Kyle Larson’s domination of the NASCAR Cup Series continued on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
After winning the All-Star Race at the same track in June, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet continued his “dream season” with his eighth win and earned his first appearance in the Championship 4.
Larson led 256 of 334 laps in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 en route to his 14th-career Cup victory.
“Great cars, great pit stops, perfect execution,” Larson said after taking the checkered flag by 0.459-seconds over teammate William Byron.
“I just got good pushes from behind me, really," Larson added. "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. So, it was just awesome to win and hope we can get some more wins throughout the rest of the year.”
Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 10.
Larson led the first 27 laps into the competition caution. After the race returned to green, Bubba Wallace lost control of his car coming out of Turn 2, causing a chain reaction that collected 11 cars on the backstretch. Eight drivers were eliminated, including Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Justin Haley, Cody Ware, Joey Gase and Wallace.
Kyle Busch recovered from a speeding penalty during the competition caution on Lap 27 to win Stage 1, with Blaney, Larson, Kurt Busch and Byron in tow.
Busch restarted the second stage with the lead on Lap 113—but Larson regained the point four laps later. Elliott, who lined up fifth for the second segment, was forced to pit with a vibration 40 laps later. He had recovered to 16th on Lap 166 by the time NASCAR called the fourth caution for a piece of debris on the backstretch.
Larson remained in the lead to win Stage 2. His combined 1,187 laps led at 1.5-mile intermediate speedways set a single-season record for most circuits turned at the point on those tracks.
A rash of cautions slowed the progress of the contest—and squelched the hopes of Round of 8 contenders Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. On Lap 299, Logano parked the No. 22 Team Penske Ford with an engine failure for the first time since the first Pocono Raceway race in 2014. He was running12th and sitting 23 points below the cutline before coming to the garage.
“I thought it was starting to maybe give up a little bit of power in that run,” Logano said. “We were just getting passed. Not really though. It just kind of let go. It is one of those days when nothing went right. The strategy didn’t go the way we wanted it to early in the race. Cautions didn’t fall the way we hoped they would and every time we started fighting our way back something happened and we ended up like this.
“Now we know what we have to do these next two weeks. We better go find a way to win.”
The only red-flag period of the race occurred after Kyle Busch tagged Chris Buescher on Lap 306. Anthony Alfredo, who checked up to avoid the accident, spun, hit the wall then climbed from his car after it burst into flames.
After an 11-minute clean-up, the race returned to green on Lap 310—but not for long. Hamlin received a tire rub after contact with Ryan Blaney when the drivers rode three-wide while battling for fifth. Hamlin spun out of Turn 2 on Lap 314 to ignite the ninth caution. Due to pitting early, Hamlin dropped to 16th, the last car on the lead lap. He recovered to 11th.
“I think we went a different direction with our car and we weren’t just as fast as we were in previous mile-and-a-half races,” Hamlin said. “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, but 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.”
Truex was the next contender to topple. While battling with Daniel Suarez for ninth on the Lap 320 restart, Truex came down on the No. 99 Chevy entering Turn 4 and bounced off of Suarez and into the wall. He finished 25th.
Larson led the field back to green on Lap 326, but Reddick became squirrely after Harvick ran into the back of the No. 8 Chevy. Chase Briscoe tagged the wall two laps later and bounced into Buescher to trigger the 11th and final caution, setting the race up for a green-white-checker finish.
Although Keselowski had a push from Harvick on the restart, the Fords were no match for the Hendrick Chevys at the finish.
“Well, we didn’t need all those yellows,” said Keselowski, who moved from the cellar to sixth in the standings but only gained one point. “We had the car balanced really well with the Discount Tire Ford on the long runs. The last few times we have been here you get 40 or 50 or 100 lap runs at the end but today, geez, we didn’t run more than two laps at a time for the last 45 or 50 laps.
“That is just not what we needed. We needed the long runs to be able to keep them honest. We had long run speed but the 5 and 24 were just blistering fast on the restart and drove away from me. I just wanted some laps to let their stuff wear down.”
With Hamlin’s issues and Blaney’s sixth-place run, the No. 12 moved from fourth to second in the standings. But Larson’s victory—his second in as many weeks—elevated his lead to 51 points over Blaney. Not that it matters since he’s locked into the final four. Hamlin and Kyle Busch complete the top four with defending champion Elliott eight points below the cut line.
“Yeah, it’ll be cool," said Larson of not having to worry about the next two weeks. "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.
"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.”