NASCAR: Kyle Larson wraps Round of 16 with win at Bristol

As chaos erupted amongst his NASCAR Cup Series playoff competitors, Kyle Larson took home his sixth win of the season.

A ticket to the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, earned via points, did nothing to remove Kyle Larson’s competitive nature on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet passed Kevin Harvick with four laps to go in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race to earn his series-best sixth win of the season. His pass came as the playoff standings shuffled thanks to several late-race calamities, including a get-together between Harvick and Larson’s HMS teammate and defending Cup champion Chase Elliott.

The pair made contact fighting for the lead, leading to a flat tire for Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet. Elliott was nonetheless was one of the dozen drivers to advance to round two, but that didn’t prevent a physical postrace confrontation on pit road with Harvick, who likewise advanced.

William Byron beat out Aric Almirola by two points to reach the Round of 12 with a third-place finish. Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch, and Michael McDowell were likewise eliminated from title contention. Fellow advancers Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman rounded out the top five.

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Guess Who’s Back

Larson’s dominant season continued at Bristol, leading a race-best 175 of 500 laps en route to his sixth win of the season and first at the 0.533-mile Coliseum. In his first year at HMS, Larson has already matched the six victories he earned over his six full seasons at Chip Ganassi Racing.

With the application of the PJ1 traction compound and the moving of the race from late August to September, Larson’s 15th attempt at The Last Great Coliseum was different after he missed both editions last year. It was, however, not enough a variant to disrupt his success: Saturday was good for his eighth top-ten in 13 starts on Bristol’s asphalt.

“I thought (turns) one and two (were) a little bit slicker than normal, like harder to hit your marks,” Larson said of the track. Three and four I felt like was pretty normal around the bottom. The top probably didn’t build up as much rubber as I remembered either.”

“Either way, the characteristics are similar to how it always is. There’s always a little bit of a difference any time you go to any racetrack year to year. It was for the most part pretty normal.”

Larson battled Denny Hamlin for the lead for a good portion of the night, including a pair of showdowns for the victories of the first two 125-lap stages. It mirrored the fight they staged for the regular-season title and the 15-point bonus that came with it. Larson won that battle after the first 26 races while the pair exchanged stage wins. Hamlin, who had already advanced to the Round of 12 with a win at Darlington two weeks ago, fell out of contention when he lost a tire and hit the wall with 100 laps to go but manage to muster a top-ten finish (9th).

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Champions Fight at The Coliseum

Bristol’s cramped quarters and intense short-track racing often create flared tempers. That anger only intensifies with the new postseason implications attached. Cup Series champions are no exception to such fury.

Elliott and Harvick hadn’t earned the clinching victory that assured access to round two but they had relatively healthy cushions on the cutoff. Their ensuing battle for the win became the latest feud in annals of Bristol’s asphalt, joining previous great battles of Coliseum past like Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte and Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth.

As the race dipped under 50 laps to go, Elliot, Harvick, and Larson broke away from the rest of the field. Elliott and Harvick ran into lapped traffic and made contact as they got around Josh Bilicki. The friction cut down Elliott’s left front tire, forcing him to pit road with 33 laps to go. Relegated to lapped traffic, Elliott bumped Harvick after the forced service. Their confrontation continued on pit road after the race and later moved to Elliott’s hauler.

According to Elliott, the battle between him and Harvick was several weeks in the making.

“Whether he did it on purpose doesn’t matter. At some point, you have to draw a line,” Elliott, the defending series champion, told NBCSN in the aftermath. “I don’t care who he is or how long he’s been doing it, I’m going to stand up for myself and my team and we’re going down the road.”

Harvick was searching for his first win of the season after earning a circuit-best nine last year. The 2014 champion didn’t mince words when speaking about his confrontation with Elliott after the race.

“I just told him it was kind of a chicken (expletive) move he did there at the end,” Harvick told NBCSN. “We’re racing for the freaking win at Bristol, three-wide, he throws a temper tantrum. I was just trying to get the lead and race him hard. Then he pulls up in front of me and sits there till I lose the whole lead.”

“I’m ready to rip somebody’s freaking head off.”

