Team Penske in danger of being locked out of Championship 4
Kyle Larson won his ninth race of the season Sunday at Kansas Speedway, which was also his second straight win in the semifinal round of the playoffs.
So far, he’s the only driver locked into the Championship 4, who will decide the 2021 series championship in two weeks at Phoenix.
Next weekend’s race at Martinsville, Va., provides the last opportunity for one of the other seven drivers in contention to win and lock themselves into the title race. If Larson wins again – or a non-playoff driver wins – the final three spots will come down to points.
Sunday’s Kansas race left all three Penske drivers – Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – sitting on the outside of the cutoff line to make it on points.
Blaney is one point behind fourth-place Kyle Busch, Keselowski is six behind Busch and Logano is 26 points back.
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“It’s like four of us are fighting for one spot,” Keselowski said of the four drivers sitting below the cutoff line. Larson is locked in and Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin both have a more than 30-point cushion above the others.
“We are all just fighting hard. I am bummed I didn’t get more out of it,” said Keselowski, who finished 17th Sunday. “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.
“Winning would obviously lock our way in but as you saw this week, as crazy as these races get, I am not sure that isn’t what you have to do.”
Blaney entered Sunday’s race in the best position of the Penske teams – second in points among playoff drivers and 17 ahead of the cutoff line.
He had a fast No. 12 Ford but was forced to pit under green in Stage 1 for a flat tire. He recovered to run in the top-10 but got wrecked out of the race on Lap 224 of 267 after a run-in with Austin Dillon.
“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,” he said. “That sucks. It is very unfortunate.”
Logano ended up with the best Penske finish on Sunday – ninth – but his 30th-place finish last weekend at Texas due to an engine failure had already put him at a big deficit.
“On to Martinsville. One more shot to do it,” Logano said. “It is crazy watching this thing. They are trying to give it away it seems like. I have never seen so many issues in this round.
“Yeah, it seems like survival was the key in this round so far.”