Kyle Larson Scores Texas-Sized Victory, Advances into Championship 4

Kyle Larson conquered the field in Sunday's Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson conquered the field in Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

A push towards the front and a bit of dominance propelled Kyle Larson to his eighth NASCAR Cup Series win of 2021 at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday.

Larson led a race-high 256 of 334 laps to punch his ticket into the Championship 4 in three weeks.

“This is unreal. I knew we had a good shot to win today, and our car was amazing,” said Larson.

“That’s probably the best 550 package, intermediate car, we’ve had all year. Thanks to everybody on this No. 5 team,, Rick Hendrick – this is so cool. We get to go race for a championship in a few weeks. This is crazy.”

His Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron finished second with Christopher Bell rounding out the top-three.

Byron, who failed to advance into the Round of 8 last Sunday, said lane control and the push was the biggest contributor that kept him out of victory lane.

Aside from Larson, it's safe to say William Byron was quite competitive. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Aside from Larson, it’s safe to say William Byron was quite competitive. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“I think here at Texas, the shortest lane kind of wins because of the way the track kind of separates into Turn 1,” said Byron. “Our Axalta Chevy was fast all day. We just never quite got control. I think he (Kyle Larson) was definitely better than us in that first Stage. And then I was right there with him the rest of the time and it was just clean air, basically. But congrats to those guys. Kyle really deserves it.”

Like Byron, Bell’s title hopes were over at Charlotte. Unlike his luck last round, Bell rallied back from a two-lap deficit to score his seventh top-five this season.

“Adam (Stevens, crew chief) did a great job making the right calls – putting tires on at the end really helped us. We kept gaining on this Rheem Camry every pit stop,” said Bell.

“I felt like we were pretty strong at the beginning of the race and then we kind of lost the handle in the middle stages and fell back and lost some track position. Fortunate to come home third for sure. I’m really happy for this 20 group. I think we have some strong races coming up.”

The next highest-finishing playoff driver was Brad Keselowski, who finished fourth. Unlike Byron’s comments, Keselowski’s bid was dashed because of the series of cautions.

“We didn’t need all those yellows. We had the car balanced really well with the Discount Tire Ford on the long runs,” said Keselowski. “We had long run speed but (Larson) and (Byron) were just blistering fast on the restart and drove away from me. I just wanted some laps to let their stuff wear down.”

While Larson and Keselowski had superb afternoons, the same can’t be said for Martin Truex, Jr, and Joey Logano. They failed to finish the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500.

Denny Hamlin also had a tough afternoon late in the going. But due to attrition and excellent repair work from his Joe Gibbs Racing crew, he salvaged a top-15 result.

Round of 8 Standings: Larson (Advanced), Blaney (+17), Hamlin (+9), Ky. Busch (+8) // Elliott (-8), Keselowski (-15), Truex (-22), and Logano (-43)

Stage 1

Main title fighters Larson and Hamlin led the field to green. However, Kyle Busch’s push on Larson gave the latter the early advantage. Hamlin would struggle a bit as he dropped back to sixth when the competition caution came out on Lap 25.

Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman started at the rear of the field but didn’t waste time gaining spots. Among the Hendrick duo, Elliott made it up to 13th.

During pit stops, Logano went from second to sixth after being held up by Justin Haley. Byron became the race leader after the caution period and led the field back to green.

Seconds later, the big one struck on Lap 31 that collected 16 cars – including Bowman, Haley, Ryan Preece, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Cody Ware, Josh Bilicki, and Joey Gase.

The fiasco took place on the backstretch when Wallace went three-wide before losing control and caused an accordion effect.

Wallace took full blame for the chaos, saying he was embarrassed about it.

“I’m trying to get clean air and went to the middle. I backed out but was already around,” said Wallace. “I let everyone down and apologize to (the competitors).”

Kyle Busch provided a familiar scenery at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Busch provided a familiar scenery at Texas. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Busch was the only playoff driver involved in the melee, sustaining minimal damage on the left rear. He brought his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota to pit road for further evaluation.