Almirola, Reddick, Busch, McDowell Awakened from Playoff Dreams

Championship prospects ended for four playoff drivers on Saturday night. While the underdog McDowell was facing a win-or-go-home scenario (entering Bristol 38 points out of 12th), Almirola, Reddick, and Kurt Busch each had a chance to get in on points thanks to a roller-coaster evening from other playoff contenders.

Busch’s dream of delivering a championship for Chip Ganassi Racing’s swan song went by the wayside, as he fought an ill-handling No. 1 Chevrolet all night en route to a 19th-place finish. Reddick dealt with early radio issues and finished 12th, two points behind Byron in the final seed.

Almirola and his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing crew went through the most eventful evening. He entered the race three points above the cutoff and ran in the top 15 for most of the first part of the night. He was running 10th when his car started smoking, forcing a visit to pit road when a Turn 2 incident involving Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace, and Cole Custer brought out the yellow flag. His crew found fluid in the left front tire and later discovered a broken oil line.

Despite several visits to pit road under the yellow, the No. 10 crew managed to keep Almirola on the lead lap. It wasn’t enough, however, to take down Byron’s third-place finish, one boosted by tire issues for Kyle Busch (21th) and Christopher Bell (29th). Both of those Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas nonetheless advanced, while Almirola finished two points shy of advancement.

“It was frustrating. (I’m) disappointed to have it end like that just because we had battled so much adversity throughout the night, got into a position where we were running top 10, doing what we were needing to do,” said Almirola, who finished 18th. “That’s not the way we wanted it to end. But we’ll keep going and battle it out the rest of the Playoffs and see if we can’t finish inside the top 10 in points.”

What’s Next

The Round of 12 opens next Sunday as Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s South Point 400. Larson earned his first HMS victory at the venue’s first event of 2021, the Pennzoil 400 in March. Sin City native Kurt Busch is the defending champion of the event.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. overcomes early penalty, wins at Richmond

Martin Truex Jr. clinched his spot in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a win at Richmond Raceway.

Joe Gibbs was always known for earning big wins near Virginia as an NFL head coach in Washington. That trend carried over on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Truex, driver of Gibbs’ No. 19 Toyota Camry, led the final 51 laps of the Federated Auto Parts 400 en route to his fourth victory of the Cup Series season and his first since the first race at Darlington in May. Gibbs Toyotas have won each of the first two Cup Series postseason races of 2021 after Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 won at Darlington’s opener last weekend.

Hamlin, winner of the first two stages of the races, finished second while Christopher Bell’s No. 20 allowed Gibbs vehicles to sweep the top three spots. Fellow playoff drivers Chase Elliott and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.

Truex Goes From First to Last to First

Truex began the 31st victory of his Cup Series career on the front row but was quickly forced to the back. NASCAR officials determined that he jumped the start, passing Hamlin (the de facto pole-sitter after Kyle Larson had to start from the back) as the field took the green flag. The No. 19 was forced to serve a pass-through penalty, though he was able to stay on the lead lap. Truex made his way back to the top 10 by lap 70 of 400 and took his first lead of the day nearly 200 laps later.

The Mayetta, NJ native didn’t agree with NASCAR’s judgment but opted to look at the early infraction from an optimistic lens.

“Two laps after I pitted or whatever, I was like, this is ridiculous, but I’m already last now, so there’s nothing I can do except for go forward,” Truex said after the race. “I don’t really understand what you’re supposed to do in that situation. I let the 11 get a nose out in front of me to get the launch first. I wasn’t going to jump him, and then he spun the tires and stopped. What am I supposed to do, stand on the brakes, and crash the field behind me? It’s ridiculous, but yeah, I got over it fairly quickly because that’s what it was, and we had to go forward.”

Truex historically struggled at Richmond prior to commandeering Gibbs’ No. 19 in 2019, earning only three top five finishes in his first 26 visits. Over five starts at JGR, Truex has finished no worse than fifth at the short track and has visited victory lane three times. Truex claimed that there has been no official turning of the corner, believing his Richmond revolution was an endeavor several years in the making.

Nothing really clicked. It wasn’t like one thing we did. It was just kind of a work in progress more than anything,” Truex said. “I’ve always felt good at this racetrack and had some really good runs years ago in other cars with other teams. Honestly, it’s more just great equipment, a great approach to the racetrack…Once we got in Gibbs cars and I guess 2016 is when we really turned the corner on being one of the guys to beat every time we come here.”

