Kyle Larson won his ninth race of the season on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, which was also his second straight win in the playoff semifinals.
So far he is the only driver locked in Championship 4 who will decide the championship of the 2021 series in Phoenix in two weeks.
The race this coming weekend in Martinsville, Virginia offers the last chance for any of the other seven drivers in the race to win and lock in the title race. If Larson wins again – or a non-playoff driver wins – the last three places will be reduced to points.
In the Kansas race on Sunday, all three Penske drivers – Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – sat on the outside of the cutoff line for points.
Blaney is one point behind fourth-placed Kyle Busch, Keselowski is six behind Busch and Logano is 26 points behind.
“It’s as if there were four of us fighting for a place,” said Keselowski of the four drivers who were sitting below the cutoff line. Larson is imprisoned and Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin both have more than 30 point cushions over the other.
“We all just fight hard. I’m stunned that I didn’t get more out, ”said Keselowski, who finished 17th on Sunday. “I had a damn good opportunity to score lots of points and make the next week easy. We’re still not in a bad position, but not as good as we could be.
“Winning would of course get in our way, but as you saw this week, as crazy as these races get, I’m not sure you don’t have to.”
Blaney started the race on Sunday in the best position of the Penske teams – second point among the playoff drivers and 17 before the cutoff line.
He had a fast Ford No. 12, but had to pit in the green on the first stage because of a flat tire. He recovered to finish in the top 10 but was knocked out of the race on lap 224 of 267 after a collision with Austin Dillon.
“We didn’t have a great day, but we fought well and got back into the top 10, but we were just wiped out when we had a lot of space,” he said. “That’s shit. It’s a shame.”
Logano got the best Penske result on Sunday – ninth – but his 30th place last weekend in Texas due to an engine failure had already put him a long way behind.
“Off to Martinsville. Another shot to do it, ”said Logano. “It’s crazy to see this thing. They’re trying to give it away, it seems. I’ve never seen so many problems on this lap.
“Yes, it seems survival has been key so far this round.”