Kyle Larson continues intermediate-track mastery at Kansas Speedway

Kyle Larson continues intermediate-track mastery at Kansas Speedway
Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing

Believe it, Kyle Larson.

For the second time this season, Larson has won three straight. On Sunday, the victory marked a season-high ninth win for Yung Money and his first at Kansas Speedway.

Larson became the first driver since Dale Earnhardt to win three-consecutive races twice in a season since 1987.

“I can’t believe it,”  Larson said after crossing the finish line. “So cool.”

After banging the wall several times over the last five laps, Chase Elliott finished second, 3.619-seconds behind his teammate. Hendrick Motorsports 279th Cup victory came 17 years to the day of the company’s tragic plane crash that claimed 10 lives en route to Martinsville Speedway.

“I want to dedicate this win to Rick and Linda (Hendrick),” said Larson, who drives the iconic No. 5 Chevy—the same number piloted by Ricky Hendrick, who lost his life in the 2004 accident. “I didn't get to ever meet Ricky or the other men and women that lost their lives that day. But I felt the importance of this race no doubt.”

Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10.

Only 15 cars remained on the lead lap in a contest that proved challenging for half of the Playoff contenders. When the race returned to green following a 15-minute delay for rain with only 15 laps complete, Ryan Blaney tagged the wall on Lap 22. While he was able to continue, on the next lap, Kyle Busch, who was running eighth, hit the wall in Turn 1—the result of a flat tire.

"It's killed now,” Busch said over the radio. It's (expletive) destroyed. It's going to need a lot of work.

Busch dropped to 39th following multiple pit stops during the caution.

Larson, who started on the pole, continued his charge on Lap 28. Five laps later, Brad Keselowski was the next driver in distress after contact with Truex in Turn 2. On Lap 37, the driver of the No. 2 Ford reported his tire had popped. He nursed the car to pit road, but dropped to 39th, one lap down. Mired in traffic, he would fall two laps before recovering for a 17th-place finish.

“That was a heck of a race," said Keselowski, who fell six points below the cut line. "We are all just fighting too hard. I am bummed I didn’t get more out of it. I had a heck of an opportunity to score a lot of points and make next week easy. We still aren’t in a bad spot but not as good as spot as we could be.”

Truex was the next contender to face trouble when his right rear tire blew on Lap 52. He dropped from sixth to 36th, before recovering nicely. 

"You never quit fighting in these things and all you can do is the best you can do," said Truex, who is currently three points out of fourth in the standings. "Just kept working on it and kept making adjustments and do what we could. We were able to get back on the lead lap there and take the wave around with the quick caution and battle from there.

By Lap 59, Larson broke the record for most laps led in a season with 2321 circuits at the point. His 2,397 laps led in 2021 is the most since NASCAR introduced a 36-race schedule in 2001.

Blaney reported a flat tire on Lap 71 while running fourth. The No. 12 Ford dropped to 26th—which eliminated Blaney from contention for stage points in the first segment. Larson scored his 17th stage win with Byron, Elliott, Kurt Busch and Hamlin. Kyle Busch recovered for ninth.

Elliott grabbed the lead from Larson on Lap 88. Thirty laps later, Kyle Busch, who ran 10th, was the first Playoff driver to pit during the green-flag run. Two laps later, Elliott pitted from the point followed by Byron and Kurt Busch. Logano, who entered the race in a must-win situation, cycled to the lead on Lap 124.

Six laps later, Kyle Busch hit the Turn 4 wall. He dropped to 32nd, three laps down. Although he gained four spots over the final 100 laps, with his ill-handling car, Busch finished six laps off of the pace.

“Loose and a lot of wind,” Busch said. “Just could not get the handle on it with entry or exit. Knew it on the get-go within the first 10 laps or so or whatever it was on that first yellow with the weather. Just really, really up on top of the right rear all day and couldn’t feel it on entry and exit. Bit me twice. The first time it was tolerable and the second time, it was just over.”

Logano pitted after 22 laps in the lead which allowed Byron to retake the lead on Lap 146. He held the position until Lap 163 and the end of the segment to win Stage 2 with Elliott, Larson, Kurt Busch and Harvick behind.

Larson gained the lead on the Lap 168 restart. Tyler Reddick darted to the high lane, took Larson and Byron three-wide then assumed the lead on Lap 173. But his advantage was short-lived when Anthony Alfredo’s engine blew on the next lap to ignite the fifth caution. Reddick and Larson remained on the track as the 12 other cars on the lead lap pitted.

When the race went green on Lap 178, Reddick dropped like a rock after two laps. Byron passed Larson for the lead eight laps later after side-drafting with the No. 5 Chevy. The No. 24 Chevy stayed in control until Ryan Newman spun sideways out of Turn 2 to draw Caution 6.

Kurt Busch led but was passed by Elliott on the Lap 222 restart. Two laps later, Dillon washed up the track in Turn 2 and clipped Blaney in the process for the seventh and final caution. Blaney, who was running ninth, was eliminated from the race. He finished 27th and dropped from second in the standings entering the race to fifth—one point below Kyle Busch.

“Yeah, we got run into from two lanes below me,” Blaney said. “I have no idea. Obviously, it hurts. Finishing 37th is not prime. We didn’t have a great day but we did a good job of fighting back and getting back into the top-10 but then just got wiped out when we had plenty of room. That sucks. It is very unfortunate.”

Larson passed Elliott on the Lap 229 restart and ran the table for his 15th-career win.

“So crazy kind of how it all worked out there for me to win,” Larson said. “I know they were all looking down helping me in all the restarts and stuff after getting in the wall. So again thank you to Rick Hendrick. I know this means a lot to you and I'm glad I could get it done.

“So cool to get another win. I don't really know how that happened. But our Chevy was really fast. I thought we were a third-place car really. William was really good. Hated to see that unfortunate luck there again for their team. They've been really, really strong. Glad we could capitalize and get another win. Hope we can go to Martinsville and get a clock.”

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