Playoff drivers on brink of elimination see Kansas as chance to score big finish

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kyle Larson doesn’t care that his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team lost its appeal of a penalty NASCAR gave it this week.

The 10 points his team was docked for violating the damaged vehicle policy didn’t change his mindset for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC), the second elimination race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

“Obviously, a 10-point penalty doesn’t help, but I felt like with even being 26 points back, we were gonna probably have to go into this week and get a win to make it to the next round,” Larson said Friday at Kansas Speedway. “It doesn’t really mean much to me, the 10 points.”

The only difference now is with the penalty from last week’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, Larson is 36 points below the cutoff mark. Before the penalty, he could have snuck into the Round of 8 with a strong finish if other playoff drivers faltered. But now, he’s actually in a must-win situation to advance, along with Alex Bowman, who’s 68 points outside of the top-8 drivers.

“I’m frustrated that we haven’t won yet, that’s a big thing for me,” Bowman said Friday at the track. In his first full-time season behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, he’s still looking for his first career Cup Series victory.

His best finish at Kansas was seventh in 2016 when he was filling in for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., but he earned two ARCA wins on the track in 2011 and 2012.

“(Not winning yet) definitely eats me up a little bit,” Bowman, who will start 10th on Sunday, continued. “We’ve got some work to do to make that happen. Until we do that, I’m not going to be super happy about anything.”

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Like Bowman, Larson said Kansas’ 1.5-mile track is among his favorites, so he’s actually happy to race here to save his season. In nine career starts, Larson has three top-10 finishes, including a fourth-place result this spring after starting at the back of the field.

“Drove to the front pretty easily in the race and won the second stage,” Larson recalled of May’s KC Masterpiece 400. “Passed guys like Kevin Harvick and (Kyle) Busch and (Martin) Truex (Jr.), and (Ryan) Blaney was really good that day. …

“Looking at the run we had earlier this year and the runs we’ve had in the past, I’m excited that Kansas is the place were we have to go and get a win.”

Larson will have clear the field again Sunday after he clipped the wall during Friday's practice and was forced to go to a backup car. He qualified 27th but with the change in cars will have to start the race from the back of the pack.

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