Just as he did at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL last week, Kyle Larson survived carnage at Texas Motor Speedway to secure his eighth win of the season and a spot in the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
Larson led 256 laps en route to the victory, keeping his distance from a bout of late-race cautions and restarts — seven in stage 3 alone — that plagued the waning laps. He also swept Texas for the 2021 season, having won the All-Star Race there in June.
William Byron, Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five, while Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 10. Issues throughout the race involved half of the playoff field.
“This is unreal,” Larson said to NBC Sports afterward. “I knew we had a good shot to win today, and our car was amazing. That’s probably the best 550 [-horsepower] package, intermediate car we’ve had all year […] we get to go race for a championship in a few weeks. This is crazy.
“I just got good pushes from behind me, really. 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 into [turn] 1 every time, not have to fight them off of [turn] 2. […] Awesome to win and hope we can get some more wins throughout the rest of the year.”
Larson, fresh off his triumph at the Charlotte ROVAL, rolled off on pole. Flanked by Denny Hamlin, Larson retained the lead while the No. 11 dropped like a rock early. The No. 5’s Hendrick Motorsports stablemate Elliott, though, ended up having to start at the rear but made it up into the top 20 within five circuits.
Elliott was in the top 15 by the time the competition caution flew, while Busch, who ran second for a chunk of the opening green-flag run, was tagged with a speeding penalty on pit road.
On the restart, all hell broke loose on the backstretch when Bubba Wallace‘s No. 23 snapped loose exiting turn 2. The ensuing carnage collected nearly 20 cars and sent eight behind the wall for good.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 17, 2021
The crash proved to be the largest in TMS history, collecting both JTG Daugherty Racing cars, three Rick Ware Racing machines and more. The closest it came to involving a playoff driver was Busch, who was mired in the back due to that penalty.
Busch was able to mostly weave his way through the accident, suffering only superficial damage.
In fact, maybe it helped the No. 18; Busch ended up winning stage 1 after pit stops shook up the running order.
By Kyle Busch staying out on fuel the entire stage, put a lot of cars a lap down.
Also just gained 10 crucial stage points for winning stage one.
— Tom Bowles (@NASCARBowles) October 17, 2021
The eight playoff drivers were all riding around in the top 11 spots in stage 2 … that is until Elliott was forced to pit road with right front tire issues.
His Hendrick compatriots in Larson and Byron continued out front, though, retaining the positions through a debris caution and pit stops.
They stayed that way through the end of the stage, too, but Byron made a huge run at Larson out of the final turn to come up just short of the stage 2 win.
Blaney scored top-five finishes in both segments, as did Larson and Byron.
The No. 5 stayed out front through most of the third stage, reporting a vibration with about 100 laps left but powering through it. A caution flew for a Chase Briscoe tire failure, followed by another when playoff driver Joey Logano‘s engine expired.
This is Logano's first engine failure since Pocono I, 2014. Seven years ago! #NASCAR
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) October 17, 2021
That misfortune puts Logano in a huge hole heading to Kansas.
Alfredo was hit and spun in the chaos that followed Buescher’s spin, sending him into the outside wall and sliding back down the track. Something ignited in the damage and set fuel pooling around the car and up the track ablaze, with Alfredo clambering out as crews arrived on scene.
The inferno brought out a red flag that lasted nearly 15 minutes.
Larson and Byron were once again the front row with 25 laps to go as the field raced two- and three-wide behind them, with Harvick, Blaney and Hamlin waging a three-wide battle that eventually led to contact between the latter two. Hamlin suffered a tire rub that he was able to maintain for a few laps before it let go, sending him spinning on the backstretch.
This brought out another caution just as Tyler Reddick was gaining on Larson, and another soon followed when Martin Truex Jr. came down on Suarez. The contact sent the No. 19 hard into the outside wall.
Reddick nearly went around on the subsequent restart while Byron gave chase to Larson, soon catching the No. 24 and making contact with him. Byron appeared to have a tire rub, but another stoppage came as contact between Briscoe and Buescher sent the No. 17 into the inside wall and punched in the nose of Hamlin’s No. 11.
With two laps to go on the restart, Larson jumped out to the lead while the field remained two-wide for more than a lap behind him, allowing the No. 5 to scoot away and claim the victory.
“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,” Larson said. “Really look forward to that, I love the West Coast, I love Phoenix. We’ve always been fast there, 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’s been so strong all year long. Might as well close it out now.”
Since Larson has already advanced, Blaney leaves Texas second in the standings. The No. 12 is 17 points above the cutline, while Hamlin and Kyle Busch both sit above it as well. Elliott is the first driver out, eight points back, while Keselowski sits -15, Truex -22 and Logano a distant 43 points back.
The Cup Series heads to Kansas next Sunday (Oct. 24), with the Hollywood Casino 400 set to go green around 3 p.m. ET that afternoon. Coverage will be on NBC Sports Network before returning to NBC and Peacock for the final two races of the season.
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