Chase Elliott wins, but no Cinderella story at Kansas Speedway

Kyle Larson's third-place finish on Sunday wasn't enough to help him advance into the third round of the playoffs. Amy Kontras/USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- NASCAR set up its playoff system for win-and-in dramatics. It wants the thrill of victory and agony of defeat as it eliminates four drivers after three-race rounds.

That didn't happen Sunday at Kansas Speedway. And the drivers eliminated seemed to shrug off their woes, contemplating that they just weren't good enough to advance while Chase Elliott captured the trophy.

No tears. Maybe a little frustration. But the drama of the end of the first round with three drivers tied for the last spot in the standings and a crash while going for the win wasn't in the cards for the Hollywood Casino 400.

Ryan Blaney never felt he had race-winning speed, so he didn't seem to feel he had given anything away in finishing seventh. Kyle Larson might have had close to race-winning speed, but he philosophized that at least his elimination -- he finished third -- was caused by his team's woes and not something out of its control.

Blaney, Larson, Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman were eliminated from playoff contention. Blaney challenged for the lead over the first half of the race before scrubbing the wall and fading.

Larson, who started at the rear in a backup car after crashing his primary ride in qualifying, was able to get as high as second but eventually settled for third.

"I'm actually glad that nothing stupid took us out of the playoffs this year," Larson said. "We had that battery come out at Dover a couple years ago. We blew up an engine here last year.

"Obviously I would have liked to have made it into the next round. But I'm glad it wasn't anything other than just us not performing where we needed to be that kept us out of the next round."

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch advanced. Having led 101 laps in May at Kansas, Larson was pegged as the driver most likely to pull off the win-and-in. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had not won all year and also entered the race with a 36-point deficit on the cutoff.

The race was a typical Kansas Speedway affair. Track position was key. There was just one green-flag pass for the lead on the track (the others came during pit cycles) and that was when Logano on four fresh tires passed Blaney when he took two tires.

"Even the runs where I felt like I was good, can't make up any time," Larson said. "Everybody's quick. When you're faster, somebody gets stuck."

Larson looked in the mirror when talking about being eliminated. He had won one stage all year. He had finishes of 12th, 11th and third and failed to advance out of the round. He didn't earn any stage points in the opening two races, stifling his efforts in the round.

"For the teams that start the playoffs with not many playoff points, you're already at a pretty big deficit to those guys," Larson said. "You know you have to be perfect. ... We didn't have any stage points until today -- only one stage out of the six stages.

"You can't really expect to make it to the next round without being up front all race long. So that's kind of where our round went wrong."

The driver who arguably had the best season not to advance was 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who had three wins this year and was the closest to the cutoff entering the race. He was never a factor and finished sixth.

"We just weren't as good today as we were yesterday [in practice] and I am not sure why," Keselowski said. "Everyone else seemed to find a little bit from practice and we were about the same, maybe even a little bit worse than we were in practice.

"About the end of that first stage it was pretty obvious that we needed something after I saw some things on the other cars. We needed something to step up, but it just wasn't there."

Keselowski, like Larson, was philosophical: "I am proud of what we did down the stretch of the year. We won three races and did all that. I feel like we can go win Martinsville next week, so I am excited about that. But of course, the ultimate goal is to win a championship and we won't have an opportunity to do that this year."

Blaney appeared to have the best shot as he finished third in the opening stage and second in the second stage. The contact with the wall ended most of his hopes as he finished six points behind Kurt Busch and Bowyer for the final playoff spot.

"I never thought we had winning speed," Blaney said. "I thought we were second- or third-place speed. ... I hit the fence."

The Kansas race was set up for drama as Busch and Bowyer both had problems and teetered on the brink of being eliminated, especially when Blaney was running with the leaders.

A NASCAR judgment call on Bowyer, in which it ruled a stray tire didn't go far enough into the adjacent pit box, could have made things even more dramatic for him, but even with a penalty he likely would not have been caught in the standings by Blaney.

There were no Cinderella stories. Those who entered the race on the outs ended up on the outs. Only Blaney was even remotely close -- Keselowski missed by 18 points, Larson by 28 and Bowman by 69.

"We gave it our all and raced really hard," Blaney said. "That's just the gist of it. ... I messed up and cost us a shot."

Blaney said his team deserved better.

But the NASCAR playoffs are about not making mistakes, in pivotal situations and throughout the season.

Those mistakes and a lack of speed doomed any euphoric moments.