Kyle Larson became the first driver to secure his spot in the NASCAR Cup Series championship race next month after a dominating win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was smooth and steady all afternoon with 256 laps led (of 334) and grabbing the second stage win. Larson started from the pole and looked untouchable in the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500.
The win qualifies Larson for the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway early next month. It will be the first time Larson has competed for the title.
“This is unreal,” said Larson. “I knew we had a good shot to win today, and our car was amazing. That’s probably the best 550 package, intermediate car, we’ve had all year. So, thanks to everybody on this No. 5 team, HendrickCars.com, Rick Hendrick; this is so cool.
“We had a lot of people from HendrickCars here. We get to go race for a championship in a few weeks. This is crazy.”
In winning for the eighth time this season, Larson sweeps the events held at Texas after claiming the $1 million prize in June to win the All-Star Race. He’s won three of the seven playoff races.
William Byron finished second to give team owner Rick Hendrick a sweep of the top two spots. Byron led 55 laps.
Christopher Bell finished third, Brad Keselowski finished fourth, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. Ryan Blaney finished sixth, and Chase Elliott finished seventh.
D O M I N A T I O N @KyleLarsonRacin delivers a clutch performance today at @TXMotorSpeedway! #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/iLQRzYGCDs
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 17, 2021
Kyle Busch finished eighth and won the first stage. Busch was put in position for the stage win after topping off for fuel because of being involved in an accident. Busch suffered minor left-rear fender damage on lap 31 because he was running deep in the pack due to a speeding penalty. A spin by Darrell Wallace Jr. collected 12 drivers and sent Busch to pit road for repairs and then additional fuel.
Tyler Reddick was ninth, and Daniel Suarez completed the top 10. Denny Hamlin incredibly finished 11th despite two late-race incidents.
What had been a relatively uneventful day turned chaotic for playoff drivers in the final 35 laps. During that stretch, there were five cautions, including a red flag, when Anthony Alfredo’s car caught on fire after he crashed in Turn 2.
The drama started with Joey Logano, who was the worst finishing playoff driver due to a blown engine on lap 299. Logano finished 30th and fell to last on the playoff grid.
Hamlin spun on lap 314 from a flat tire due to contact with Ryan Blaney. Then Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. crashed out of the race on lap 320. Truex was tagged in the left rear by Suarez and sent for a hard hit into the Turn 4 wall. Truex finished 25th.
“I was definitely running tight trying to get all we could, and maybe I squeezed him [Suarez], maybe he came up, I’m not sure,” said Truex. “I don’t even know if we touched. I got loose, and when I gathered it up … It’s really fast right there, and yeah, hit the splitter and went straight to the fence. Tough spot to have contact like that. I don’t know. It is what it is.”
The SAFER Barrier showing it’s worth x 1,000. Huge hit for MTJ#AutotraderEchoPark500 | #NASCARPlayoffs https://t.co/JLPNpwgxaW
— Texas Motor Speedway (@TXMotorSpeedway) October 17, 2021
Hamlin also bashed the nose of his car in when collected in an accident with Chase Briscoe and Chris Buescher on lap 328.
The race restarted for the final time with two laps to go. Larson restarted on the bottom and was shoved by Reddick clear of Byron going into Turn 1. Larson set sail from there to the checkered flag without a challenge from behind.
There were eight lead changes among five drivers and 11 caution flags at Texas.