In that aforementioned September 2016 event, Truex, then driving the No. 78 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, united with his future teammate Hamlin to lead 382 of 407 laps but missed out on the win in an overtime finish. Since then, Truex has been the driver to beat at Richmond: over the last 11 events, he has completed all but one lap at the 0.75-mile, D-shaped oval.

“We certainly gave a few away here in the past, and to have three is pretty awesome. Feeling lucky to have great equipment, and always look forward to coming here.”

Buschwhacked

Unlike last week’s postseason carnage at Darlington, playoff drivers mostly stayed out of trouble at Richmond on Saturday. Postseason contenders took up all but one spot in the top ten (Ross Chastain was the lone outlier in 7th) and 13 of the first 15 slots.

Alas, Kurt Busch ran into trouble early on. His No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was running third when he lost his left-rear tire at lap 40, shortly after a strong pit stop during a competition caution period. Busch was the only driver who failed to finish the race, relegating him to a last-place finish in 37th. He goes into next week’s race at Bristol as the last of the dozen drivers eligible for the second round of the playoffs, trapped in a tie with Alex Bowman.

“Had a damn good car, feeling deflated by how it all went down,” Busch said on Twitter in response to his bad luck at Richmond. “I thought Virginia is for lovers, but not feeling the love right now. On to Bristol baby, and we know what we gotta do…let’s win!”

Bristol is certainly the place for Busch to secure a much-needed win: he was won a career-best six races at The Last Great Coliseum, second-best amongst active drivers behind his brother Kyle (8).

In terms of other playoff struggles, William Byron finished a lap down in 19th, placing him 18 points away from the 12th seed. A late speeding penalty on pit road relegated Michael McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford to 28th. The Daytona 500 champion is undoubtedly stuck in a must-win situation, as he’s 38 points away after the penalty and a wreck at Darlington last week.

The 5 moves to the 12

After matching fourth-place finishes in the first two stages, it was determined that Kyle Larson had earned enough points to clinch a spot in the second round of the postseason. Larson and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team already had a sizable advantage in terms of advancement prospects through a series-best five wins and the regular season championship. He finished the day in sixth.

Up Next

The NASCAR Cup Series moves onto Bristol Motor Speedway next Saturday night for the final race of the first round of the playoffs (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Bristol’s famed asphalt will reappear, as the track was covered in dirt for the annual spring event, won by Joey Logano in March. Kevin Harvick won last year’s late summer event on the asphalt, uniting with runner-up Kyle Busch to lead 385 of 500 laps.

For full results, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Ryan Blaney steals another as playoff field is set

Blaney’s second consecutive win came in the NASCAR Cup Series’ regular season finale at the hallowed ground of Daytona.

Ryan Blaney’s spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs was well-secured, but that didn’t stop him from going all-out for the win in the regular season finale on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

As the victor in an overtime finish, Blaney has won consecutive Cup Series races for the first time in his career after last week’s triumph at Michigan. The win at this weekend’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 makes him one of only four drivers to win at least three races this season, joining Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., and Alex Bowman.

Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford beat out several drivers who desperately needed a win to qualify for the Cup Series playoffs, which begin next Sunday at Darlington Raceway. As late wrecks dominated the final stages of Daytona’s summer event, Blaney took the lead from the winless Chris Buescher before holding off a final challenge from other trophy-seekers like Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain, and Daniel Suarez. Chaos eventually erupted behind Blaney, as one final wreck that took out several contenders shut down the affair.

Buescher finished in the runner-up spot, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman, and Ryan Preece rounded out the top five in the 400-mile event originally scheduled for 160 laps.

Blaney lingered in the upper half of the field for most of the evening, which was a mostly peaceful affair before desperation took over. The first two stages, 50 circuits apiece, were taken by Chase Elliott and Blaney’s Penske teammate Joey Logano. Blaney, Logano, and the other Ford Mustangs in the lead pack topped off on fuel with 37 laps to go. Chevrolets and Toyota were expected to pit shortly after but neither group made it to pit road when Garrett Smithley’s No. 53 Chevrolet spun, collecting Rick Ware Racing teammates Joey Gase and Cody Ware. The Fords jumped back out to the front of the pack while the other lead-lap cars pitted.

