CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 19: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, talks with Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Caramel Toyota, during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 19, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

On the brink of elimination, playoff driver wins Stage 1 at Kansas for much needed points

Entering Sunday's elimination race at Kansas, Kyle Busch was on the outside looking in of the playoff picture. Busch was ninth in the points, and he needed a strong showing to advance.

He's off to a good start as he won Stage 1 of the race and led for 37 of the 80 laps.

Related: Kyle Larson's championship hopes took a huge hit early in the race

Kevin Harvick finished second in Stage 1, followed by Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Jamie McMurray. Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth all earned points in Stage 1.

Drivers facing elimination also caught a break when Kyle Larson had engine troubles on Lap 76. Larson was third in the points and was close to being a lock to advance to the Round of 8, but the engine troubles could easily knock him out of the playoffs.

Larson told NBC Sports Network after he went to the garage that he didn't think his advantage in points would be enough to send him into the next round.

"I felt it drop a cylinder or something," Larson said. "It's a disappointing way to finish our race and probably our season, but we'll be alright.

"I'll cross my fingers and pray to anything I can pray to, but I don't think 29 points is enough. It sucks to have an engine failure, but it is what it is. ... Disappointing, but still a long race left to go, so maybe we can get lucky."

Larson's absence opens the door for a driver on the brink of elimination. Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth all have new life during the last two thirds of the race.

(h/t NBC Sports)