KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Eight down, eight remain.
Four more drivers were eliminated from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs following a wild race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, including perennial championship contender Matt Kenseth and one of the top drivers of the year in Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson. Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and CGR’s Jamie McMurray were also eliminated.
As surprising as it was to see Larson, a four-time 2017 winner, eliminated via an engine expiring too early, a pit-road miscue by Kenseth’s No. 20 pit crew also stood out.
On Lap 197, several cars made contact coming off Turn 2, blocking the track on the backstretch. The wreck was major — collecting 14 cars — but Kenseth’s Toyota appeared fixable enough that it could return to the track and fight for the eighth and final transfer spot. Kenseth brought the car to pit road, the team began to work on it, and then the No. 20 team was subsequently disqualified from the race for having too many pit crew members — seven — over the wall while under the five-minute clock, per NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy.
Just like that, with no ride lined up for 2018 at the moment, Kenseth’s potential last shot at a second Monster Energy Series title came to a screeching halt.
“I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed,” Kenseth said in the garage after exiting his car. ” … We showed some flashes of brilliance this season, been off and on, been fast at times, had great pit stops at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together like a championship team needs to. Unfortunately, this is an example of that. I hope that I can do a better job here the next four weeks and hopefully go get a win.”
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Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski were also among those involved in the crash, which brought out the red flag. Several were able to continue, including Elliott, who wound up placing fourth to move on to the Round of 8.
No. 20 crew chief Jason Ratcliff talked about the pit-road incident shortly after the wrecked car was loaded into the team’s hauler to make the long trek back to North Carolina.
He mentioned that “two of the (crew members) were holding tires,” as per their game plan, but that there was a miscommunication because of how close their pit box was to pit entrance and the shortness of time to properly convey what needed to happen.
“I think in the heat of the battle, I mean … that’s one thing about that pit stall. It makes it difficult,” said the 14-time race-winning crew chief. “When you get to pit road really quick, you have a little less time to communicate. … We just missed a head count there. … We have a game plan. This worked really good for us all year. I don’t know if somebody just missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly or, yeah. Typically, it boils down to communication.”
As Kenseth moves on from his time racing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with JGR, Ratcliff also took a moment to reflect on his final few races with the 2003 champion, who he teamed up with starting in 2013. The duo combined for 13 of Kenseth’s 38 career race victories.
“We’ve had some great runs at Martinsville and there would be nothing greater than going there and finally getting that win with Matt. I think that would be special,” he said. “Would it make up for not having a shot at Homestead? No, but boy, it would be sweet to have that happen with just a few races to go in the season.”