Two separate multi-car wrecks at laps 146 and 157. The latter saw Matt DiBenedetto miss out on his first career victory once again, as the 238th career start of his Cup career ended when he got together with leader Chase Elliott. Other notable vehicles involved included Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Christopher Bell.

That latter incident set up the overtime finish which allowed Blaney to capture his third win, as well as the second seed in the Cup Series playoff bracket, earned through victories and stage wins throughout the 26 regular season races.

Other big winners on Saturday were Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick. Larson (21st) clinched the regular season championship, which affords him an extra 15-point advantage in the playoff standings while Reddick (6th) beat out his teammate Dillon (18th) for the final postseason slot. View the whole Cup Series playoff grid below:

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR Cup: Chase Elliott falls short in heroic effort at Watkins Glen

The fastest car in racing doesn’t always win.

That, unfortunately, was the case for Chase Elliott on Sunday, who finished second in the NASCAR Cup Series at Watkins Glen after a whirlwind race. Elliott was expected to start the race in 11th place; however, a failure in prerace inspection sent him to the rear to start the race. Additionally, Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief, was ejected for the race and the team was docked 10 driver and owner points.

Elliott wasted no time making up ground, driving his No. 9 car all the way up to 8th place in 20 green flag laps for three stage points. He made a pit stop on lap 12 during the competition caution as well as another pit stop during the stage break.

However, Elliott was forced to make an unscheduled stop midway through the second stage. He flat-spotted his tires and was forced to make a trip down pit road, losing all of the time that he made up.

“[I need to] make less mistakes,” Elliott said. “[I can’t] flat spot the tires. That was ultimately the straw that broke it. It was my bad, completely my fault”.

Elliott fell many seconds behind the leader until the stage two caution allowed him to catch up. He was forced to start stage three towards the back of the field and race through traffic once again to catch the leaders.

With 15 laps to go, Elliott was within striking distance of leader Kyle Larson and second place car Martin Truex Jr. Elliott shaved nearly four seconds off Truex Jr. with eight laps to go, but lapped traffic gave Larson enough of a cushion to hold off Elliott.

“He was really fast,” Larson said. “[I was] just trying to judge the gap in my head and manage it and not make as many mistakes, and hopefully he wouldn’t be on my back bumper”.

Elliott’s second place finish at Watkins Glen is his third consecutive podium finish at the track, winning in both 2018 and 2019. He also scored his 13th top-10 finish of the 2021 season.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

NASCAR returns in familar fashion, as Kyle Larson takes Watkins Glen

Larson ended Chase Elliott’s monopoly on Schuyler County, leading the last 27 laps in the return of the NASCAR Cup Series.

We now return to our regularly scheduled NASCAR programming.

The NASCAR Cup Series ended two different pauses on Sunday at Watkins Glen International: Sunday’s Go Bowling at The Glen event not only ended a two-week hiatus for the circuit due to the Tokyo Olympics but also its return to Schuyler County. A Cup Series staple since 1986, WGI’s date was canceled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic last season. Sunday’s return produced a familiar result.

Kyle Larson led the final 26 laps of Sunday’s race, earning his series-best fifth victory of the year and his first at The Glen. Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet denied teammate and defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott a chance to become the first driver since Jeff Gordon to win three consecutive Cup races at The Glen (1997-99). Elliott did finish in the runner-up spot, marking the fourth time he and Larson have swept the top two positions this season.

Joe Gibbs Toyotas driven by Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Larson ran started the race in fourth behind the Team Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Ryan Blaney. Keselowski, the pole sitter, led the first nine laps before spinning, as his day was marred by brake issues. Logano’s No. 22 Ford would win the first of two 20-lap stages before giving way to Gibbs Toyotas. Over the second segment, Larson battled Truex and Christopher Bell for the lead, getting into trouble when contact spun the latter’s No. 20. Larson apologized to Bell, who recovered to finish seventh, during his postrace interview with NBC Sports.

