With only one race remaining before the NASCAR Cup Series 2021 champion is crowned at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, Kyle Larson is the only driver in the Playoffs who has secured a spot in the championship finale.
As the series travels to Martinsville Speedway next week, the competition will be fierce with everything on the line for the remaining seven drivers in contention for the title.
Here’s what the Playoff drivers had to say following Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
Kyle Larson – Hendrick Motorsports:
Larson has nine victories this season. He has won three races in a row, twice, including the first two playoff races in the Round of 8 at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. He is the only driver currently guaranteed a spot in the Championship 4.
After the race, Larson spoke about the significance of the win today at Kansas as he dedicated it to the 10 lives lost in 2004 in a plane crash near Martinsville, Virginia. The victims lost included Rick Hendrick’s son Ricky and his brother, John.
“Yes, I want to dedicate this win to Rick and Linda (Hendrick). I didn’t ever get to meet Ricky (Hendrick) or the other men and women who lost their lives that day, but I felt the importance of this race, no doubt. It’s crazy how it kind of all worked out there for me to win. I know they were all looking down and helping me out there with all the restarts and stuff after getting into the wall. Again, thank you to Rick Hendrick. I know this means a lot to you and I’m glad I could get it done.
“It’s cool to get another win and I don’t really know how that happened but, our HendrickCars.com Chevy was really fast. I thought we were like a third-place car, really. William (Byron) was really good. I hate to see that unfortunate luck there again for that team. They’ve been really, really strong. I’m glad we could capitalize and get another win. I hope we can go to Martinsville and get a clock.”
Chase Elliott – Hendrick Motorsports:
Elliott finished second in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas and is second in the Playoff standings entering the last race in the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway next weekend. He has two wins this year and six runner-up finishes including a second-place finish at Martinsville in April.
Although he appears to be in position to make the cut for the Championship 4, with a cushion of +34 points, Elliott is taking nothing for granted.
“I don’t know if it allows you to do much of anything now. As you saw today, I am not sure that any amount of points is safe. I think anyone in this Round can win next week. So, we are really going to have to be on it, but looking forward to the opportunity and excited for the challenge.”
Denny Hamlin – Joe Gibbs Racing:
Hamlin drove his No. 11 Toyota for a fifth-place finish at Kansas. Since the Playoffs began, his consistency has been a key factor, capturing wins at Darlington Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He has only finished outside the top ten once with 11th place at Texas, five top-fives and three top-10s. Heading to Martinsville, he is third in the standings with a 32-point buffer.
After the race, he emphasized the importance of minimizing mistakes, earning stage points and finding some extra speed as the team prepares for the next race at Martinsville.
“Just tried to optimize our day, that’s really all we could do. The second half we were much, much better, but by then it’s just so hard to pass. Decent day overall. The FedEx Camry was okay, we optimized. We didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes and we really swung a whole lot of things at it to try to make it better, but fourth or fifth is about where we were at.
“A nice, solid day next week will be okay. You just never know what can happen. Just need to make sure I get some stage points and don’t give it away early and I think we’ll be alright.
“We just don’t have the speed. We’re just off on the 550 tracks. We have too much drag and not enough downforce. We’ve had these bodies on these Camrys for a really long time and it doesn’t do what we want it to do on the 550s.”
Kyle Busch – Joe Gibbs Racing:
Busch and the team head to Martinsville in a precarious position, up by only 1 point in the standings after finishing 28th today at Kansas as he struggled with the handling of his Toyota. With only two top-fives since the Playoffs began, it’s been an uphill battle.
He spoke about his finish today, saying, “I was expecting much worse. Still a shot, it’s just going to be tough. Just going to be a hard-fought dog fight for that final spot.”
When asked about his strategy for next week at Martinsville and if he would have to go for a win, Busch was non-committal.
“I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know, I haven’t seen what it looks like. Third to seventh looks pretty tight I guess so there’s still a race. It’s going to come down to points. If there’s a winner from below us, so we’re going to have to beat them.”
While all eyes will be on the top four contenders, there are four more drivers who will be fighting for those spots. Win and they’re in. Ryan Blaney (-1), Martin Truex Jr. (-3), Brad Keselowski (-6) and Joey Logano (-26) will each hope to play the spoiler as they attempt to pull off the upset for their shot at the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series title.
Ryan Blaney – Team Penske:
Blaney has two runner-up finishes at Martinsville in 2020 and is hoping to make up the points he lost at Kansas when he was hit by Austin Dillon and sent into the wall, ending his day early.
He was frustrated after the race and said, “Obviously it hurts. Finishing 37th is not prime. We didn’t have a great day but we did a good job of fighting back and getting back into the top-10 but then just got wiped out when we had plenty of room.”
Martin Truex Jr. – Joe Gibbs Racing
Truex won at Martinsville earlier this year in April and is looking for a repeat next week.
“I feel good about that. We’re going to have a good starting position now and good pit selection. The place has been good to us. If we can get up there and win a couple stages and battle for the win, I think we’ll be able to get ourselves in. We’ll wait and see how it goes; you never know how these things are going to play out. Excited for the opportunity and thankful for everybody for all their hard work.”
Brad Keselowski – Team Penske:
Keselowski had a disappointing day as he finished 17th at Kansas but is hopeful that he can make the cut at Martinsville.
“That was a heck of a race. We are all just fighting to hard. I am bummed I didn’t get more out of it. I had a heck of an opportunity to score a lot of points and make next week easy. We still aren’t in a bad spot but not as good as spot as we could be.”
Joey Logano – Team Penske:
Logano made up some points today with a ninth-place finish but is concerned that it may not be enough.
“It is pretty far out still. All things considered, it isn’t just that it is 20-something points out, but I am still eighth. I have three or four cars in front of me that I have to get in front of, assuming there isn’t a different winner. It is still pretty much a must-win situation. It would be far-fetched for it to happen. But hey, look at today. Maybe it could happen.”