Erik Jones shocked the NASCAR world this past weekend at Darlington by accomplishing the extremely rare feat of winning a Cup Series playoff race as a non-playoff driver. And Jones didn’t just win, he did so in impressive and convincing fashion by fending off the advances of playoff drivers Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick in the final laps of the playoff opener.
Now that Jones has proven that it’s possible for a non-playoff driver to play the role of spoiler in a playoff race, what’s to stop it from happening again this weekend at Kansas? In short: Nothing. That’s especially true when you consider that one of the drivers outside of the playoffs is 2017 Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., a two-time Kansas winner. In fact, Truex was in position to claim Sunday’s race at Darlington before mechanical woes forced him to park his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with just over 30 laps to go.
Just moments before Truex pulled off the track and into the garage, he was the race leader and appeared to be on his way to his first victory of the 2022 season. To write off Truex this weekend at Kansas – where he’s posted six consecutive top-10 finishes – would be a mistake. As would writing off non-playoff driver Bubba Wallace, who this weekend will drive 23XI Racing’s No. 45 Toyota that Kurt Busch took to Victory Lane earlier this year at Kansas. Busch, of course, is still recovering from a concussion suffered in a qualifying crash at Pocono in late July.