BRISTOL, Tenn. – Although Kyle Larson did not leave with another sword in his arsenal, he earned a series tying 11th top five finish at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
Despite the final race of the Round of 16 taking place at the 0.533-mile concrete beast in Tennessee, it seemed a lot like a short track version of Talladega Superspeedway.
Larson found himself biding his time and working to position his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro in the best spots around Bristol, avoiding as much mayhem as possible.
Placing fifth in Stage 1 and ninth in Stage 2, Larson’s car hooked up efficiently at various points in Stage 3.
On Lap 357, the defending Bristol Night Race winner and NASCAR Cup Series champion took the lead from Christopher Bell.
In this case, Larson held the lead for 31 laps before Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion and two-time Bristol Night Race winner, scooted past him on Lap 388.
However, Larson briefly regained the lead on Lap 436, waging in a competitive battle with Bell before falling back to second on Lap 439.
From there, Larson did his best to salvage the best possible finish. At times, he looked like he was closing back into the picture for his third win of the season.
Late race contact with Bell while battling for a top five spot resulted in Larson making some contact with the wall. Still, Larson tallied a series tying 11th top five result, a respectable result to close out the Round of 16.
“Our pit crew was amazing all night. We just had a little hiccup there on the last stop and we lost a few spots,” Larson said in a post-race media scrum. “It was just impossible to pass all night in a 50 lap run. I knew it was going to be difficult but was gonna try hard.”
Despite the late race scrapes with Bell and the wall, Larson looked at the positives in a race that saw some formidable Playoff contenders like Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick eliminated from championship contention.
“We lost the track position that we worked hard so to get all night. It was so hard to pass and it just didn’t work out,” he recalled. “Overall, I’m super happy with my pit crew and our race car tonight. We were definitely one of the strongest cars so I’m happy about that. Just came up a little short.”
Clinching a Round of 12 spot prior to the finish of the Bristol Night Race, Larson will be reseeded in the fourth position, 21 points behind Chase Elliott, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
The Round of 12 features Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. While Larson won the Playoff races at Texas and Charlotte ROVAL last year, he had a colorful adjective for the next three races.
“It’s a crappy bunch of tracks in the round,” he said in candid fashion. “Hopefully, we’ll catch some breaks, get some luck at Talladega and come away with some decent points.”
For now, Larson prepares for next Sunday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA and PRN) as he looks to defend his Lone Star State victory for a spot in the Round of 8.