When the madness ended, Wallace, Bowman, Preece, Haley, Ware, Gase, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., all retired from the race.

Late into Stage 1, Larson would rally back to first after passing Byron entering Turn 3. Then on Lap 95, Larson pitted for fuel which Byron followed suit a lap later. As the competitors pitted, Kyle Busch took the lead after staying out for 66 laps and ended up winning the opening stage.

Stage 1 Results: Ky. Busch, Blaney, Larson, Ku. Busch, Byron, Briscoe, Hamlin, Elliott, Reddick, and Keselowski

Stage 2

Like the start of the race, the two Kyles were the center of attention with Busch taking control. The NFL moniker “Not For Long” unfolded a few laps later as Larson regained P1 with help from Byron.

Elliott on the other hand, reported of having a vibration and pitted on Lap 154. After 13.7-second pit stop, Elliott went about his afternoon but lost a lap in the progress. The diagnosis was a right front tire going flat which had a bad blister when shown on the NBC telecast.

Elliott’s tire issues continued throughout the stage and unable to score any valuable stage points.

Seven laps later, the pit window opened with Logano being the first goer to pit road. However, a caution for a piece of carbon fiber on Lap 166 slowed the competition down. Neither Elliott nor Logano got the free pass. Instead, it was Daniel Suarez who became the benefactor.

The rest of the field pitted with Larson’s “Jose Cuervo” approach putting him ahead of Busch for the restart. Larson and Byron would pull away from the rest of the field while Kyle Busch regressed down the running order.

Busch would hang onto the top-10 as Larson went on to score the Stage 2 victory. But not by a strong margin as Byron missed out on a playoff point by 0.047 seconds.

Stage 2 Results: Larson, Byron, Blaney, Harvick, Keselowski, Ku. Busch, Hamlin, Briscoe, Reddick, and Ky. Busch

Stage 3

Larson’s push from Ryan Blaney propelled him to the front to start off the final stage. A lap later, Blaney’s car snapped loose in Turn 3 but saved it without serious ramifications.

Further back, Kurt Busch made an unscheduled stop and went for left side tires after his left rear tire went down.

Meanwhile, Kevin Harvick showed his muscle by joining the Larson-Byron Sweepstakes. Harvick wouldn’t be alone as the Penske duo of Keselowski and Blaney wanted a piece of the action. Byron prevailed, leaving the other three duking it out on their own for third. Keselowski ended up winning that exchange as Harvick dropped to fifth.

Byron’s time in second became scary as the No. 24 crew monitored a possible vibration. As the laps continued, Byron would still hang onto second.

Then on Lap 275, Chase Briscoe’s growing pains continued when his left rear tire hurt ruined his afternoon. Briscoe was battling Hamlin for seventh until the former brushed the Turn 4 wall. Entering the backstretch, Briscoe’s tire went down and brought out the caution.

The battle wasn’t appreciated by Hamlin.

“That’s what he gets for being a (expletive) idiot,” Hamlin exclaimed over the radio. “Like who the (expletive) are you?”

It’s the second time this season they’ve had an episode. That being the Verizon 200 at Indianapolis, a race won that could’ve come down to them. Instead, it resulted in an AJ Allmendinger triumph.

The race resumed with 54 to go with Keselowski being the latest man to push Larson ahead. A wild Tyler Reddick thrusted himself to the top-three and battled Byron furiously for second.

Like Hamlin and Briscoe, these two also have had issues amongst each other. That being last Sunday at the ROVAL, but cooler heads prevail with Byron hanging onto second. Byron would then catch Larson, creating a battle for the lead. But like the entire day, Larson held onto the top spot.

Cautions Breed Cautions

Logano’s engine expired on Lap 299 as a plum of smoke came out at the exit of Turn 1, ending his afternoon.