Truex, winner of The Glen’s 2017 event, won the second stage and occupied the two spots with Larson when each of them made their final pit stop of the day with 33 laps to go. A strong service from the No. 5 crew allowed Larson to get off first, giving him the inside edge for the lead when pit stops cycled around. The resulting big interval, peaking at over 12 seconds, allowed him to hold off the charging No. 9 of Elliott, who sliced Larson’s lead down to 2.4 seconds after getting around Truex for the runner-up slot.

Elliott’s second-place run capped off a roller-coaster day for the No. 9 team. They were forced to start from the rear of the field after failing prerace inspection due to a faulty rear-window air deflector. Multiple failures led to the ejection of Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson and the loss of 10 points in the championship standings (Bell dealt with the same issues, losing his crew chief Adam Stevens).

Larson has now earned five wins this season, breaking his previous career-best of four set during the 2017 season. Two of those wins have come at road courses, having previously won at Sonoma in June. This latest win also ties Larson for the Cup Series’ regular season points lead with Hamlin, who has yet to visit victory lane this season. Elliott’s seven wins on road courses, including the most recent at Road America, are good for third-best in Cup Series history, behind only fellow champions Gordon (9) and Tony Stewart (8).

Another road course lingers next week. The Cup Series will make its maiden voyage on the road course at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard (1 p.m. ET, NBC).

For full results, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR Cup Series: Larson blows tire on final lap, Bowman steals victory at Pocono

With four laps to go in the NASCAR Cup Series Pocono Organics CBD 325, Kyle Larson assumed the lead from Alex Bowman after Bowman jumped ahead on a late-race restart.

Three laps to go. Two laps to go.

As time was running out, Larson’s lead expanded, and it seemed that the driver of the No. 5 would be well on his way to his fourth consecutive Cup Series points-paying victory.

One lap to go. One turn to go.

And then: BANG!

Larson suddenly blew a tire, hitting the turn three wall hard, gifting a victory to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman.

“It’s a bummer,” Larson said postrace. “At least we showed everyone that we were going to win another one and just bad luck took it from us”.

However, it’s a completely different attitude for the No. 48 squad, as Bowman’s good luck helped him secure his third victory of the 2021 season.

“This is the strangest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Bowman said. “I thought I was [going to run] 2nd, which was still going to be a good day for us with how we struggled throughout the course of the day, but then he blows a tire and we win”.

Bowman ran around 10th place for most of the day, but a late-race debris caution allowed him to advance to the front-row with the choose-cone rule. He launched into first place behind a push from Ryan Blaney and was passed by Larson with four laps remaining. Bowman regained the lead in turn three of the final lap to hold on for the victory.

“Our plan was to minimize our [final] stop and get enough fuel to make it to the end, and we did that with two right-side tires,” Crew Chief Greg Ives said. “12 gallons [of fuel] is what we needed, maybe a little less with cautions. We were lined up fourth on that restart coming to the choose cone, and he elected to take the bottom, and that obviously was the winning move”.

While Ives instructed Bowman to pit right before the end of Stage 1 for track position in Stage 2, Kyle Busch stayed out and won the opening stage fresh of his Camping World Truck Series defeat just hours before. Larson started the race from the pole position, but surrendered the lead to teammate William Byron on Lap 5, just prior to an early debris caution.

Just a lap after the debris caution returned to green, Cole Custer’s day ended early after colliding with Brad Keselowski on the frontstretch.

“It was just a tight hole [that I was trying to pass in],” Custer said. “At least we don’t have to wait a whole week and sulk about it, we can just go back tomorrow and get it done”.

Stage 2 was taken by the older of the Busch brothers, Kurt, for some much-needed stage points for the No. 1 team. Younger brother Kyle dropped to ninth, while Larson, Joey Logano, William Byron, and Ryan Blaney finished in positions two through five.

The second stage featured a trio of incidents, including a Ryan Newman spin on lap 54, a wreck involving Corey LaJoie and Anthony Alfredo on lap 61, and a blown tire off the car of Ross Chastain. Stage 3’s only caution was the debris caution to set up the dramatic finish.

With eight races until the playoffs, Kyle Larson leads the playoff standings with Denny Hamlin leading in overall points. Austin Dillon is the final driver in on points, while Kurt Busch sits 24 points away from the top-16.

