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NASCAR Chase playoffs full of intrigue heading into Kansas Speedway

Drama heightens leading into the middle race of the second playoff round.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When Kevin Harvick's engine fell silent during Sunday's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the former series champion found himself in a very familiar position: He almost certainly would require a victory in one of the subsequent two playoff races to avoid an early-round elimination in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Shortly after Harvick coasted the No. 4 car to pit road, Joey Logano seemingly joined him on the list of title contenders facing a precarious playoff future when a tire failure sent him bouncing off the Turn 2 wall. Harvick and Logano would finish 38th and 36th, respectively, results that should have signified a level of increasing desperation entering the final two races of the Chase's second round.

But as they prepare for Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, neither is mired in an insurmountable points hole, the kind that would require a victory either this weekend or next at Talladega Superspeedway. Each was given a reprieve because of a series of incidents negating their own troubles.

On a restart with 76 laps remaining, Martin Truex Jr. inadvertently triggered a wreck that sidelined Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott. Fifty laps later, Denny Hamlin's engine erupted into a plume of smoke, ending his day.

And just like that, the clear demarcation that had Harvick and Logano uneasy about their ability to stay in the Chase had dissipated.

"We're going to quite possibly our best racetrack," said Logano, who's won the past two fall Kansas races. "I think Charlotte and Kansas are our two best race tracks.

"I'm looking forward to getting to Kansas and seeing what we've got and seeing if we can breakthrough to get a win. And if not, a solid points day. We can manage with what we've got, but we can't afford to make any mistakes with Talladega coming up."

Conversely, for Hamlin, who had been second when his engine blew, what should have been a comfortable points cushion disappeared. Instead of holding a 31-point advantage over the final transfer spot -- as second-place finisher Matt Kenseth currently does -- Hamlin is a scant three points ahead of Elliott, the first driver below the cutline.

"Unlucky, but in this format you can still win and advance and some other guys had some tough days," Hamlin said. "We're still not out of it by any means."

None of the 12 playoff drivers should be earmarked for certain elimination. That is unmistakable.

Those who stumbled at Charlotte still, to some degree, control their own Chase destiny thanks to what has become an annual occurrence where the quarterfinal round devolves into a chaotic state. That sets up intriguing Kansas and Talladega races, both of which are equally capable of discombobulating the standings.

"Each race you're going to have a handful that are going to have issues," Hamlin said. "Kansas I don't think will be any different and Talladega we know will be crazy. That's why we're not out of it by any means, we just have a little hole we have to dig out of."