Martin Truex, Jr. won the Hollywood Casino 400 Sunday, his third win in the playoffs, but that fact is getting lost in some of the bigger storylines coming out of Kansas.
NASCAR fans were shocked at an early race exit by Kyle Larson. It was lap 79 when Larson's engine blew up, ending his day and essentially ending his chances of advancing. Larson was 3rd in the standings coming into the race and a favorite to perhaps win it all. He ended the race finishing 39th and dropping one spot below the cutoff.
"It's painful," Larson said quietly to reporters waiting outside his hauler and reported by NASCAR.com. "It sucks. Disappointing way to finish our race and our season, but we'll be all right."
Matt Kenseth was another who had an early exit, though not due to car issues. NASCAR parked the #20 car for using seven pit crew members to repair damage done in the multi-car wreck on lap 197. A new rule instituted this year states only six crew members are allowed to be over the wall in that 5 minute repair window.
"Honestly, I've never heard of disqualifying somebody from the race when you've got one too many guys over the wall. I don't know what happened," Kenseth told ESPN.com. "I don't have a lot of good things to say at the moment. ... It's [a] pretty disappointing way to end. We can't even go back on the racetrack because of an error we made."
Kenseth isn't returning to Joe Gibbs Racing next year, so leaving on this kind of note will leave a bad taste for quite a while.
Ryan Blaney had a huge lift starting the day with no room for error. He came in 7th in the standings and was starting last in the field - 40th position - due to his post-qualifying time being disallowed. Blaney caught some good breaks and avoided the wrecks that took out other cars, finishing 3rd for the day.
Jimmie Johnson is going for his 8th Cup title and needed every bit of good luck and skill to avoid being eliminated. Johnson entered Kansas one spot above the cutoff. He spun out two different times with minimal damage, and somehow avoided the massive wreck on lap 197.
"You have to imagine [my team's] optimism was pretty low, like mine, and then we missed that wreck on the back straightaway and found some new life and had a new agenda on where to finish on the track," Johnson said. "We kept ourselves alive."
And even though he was not the underdog by any stretch, you couldn't help but cheer for Martin Truex, Jr. and Furniture Row Racing. The win gives him seven on the season and places him firmly in control in the standings. But the more important reason is that Truex, Jr. was driving in memory of one of his crew, 55-year-old Jim Watson. Waton suffered a heart attack and died Saturday night at a Kansas City hospital.
"We were racing with heavy hearts and just wanted to do good for him and know he'd love to be celebrating here with us today," Truex, Jr. told NBC.com.
So the field of 8 is set. Here are the standings heading into next week's race in Martinsville:
1. Martin Truex Jr., 4,069 points
2. Kyle Busch, 4,042 points
3. Brad Keselowski, 4,026 points
4. Kevin Harvick, 4,017 points
5. Jimmie Johnson, 4,017 points
6. Denny Hamlin, 4,014 points
7. Ryan Blaney, 4,009 points
8. Chase Elliott, 4,006 points