Round eight of NASCAR’s Chase to the 2017 Championship was mired by obstacles for two drivers, who had one goal in mind at Kansas Motor Speedway – bringing home the checkered flag.
Kansas Lottery 300
Although he’s not racing for the 2017 XFINITY Series Championship, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell didn’t let this stop him from racing for the Kansas Lottery 300 win on Saturday. After starting this race in fourth, Bell was unable to find his way to the lead until the last three laps of this race.
Until then, the No. 20 of teammate Erik Jones, who started the 200-lap race on the outside of pole sitter Tyler Reddick, took the lead as well as both the Stage 1 and 2 wins. While taking the lead ahead of Jones seemed insurmountable, on Lap 197, Bell caught and passed Erik Jones for the lead, clearing Jones’ No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with a slide job and drifting up to the outside wall right in front of his JGR teammate.
While Jones attempted to stop Bell from taking away his final stage win, his effort would only leave the No. 20 Camry wrecked and Jones forced to settle with a top 15 place finish.
Even though one JGR team was left in a disappointing heap at the end of Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, another had a reason to celebrate their first win at Kansas Motor Speedway.
“I am sorry that Erik finished the race the way that he did, but I am stoked to be here,” said Jones. “To be able to win in the XFINITY Series is something that I dreamed of as a kid, and I am finally here.”
Ryan Blaney ran third, followed by playoff drivers and JR Motorsports teammates William Byron and Justin Allgaier, the latter of whom collected 11 stage points and took over the top spot in the standings by two points over Byron, who had to start from the rear of the field because of unapproved pre-race adjustments to his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
Elliott Sadler, another JRM entry, recovered from a spin in Turn 4 on Lap 76 to finish seventh and is third in the Playoff standings, 11 points behind Allgaier. Very few changes were made outside of the top three XFINITY Series Playoff positions. With two races left in the Round of eight, there is an eight-point gap between fourth-place Brennan Poole, who ran 12th on Saturday, and eighth-place Cole Custer, who brought his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to pit road with two laps left because of a cut tire and finished 19th, two laps down.
The battle for the XFINITY Series 2017 Championship moves on to Texas Motor Speedway on November 4.
Hollywood Casino 400
Much like in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, another driver would have to overcome what at first seemed insurmountable odds to win Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. While the No. 78 of Martin Truex, Jr. started this race on the pole, the winningest driver this season was thrown a curveball on Lap 36 after officials claimed that he dipped below the white line on the apron before reaching the start/finish line. After being black flagged and forced to take a trip to pit road, Truex had to watch two of his competitors take both the Stage 1 and 2 wins.
Truex’s misfortune gave the No. 18 of Kyle Busch a chance to take the early race lead, as well as the Stage 1 win. As Busch continued to dominate much of this race, his Joe Gibbs racing teammate Denny Hamlin slid past Busch to take the race lead during the closing laps and take the Stage 2 win.
Despite both Joe Gibbs Racing drivers racing to two Stage wins, the No. 78 of Martin Truex, Jr. continued to climb his way back to the top to take the race win just hours after Furniture Row Racing road-crew fabricator Jim Watson succumbed to a heart attack.
“I just can’t say enough about all these guys on this Furniture Row/Bass Pro Toyota,” said Truex. “We are definitely racing with heavy hearts today after losing Jim last night and we want to send our condolences to his family and friends. He was a heck of a guy, who put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, and I am glad that we could get him one here at Kansas.”
In a dramatic race that brought Truex his seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season, calamity eliminated four drivers from the series Playoffs. Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson all saw their postseason hopes end with the final event in the Round of 12.
Despite spinning twice in the space of five laps late in this race, the seven-time champion moved into the top eight drivers in the Monster Energy Cup Series Championship battle. Johnson was the prime beneficiary when NASCAR parked Kenseth, after a massive wreck on Lap 198, for a violation of the damaged vehicle policy — specifically, having too many crewmen over the wall to work on the car on pit road.
Truex and his fellow Championship Chase drivers move on to the next round next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com as the Countdown to the NASCAR Championship continues.