KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Brad Keselowski tried his best during Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, but in the end his best efforts weren’t enough to advance in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Keselowski, William Byron, Clint Bowyer and Alex Bowman were the four men eliminated from championship contention in the Sunflower State, as the group of title contenders was cut from 12 to eight ahead of Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Oct. 27.
The plight of the 2012 Cup Series champion was perhaps the most heartbreaking.
Keselowski, who needed to be within 14 spots of Chase Elliott at the finish, pitted prior to an overtime restart for fresh tires and lined up 15th for the first attempt at a two-lap dash.
However, instead of going forward, Keselowski was shuffled off the bottom and ended up losing vital positions in the waning moments. He ended up 19th after 277 laps and two overtimes, while Elliott finished second to race winner Denny Hamlin.
The end margin was three points between the pair, with Keselowski on the losing end.
“We didn’t make it,” said a dejected Keselowski, who also made late contact with the wall. “I pushed as hard as I knew how and didn’t quite do good enough on the last restart and that was it. We clawed as hard as we could and there were times it looked like we were going to be fine and times it didn’t. In the end it didn’t work out.”
Byron actually finished a strong fifth in Sunday’s race, doing everything he could to gain points and have a shot at transferring on, but the points hole he was in after a crash at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway the week prior proved to be too great to overcome.
The Charlotte, N.C., young gun ended up missing the semifinal round by 16 points.
“It’s just a bummer, but we had a great run today and we can take pride in that, for sure,” Byron noted. “We had a great car, one of the best cars we’ve had on a 1.5-mile track. It was fun, but we just needed to win and we couldn’t do that. But it is what it is. It was a great day for us overall, we’ll move onto the next couple of weeks and keep fighting. If we can go out and win, that’s all that really matters now.”
An eighth-place finish left Clint Bowyer 21 points short of advancing to the third round, though he was solidly in the hunt for a good portion of the afternoon at his home track.
“Obviously we wanted to be in Victory Lane,” said Bowyer. “I like the situations that we could put the car in and it would withstand. We got a little bit of damage there on that last stage. I don’t really think that affected it that much. It was a decent day. It wasn’t a stellar day by any means.
“I am proud of our effort. I am proud of trying something there and it working out (for a good finish).”
Bowman came home 11th after staying out long on the final round of green-flag pit stops and trying to catch a caution for track position, but Greg Ives’ gamble paid no dividends for the Arizona native and Bowman ended the day 20 points back of the elimination line.
The late attempt at heroics came after an incident Bowman had with Ryan Newman just after the start of the race.
“We got up to fifth or sixth there pretty quickly and obviously had a really good car to start. I got loose, I saved it and it was all good; that’s just racing. I guess just the 6 (Ryan Newman) being right there tore the left rear off of it,” Bowman explained. “You wouldn’t think it, but that’s probably the most sensitive corner on these cars for rear downforce and rear side force. We really fought with it the rest of the day and all but crashed it for the remaining 260 laps, or however long it was.
“We didn’t get in, so that sucks. We had a good start and a really good car there for five laps or however long it lasted,” Bowman added. “It just sucks driving a wrecked race car for the rest of the day.”
Those four join Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Ryan Newman as drivers who have been eliminated from the playoffs through the first two rounds of competition.
And as Keselowski put it, the fates of the eliminated weren’t just sealed on Sunday.
“It’s three races, not just one,” he said. “We just weren’t quite good enough to move on.”