The top-20 of Saturday’s will be inverted to start the finale of the Pocono Doubleheader on Sunday. That puts Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell on the front row after finishing 20th and 19th, respectively. Custer, Newman, Larson, Chastain, LaJoie, Alfredo, and Ryan Preece have had their backup cars approved, and will start Sunday’s race from the rear. Chase Elliott also has severe damage and is expected to switch to a backup car.

Race No. 2 of the Pocono Raceway Doubleheader begins Sunday at 3:30 PM Eastern Time on NBCSN. The Xfinity Series race will start at 12:00 PM, also aired by NBCSN.

 

Kyle Larson continues dominance as NASCAR debuts at Nashville

Kyle Larson continued his dominant ways on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, which ran at Nashville Superspeedway for the first time.

A new track produced the same result for the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday afternoon.

Kyle Larson once again dominated proceedings on the premier racing circuit, leading 264 of 300 laps in the inaugural Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway to win the Ally 400. Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has now won each of the last four Cup Series events, including last weekend’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Texas. HMS vehicles have won five consecutive official points events overall, helping the team strengthen its grip on the record for most team victories in Cup Series history (now at 271 after Sunday).

“It was another good one. We’ve had probably the best race car on the racetrack for at least a month and a half, so good to take advantage of it, get another win,” Larson said after the win. (We were) able to jump out to a lead right from the get-go, basically lead the rest of the race. If it wasn’t for the cautions at the ends of the stages, we had a near-perfect day.”

Larson took the lead on lap 6, shortly after the race restarted following Quin Houff’s wreck on the opening lap due to a lost tire. The No. 5 went three-wide with Kyle Busch and pole-sitter Aric Almirola to nab the top spot, setting the tone for familiar domination. HMS teammate Chase Elliott was able to take the first 90-lap stage after staying out during a caution induced by Chris Buescher and Justin Haley’s wreck on the 77th circuit. It was all Larson after that, as he coasted to his 10th career Cup Series victory and series-best fourth of the 2021 season.

“It’s awesome to get multiple wins in a row now in the Cup Series…just cool to do that,” he said. “I didn’t think that was possible ever for me in the Cup Series anyways. I’ve gone on streaks in dirt racing and stuff before, but never been close to doing anything like that in Cup. It’s been awesome. To get to now double-digit point-paying wins is great. I’d like to keep winning and keep inching my name up the winner’s list not only at NASCAR but at Hendrick Motorsports, too. I think that’s important to me.”

Larson has now led a career-best 1,426 laps this season (tops in the series and 670 ahead of points-leader Denny Hamlin) and is the first driver to win three straight points races since Brad Keselowski in 2018. The No. 5 is also only 10 points behind Hamlin for the Cup Series points lead, which affords a 15-point bonus for when the NASCAR playoffs begin in September.

Ross Chastain had a career-best finish in the runner-up slot, followed by HMS representative William Byron and Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick.

This weekend marked NASCAR’s return to the Music City area at the newly renovated 1.333-mile track in Lebanon. The track previously held events in the NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series (as well as the IndyCar Series) from 2001 through 2011, but the Cup Series had not been to Nashville since 1984 at Fairgrounds Speedway. Larson praised the fans’ enthusiasm and relished this win a little more due to its significance on the NASCAR calendar.

“I stayed in the city this week. I got to see how pumped up all the race fans were for the race this weekend,” he said. “There (were) a lot of fans that recognized me throughout the last couple days walking around, wishing me good luck, saying how excited they were to go to the race. That’s what kind of made me feel extra special about this race, is just seeing how excited the fans were to go to a new venue, sort of getting to watch some Cup racing in Nashville.”

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next weekend at Pocono Raceway, which will host a doubleheader on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • With the series descending upon Nashville for the first time, qualifying was held hours before Sunday’s event. Almirola earned it in No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and used the momentum to nab his first top five of the season.

 

  • Elliott went on to finish 13th but he was disqualified in postrace inspection due to five loose lug nuts that relegated him to last place (39th). His stage win was transferred over to runner-up Kurt Busch, who finished eighth. A fine and crew chief suspension will likely be announced later this week.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kyle Larson keeps rolling, wins All-Star Race at Texas

An unconventional format and a hard push from Brad Keselowski weren’t enough to stop Kyle Larson’s NASCAR Cup Series takeover.

