Racer.com's Kelly Crandall minces no words when she looks back on Kyle Larson's heartbreaking elimination at Kansas. With social media blowing up about the NASCAR playoff format and sympathy for Larson after seeing his season literally go up in smoke, Crandall had one thought: "Tough luck, kid."
Kyle Larson was in great shape entering the race in Kansas. Sitting comfortably in third place in the playoff standings, he only needed 34 points to clinch a spot in the next round.
Then, a disaster struck. In the first stage of the race, before he had a chance to get any points, his car indicated low oil pressure and went into limp mode. The engineers tried to diagnose the problem and sent him out to try to at least make it to the end of stage one, but the engine wouldn't cooperate.
Until then, Larson had never had a DNF due to engine issues in his career. He lost the chance to compete for the championship due to one of the most frustrating endings to a season possible.
Crandall's rationale is that championships should not be easy and that, at this stage, it should be (nearly) win or go home. It is hard to argue. Hoisting a trophy should not be easy. A driver should have to go out and beat his competition week in and week out. That's sports.
However, it is still hard not to feel bad for Larson. NASCAR didn't used to be like other sports. Motorsports in general are traditionally about consistency and top place finishes over the course of a series. NASCAR changed the game when they first introduced playoffs. The old system would still see Kyle Larson, with his four wins, as a top driver entering the final stretch of the season despite a mechanical failure, and NASCAR fans are nothing if not traditionalists.
But, the beat goes on. With the playoffs and the new stage format, dropping out of a race early is more damning than ever. And whether you feel bad for him or not. That is the reality for Kyle Larson.
Related: Kyle Larson's championship hopes took a huge hit early in the race