After a miserable start to the Round of 12—and gremlins in his electrical system to start the Bank of America 400—Kyle Larson climbed back from 37th and below the cutline to win at the Roval and advance in the Playoffs with a 35-point lead over Denny Hamlin.
Thirty-six circuits into the contest, Larson’s fate seemed uncertain. But the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team refused to give up.
“I wouldn’t have believed it, that’s for sure,” Larson said. “I don’t know. I didn’t even feel that good early. Started changing some things and they were doing a good job letting me know what to do inside the cockpit to get better. About that time, I noticed my battery was going low, so I was getting stressed out.
“Like man, I’m not going to get knocked out of the Playoffs like this. It wasn’t looking too good. Thankfully, everybody on our No. 5 car did a great job of staying calm.”
In a race that featured comebacks, conflict and karma, Larson became the first driver since Kasey Kahne in 2006 to sweep both Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and the only driver in history to win three road course races at NASCAR’s top level.
While the fans went wild as Larson took the checkered flag .782-seconds ahead of Tyler Reddick, the cheers couldn’t compare to the roar from the crowd when Kevin Harvick locked up his brakes and slammed into the Turn 1 wall. The incident occurred on Lap 99—45 circuits after Harvick punted the No. 9 Chevrolet coming out of Turn 8 and into Turn 9.
After the race, Harvick said the retaliation stemmed from the drivers’ battle at Bristol.
“Sometimes real life teaches you good lessons,” Harvick said.
Elliott dropped to the rear of the field following multiple repairs to the No. 9 Chevrolet. He had worked his way up to 15th—two spots behind Harvick, who could see Elliott looming large in his rearview mirror coming into Turn 1.
“I just pushed it in there too hard and I got the tire locked up and I couldn’t stop it once I felt like I needed to go to get a couple spots back that I had lost, and I got the left-front locked up and I couldn’t get it to turn,” Harvick said.
But the defending champion never had to lay a bumper on the No. 4 Ford. Harvick eliminated himself from the Playoffs all on his own.
“Karma,” Elliott said over the radio.
“Yes, it is,” replied his spotter Eddie D’Hondt.
After winning the two previous Roval races, Elliott finished 12th.
“We could have easily given up or not fixed to the proper standard and have something break or had a tire rub, so everybody just did a really good job today and I’m super proud of that,” Elliott said. “Coming off of a really fast car, I thought we had a shot to win and obviously that didn’t happen. But in the grand scheme, moving on is the most important things and our season is still alive. So, I’m pumped.
"As far as Kevin goes, just want to wish them a merry off-season and a happy Christmas."
Team owner Rick Hendrick described the event as the most nerve-racking race he has ever been involved in given the battery and alternator issues of both Larson and Alex Bowman, the scuffle between Elliott and Harvick and William Byron misfortunes in the closing laps. Byron’s 30 circuits at the point were the most by any driver on Sunday. But after racing back to third following pit stop, he was dumped by Reddick on Lap 91 and dropped to 12th.
Reddick took full responsibility for the incident.
“I just flat out made a mistake and ran in the back of the 24,” Reddick said. “I am trying to stay as close as I can, and we are all trying to brake to the limit of the car and I got to the bumper trying to put myself back in position again to make a pass to the inside or outside. I got into the back of him ever so slightly and that is all it took to unhook the rear tires. Not on purpose. It’s just that small amount of contact that changed the trajectory that much. That was shocking to me and sure disappointing.”
Although Byron battled to recover, he ran off the track in Turn 6 on Lap 108 and finished 11th, 43 points below the cutline.
Bowman joined the No. 5 Chevy on pit road to change batteries and check on the alternator belt on Lap 51. Like Byron, Bowman was in a must-win situation. While he recovered to finish 10th, the result wasn’t enough to remain in the Playoffs. Neither was Christopher Bell’s eighth-place run.
Reddick’s second-place finish matched his best result from Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this year. Chris Buescher posted his first top-five of the season with his third-place finish. Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Matt DiBenedetto, Joey Logano, Bell, Blaney and Bowman rounded out the top 10.
With four laps remaining, Martin Truex Jr., was tagged by Joey Hand and fell to 29th. Despite his finish, the No. 19 moved up to third in the standings followed by Blaney, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Logano and Keselowski—who faced a variety of issues starting with a spin off the course in the backstretch chicane. He soldiered on to finish 20th.
“I’m glad I don’t have to do that again,” Keselowski said. “We got out of here and advanced and we’ll move on to Texas and focus on that, but it was not the prettiest of days. Thank goodness we ran so good at Talladega.”
Larson certainly had his own issues throughout the race. He started the second stage seven points on the outside looking in. After the safety workers removed the remains from the No. 4 car, Larson was able to take the lead on the Lap 101 restart from Hamlin in Turn 4. And he never looked back. Now, he has a comfortable cushion entering the Round of 8.
“Yeah, I obviously had a pretty good idea,” Larson said of the points. “I’ve gone through it a few years ago in the No. 42 and when you think you’re good, then all of a sudden, you’re running like 40th. And you’re like well, I’m down below the cutline. I knew I was going to have some sketchy moments. I just had to pick my way through traffic and stay calm.
“We had some good restarts there at the end and I was able to kind of use my tire advantage to get under Denny…It was fun racing with Tyler (Reddick). He’s one of the best there is. I don’t like racing him because he’s so good and so hard to race and pass. So, it was just a fun race there and a lot of craziness all day long.”