Kyle Larson secures his first career Final 4 Playoff spot with convincing win at Texas

FORT WORTH, TEXAS - OCTOBER 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 17, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The reigning NASCAR king of the 1.5-mile speedways staged an absolute master class Sunday. Kyle Larson led a race high 256 laps of the 334 laps in route victory at Texas Motor Speedway.

Larson survived seven restarts, including a two-lap shootout at the end, in a chaotic final stage that saw several of the Playoff contenders fall by the wayside.

It was Larson’s series leading eighth win of 2021 and comes after he won the All-Star Race at the same track in June.

“Yeah, this is unreal,” Larson said. “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.”

The races 11th and final caution was setup when Chris Buescher was spun by Chase Briscoe who had just bounced off the wall exiting Turn 2 on lap 329. Playoff driver Denny Hamlin, who had spun on lap 315 after contact with Ryan Blaney, another Playoff driver, left Hamlin with a flat tire, was also damaged.

On the final restart Larson was able to rocket to the lead from the inside and go on to win by .459 of second over his Hendrick teammate William Byron.

“I just got good pushes from behind me, really,” Larson said. “I tried to stay patient on the throttle to keep them to my back bumper. And thankfully, I was able to just barely clear them every time into (Turn) 1 and not have to fight off of (Turn) 2. So thanks to William (Byron) and Tyler (Reddick) and Brad Keselowski, anybody who was ever behind me (laughs), especially Brad there in that last restart.”

Christopher Bell, Playoff driver Keselowski and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

While Larson was cruising up front much of the day, a couple of Playoff drivers ended their day in the garage. Joey Logano had an engine expire in his Ford on lap 298; and Martin Truex Jr. made contact with Daniel Suarez on lap 321 sending his Toyota hard into the outside wall between Turns 3 and 4.

In all there were seven cautions in the final stage including a frightening crash involving Kyle Busch who got into Buescher on lap 306 sending Buescher spinning and caused Anthony Alferdo to lose control and hit the outside wall near turn 2. His car came to rest at the bottom of the turn and caught fire forcing NASCAR to throw a red flag that lasted just over 11 minutes. Alfredo was able to climb from the wreckage and was unhurt.

The only caution for a crash in Stage 1 came on lap 32 and involved a total of 15 cars: a record for a Texas race. The accident happened just after a restart for a competition caution and was triggered when Bubba Wallace got loose coming out of Turn 2 and was spun by Alex Bowman. Bowman was among the cars swept up and one of eight that were done for the day.

Kyle Busch would win Stage 1 thanks to a smart pit call during the ensuing caution that had him pit to top off fuel. Those in front of him were forced to stop for fuel during the final laps of the Stage, but Busch was able to save enough fuel to score the 10 stage points.

Larson was in control before the end of Stage 2 and secured those points by winning the Stage.

Ryan Blaney was sixth; Chase Elliott who was forced to start at the rear of the field after his car twice failed pre-race inspection was seventh. Busch overcame a pit road speeding penalty in Stage 2 to finish eighth. Tyler Reddick and Surez completed the top 10.

Hamlin finished 11th; Truex was scored with a DNF in 25th and Logano also with a DNF in 30th.

With the win Larson has now secured his spot in the Final 4 for the first time in his career.

Blaney is second in the standings followed by Hamlin, and Busch who is 8 points above the cutline; Elliott, Keselowski, Truex and Logano make up the bottom four.

NASCAR heads to the second race of the Round of 8, another mile and a half track, this on at Kansas Speedway next Sunday. That will be followed by the final race in the Round of 8 which will set the field for the Cup series finale in Phoenix.

“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,” Larson said. “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.”

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – OCTOBER 17: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on October 17, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500

Texas Motor Speedway

Fort Worth, Texas

Sunday, October 17, 2021

  1. (1)  Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 334.
  2. (12)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 334.
  3. (11)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 334.
  4. (7)  Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 334.
  5. (24)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 334.
  6. (4)  Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 334.
  7. (6)  Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 334.
  8. (3)  Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 334.
  9. (9)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 334.
  10. (19)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 334.
  11. (2)  Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 334.
  12. (21)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 334.
  13. (13)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 334.
  14. (15)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 334.
  15. (26)  Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 334.
  16. (17)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 332.
  17. (16)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 332.
  18. (22)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 331.
  19. (20)  Cole Custer, Ford, 330.
  20. (29)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 329.
  21. (10)  Chris Buescher, Ford, Accident, 327.
  22. (35)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 324.
  23. (38)  David Starr(i), Ford, 323.
  24. (36)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 321.
  25. (8)  Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, Accident, 320.
  26. (33)  Josh Bilicki(i), Ford, 319.
  27. (39)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 317.
  28. (25)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 311.
  29. (28)  Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, Accident, 299.
  30. (5)  Joey Logano (P), Ford, Engine, 298.
  31. (30)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Suspension, 59.
  32. (18)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Accident, 38.
  33. (14)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Accident, 36.
  34. (27)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 31.
  35. (31)  Ryan Newman, Ford, Accident, 31.
  36. (23)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
  37. (32)  Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
  38. (34)  Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
  39. (37)  Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 29.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  134.859 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 42 Mins, 54 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .459 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  11 for 55 laps.

Lead Changes:  8 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   K. Larson (P) 1-27;W. Byron 28-39;M. Truex Jr. (P) 40;W. Byron 41-82;K. Larson (P) 83-93;W. Byron 94;D. Hamlin (P) 95-96;K. Busch (P) 97-116;K. Larson (P) 117-334.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Kyle Larson (P) 3 times for 256 laps; William Byron 3 times for 55 laps; Kyle Busch (P) 1 time for 20 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 1 time for 2 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,12,5,1,24,14,11,9,8,2

Stage #2 Top Ten: 5,24,12,4,2,1,11,14,8,18