should snap us all back to reality, though that last one is apparently true.
Kansas was not a venue that promised an event for the ages, but it is where the goal of Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was to win. It is where Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch needed to do well while hoping Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Blaney did not. It is where Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Chase Elliott needed to stay out of trouble, while it was to be just a nice day at the office for Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. We watched to see how this chapter of the story would end. For four, the dream of a championship this season would do just that…come to an end.
Blowing up does not constitute staying out of trouble. Larson did just that in the opening stage, and despite having a decent points advantage over the “have-nots” coming in, we got introduced to the first guy unofficially eliminated in this race from Chase eligibility. No one had joined him in the garage by the time the opening segment concluded, especially Blaney and Johnson. If they faltered, Larson still had a hope. Unfortunately for himself and Stenhouse, all the others in the top dozen were in the top 10 when they took their break.
Busch claimed the opening segment, the next was claimed by Hamlin. Still no good news for Larson. As they entered that final stage, Larson was not much of a thought, to be honest. It looked more like Rowdy was in, barring a mishap, while that final spot was going to be determined between Johnson and Kenseth. In the early going, Matt led Jimmie by five points as they ran on the track.
With more than 90 laps to go, we became pretty sure Stenhouse was toast. A cut tire, a brush against the wall, and a trip to the pits pretty much ensured that his hopes for victory were dashed. Kenseth was riding second, Johnson 10th. It appeared that was the race to watch until we watched Johnson go sliding through the grass. They re-started, and shortly after Johnson went for yet another skid. Now down to 70 to go, that final spot was open to one of three guys. Kenseth had drifted back to 14th, Johnson to 27th, with Larson locked in at 39th. Still too much to ask for, you might think, but if Larson was praying, someone was listening.
They failed to even get another lap in after the latest re-start when Erik Jones pounded the wall and carnage ensued. McMurray got torn up, so his hopes for victory were over, along with his Chase dreams. However, Kenseth also picked up some hurt. All of a sudden, Larson was back in play. If Johnson finished 23rd or worst, he would be eliminated. Kenseth needed to finish no further back than 17th and within seven points of Johnson, or he was eliminated. Larson had to just sit back and enjoy the show. Maybe further discussion with the good Lord might prove helpful.
Ask and Larson shall receive, it seemed, as it appears He remained tuned in. On the clock to get repairs done, too many boys climbed over the wall in Kenseth’s pit. That gets you punted to the garage. Any goals regarding the day and the Chase for that driver were not going to be realized.
With both McMurray and Kenseth done, with Stenhouse having no hope for victory, we had to change our focus, adding Busch to the mix. Two of those three would advance. If Johnson finished 22nd or better and Busch was no worse than 25th, Larson was gone. If they failed to do so, then Johnson needed to sit at least three spots ahead of Busch at the line. When they got things running again, Busch was our leader, Johnson was sitting ninth and 60 laps were left.
For Larson, the direct line upwards went dead as the rest of this one concluded with minimal drama. Busch was 10th, Johnson 11th, and Larson was eliminated. Oh, Martin Truex Jr. claimed his seventh win of the season. He, along with Harvick, Hamlin, Blaney, and Busch all recorded rather stout performances, with Martinsville beckoning them next Sunday.
Four races are left, along with eight drivers, to decide the title. If history means anything, both Johnson and Hamlin will do very well this Sunday afternoon in Virginia. Imagine how excited those two boys are.