Kyle Larson’s race at Kansas Speedway – and his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title hopes – literally went up in smoke.
On Lap 66 of 267 of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino, Larson brought his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet down pit road under green after indicating over his team radio that he had engine problems.
His team poured over the engine area but could not make any inroads in diagnosing the problem. Larson returned to the track but in 37th-place and three laps down.
Nine laps later, his engine blew up in a cloud of smoke, bringing an early end to his race and potentially his title chase. He was credited with 42nd place as the race entered Stage 2.
“Well, cross our (expletive) fingers,” Larson radioed his team as he drove to the garage.
His crew chief, Chad Johnston, replied, “I don’t even know what to say.”
Larson entered the elimination race with a 29-point advantage over the final transfer spot, but it was likely not going to be enough to make the cut to advance to the Round of 8.
“Obviously, I’m going to watch (what unfolds the rest of the race, cross my fingers and pray to anything I can pray to,” Larson said after exiting his car. “I don’t think 29 points is enough. Disappointing but we had a great year.
“It sucks to have an engine failure, but it is what it is.”
When the race ended, Larson, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had all failed to advance to the Round of 8 and were eliminated from further title contention this season.
Larson has been one of the strongest contenders this season to title favorite Martin Truex Jr. In the first 31 races, Larson has won four races and collected 14 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. He’s also won three poles.
“It’s sinking in more as the seconds pass by,” Larson said. “Things happen. You look at past playoffs, (Truex) had an engine issue last year. There’s still a long ways to go. Maybe we can get lucky.”
Asked if he was stunned by the set of circumstances unfolding in Sunday's race, Larson said, "I don’t know. I guess I’m not stunned because freak things happen in every sport. I mean you look at every year in the past and a lot of times, most every time at least in the new playoff format era not always does the best team win.