“I thought it was starting to maybe give up a little bit of power in that run. We were just getting passed. Not really though. It just kind of let go. It is one of those days when nothing went right,” said Logano.

The 2018 Cup champion will now have to deliver big at Kansas, a track he’s won three times.

Meanwhile, the race resumed once more with 30 to go. That wouldn’t last as a bump from Kyle Busch caused Chris Buescher to lose control in Turn 1. Buescher kept it from going around, but the same couldn’t be said for Anthony Alfredo, who got turned by Briscoe.

The contact sent him into the Turn 1 wall. Alfredo’s car would light up on fire, but would get out of the car unharmed but also voiced his ire for Briscoe.

“Yeah, I appreciate the 14 lifting for that wreck! Excellent job,” said Alfredo over the radio.

The accident brought out the 15th red flag of 2021 and the ninth overall for Cup at Texas Motor Speedway.

With 25 laps remaining, the race resumed. Moments later, Hamlin had a left rear tire rub after being in a three-wide battle with Blaney and Harvick. The former being the cause of Hamlin’s tire rub which led to him sliding in Turn 2 with 20 to go.

Fortunately for Hamlin, the wall tap didn’t destroy his No. 11 Craftsman Toyota and brought it to pit road. Hamlin restarted at the rear of the field for pitting when it was closed.

Cautions continued to breed when Suarez clipped Truex, shooting him across the wall with violent force. Truex’s day was over and like Logano, will enter Kansas in a must-win situation.

“We touched for sure,” said Truex. “It’s really fast there and 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.”

Race to the Finish

After the cleanup, it came down to the final nine laps with Larson continuing his dominance. Reddick and Byron battled hard for second and once more tangled. Both would be saved after the caution came out in Turn 2.

Buescher and Briscoe got sideways which led to Hamlin running into back of Buescher, careening him into the wall. The contact destroyed the front end of Hamlin’s Camry but brought his car home in 11th.

Despite a late race crash, Denny Hamlin's crew delivered timely repairs which landed them an 11th place finish. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Despite a late race crash, Denny Hamlin’s crew delivered timely repairs which landed them an 11th place finish. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“I thought we were kind of a third-to-fourth place car on the long run, seventh-to-eighth on the short run. Just weren’t ourselves today in that case and then obviously getting in two wrecks at the end didn’t help,” said Hamlin.

“The fact that there was a lot of attrition and the fact that the team did a phenomenal job fixing the car got us back up to P-11.”

Two laps were all left when the race restarted, and it was the same song and dance. “Yung Money” reigned supreme and is two wins a way from equaling Jimmie Johnson’s mark of 10 wins 14 years ago.

Larson now has 14 career Cup wins, equaling him with Dick Hutcherson and LeeRoy Yarbrough for 55th on the all-time win list.

Now with one confirmed Championship 4 competitor, Larson’s focus will remain intact as it’s been the case all season.

Larson looks forward to the championship clash at Phoenix. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Larson looks forward to the championship clash at Phoenix. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“I don’t think we’re going to lose focus on Kansas or Martinsville, but I definitely think we can shift a little bit more to our Phoenix car and I really look forward to that,” said Larson.

“I love the West Coast. I love Phoenix. We’ve always been fast there. At least I was really fast earlier this year in the No. 5 and made a lot of mistakes. But I think we should have a good shot. Our team has been so strong all year long and we might as well close it all out.”

The next stop for the Cup Series will be at Kansas Speedway. Live coverage begins next Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Logano is the defending race winner as his triumph advanced him into the Championship 4 last year.

Top 10 Results: Larson, Byron, Bell, Keselowski, Harvick, Blaney, Elliott, Ky. Busch, Reddick, and Suarez'
Luis Torres

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA (occasionally F1 and IMSA stuff as well). Whether it's the Daytona 500 or an ARCA Menards Series West race at Evergreen Speedway, content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going.

I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content.

Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with GIFs about my Seattle Seahawks because they make things a roller coaster experience.

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