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Bad luck strikes Truex, Wallace as race through NASCAR postseason continues in Kansas

NASCAR Cup Series driver Christopher Bell leads the pack at the start of Sunday afternoon’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Kansas Speedway can giveth … or taketh away.

Many of the 16 playoff drivers in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood 400 have a sweet and sour relationship with this Midwest venue.

Martin Truex Jr. swept both races here in 2017. Bubba Wallace won last year’s fall race. But of the four drivers below the cutline headed into next weekend’s elimination race at Bristol, those two suffered the worst luck Sunday.

It started with Truex, this year’s regular season champion. He barely had time to break a sweat before a flat right rear tire on the third lap sent him crashing into the wall and out of the race with a dead-last 36th place finish.

“It’s just really unfortunate and very unlucky,” Truex said. “We took off really tight and we knew something was up and then we blew a right rear (tire).

“I’m not really sure what happened. Obviously it blew in the worst place possible. I hate it for my guys. We had an awesome race car and were going to have a really good day. I’m just nor sure what we need to do to get some luck right now.”

With the laps-old race still just getting started around him, Truex was uncertain where he would stand.

“We’ll just find out when the day’s over. There’s not a thing we can do about it right now,” he said.

The picture came into focus later Sunday evening. Truex, the 2017 NASCAR Cup champion, trails Kevin Harvick by seven points for the final spot in the Round of 12.

Wallace, meanwhile, looked prime to defend his 2022 fall race victory. He finished second in the first stage of Sunday’s race, and all was going great ... until it wasn’t.

A flat right rear tire contributed to a broken toe link on his No. 23 Toyota. His pit crew was eventually able to get Wallace back on the track, but there was no chance to make up the five laps he lost. Wallace finished 32nd and sits 19 points out of playoff contention.

“There’s nothing to be mad about,” he said. “What are you going to be mad about? Bad luck? You’d be barking up the wrong tree.

“It’s a fast car. They knew we were here. But what are you going to do? I’m (ticked) at myself I wasn’t closer to the fence. Maybe I would’ve gotten by with less damage. You’re never going to blow a tire when you’re running 20th. You’re gonna get it when you’re really fast and lights-out against the competition.”

While Wallace spoke to the media, he watched teammate Tyler Reddick celebrate his season-extending overtime victory with a long burnout at the start-finish line.

Wallace will celebrate his teammate’s victory, but the focus now shifts to figuring out a way to keep his championship hopes alive next week.

“It’s not a full ‘Hail Mary.’ With the way we run there, we’re ok. And we have to be better than OK,” Wallace said. “We just have to dig deep, grind. You can’t hang your head on today. If you’re trying run away from bad luck, you’re going to be running your whole life. It is what it is, and we’ll move on and go get them at Bristol.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-22) and Michael McDowell (-40) round out the bottom of the playoff standings.

Wallace will take to the track next weekend with the full support of 23XI Racing teammate Reddick, as well as team owner and competitor Denny Hamlin.

“We literally treat it like it is one car all week long,” said Billy Scott, Reddick’s crew chief. “It is treated as the same car all week, until we get to the race track. And we still are in close communication. We’re going to be showing them support. We’re going to be standing behind them, pumping them up and reminding them they can do this.”