The NASCAR Cup Series’ All-Star break was no sanctuary for the continued domination of Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports.

HMS’ No. 5 Chevrolet continued its take over of the premier racing circuit, taking home the million-dollar prize at the annual NASCAR All-Star Race, which was held at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time. Rather than points, Larson’s team takes home the seven-digit money prize traditionally bestowed to the winner. He would hold off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski over a ten-lap shootout to secure the victory, with HMS teammate Chase Elliott rounding out the top three. Larson is now one of eight drivers to win multiple All-Star Races, winning the last one he participated in (2019) as well. Each of the other seven drivers who have done so is a Cup champion, with another HMS legend, Jimmie Johnson, pacing the way with four.

“I think I felt him try to maybe take the air off my rear end to (turn) one once I got a little bit light getting into (the turn),” Larson said of his battle with Keselowski. “I could tell he was going to have to get desperate to do something and get a run on me, but thankfully our car was fast enough, he just couldn’t get those extra few feet.”

“Chase Elliott to me, is the most aggressive and best restarter, or one of the best restarters, especially from the front row, so that was, that was really cool (to beat him,” Larson added of the opening to the final decalogue before cheekily adding “To win a lot of money is awesome too.”

Larson has headlined a resurgence for the legendary HMS team, which has won each of the last four points races en route to passing Richard Petty’s Petty Enterprises for the most all-time. The No. 5 has triumphed in the last two and now takes home HMS’ record 10th victory in the All-Star exhibition. Elliott, the defending series champion, took home last year’s event at Bristol.

Sunday marked the All-Star Race’s first visit to Texas. The event was held annually at Charlotte Motor Speedway since 1987 but moved to Bristol Motor Speedway last season. NASCAR has not confirmed whether the All-Star event will continue to tour in 2022 and beyond. With his victory, Larson becomes the first driver to win the All-Star Race at two different tracks.

A unique format was used for the maiden voyage in Fort Worth, as the 100-lap event was broken down into six stages. Each of the first four segments lasted 15 laps apiece and the latter three featured inversions that shifted the field and created more opportunities for passing. The penultimate stage lasted 30 laps, with each participant required to make a green-flag pit stop prior to the 20th circuit. Elliott’s No. 9 crew earned the fastest stop, netting a $100,000 bonus. Starting position for the fifth round was determined via an accumulation of results over the first four segments.

“I actually kind of enjoyed it,” Larson said of the format. “I don’t know if this is a format that will work at every track, but I feel like for Texas it worked. I think the mandatory green-flag stop at the end was kind of cool.”

As the final stage loomed, it appeared that the exhibition would once again come down to an HMS civil war between Larson and Elliott. But Keselowski, the last driver to make his mandatory stop, held on to the lead when a caution flag (accounting for the spinning car of Ross Chastain) flew shortly after his service, his No. 2 Team Penske Ford serving as an invader to the monopoly. Though Elliott faded late, Larson held to secure the victory.

The NASCAR Cup Series resumes its season on Sunday afternoon, as the circuit will debut at Nashville Superspeedway for the Ally 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Chastain, who finished 18th, advanced to the main All-Star event by winning the first of three stages at the All-Star Open held shortly beforehand. He was joined by Tyler Reddick (16th) and Aric Almirola (8th), as well as Matt DiBenedetto (17th), who won the fate vote to earn the last invitation.

 

  • Keselowski’s teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kyle Larson continues to dominate, wins return to Sonoma

Kyle Larson helped Hendrick Motorsports expand the all-time wins record with his second consecutive victory in NASCAR’s return to Sonoma.

Last weekend at Charlotte, Kyle Larson helped Hendrick Motorsports set the record for most victories for a single team in NASCAR Cup Series history. On Sunday, Larson helped HMS get to work in making sure that they’ll never be caught.

The Cup Series returned to Sonoma Raceway this weekend after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Larson’s No. 5 HMS Chevrolet once again dominated the proceedings, leading 55 of 90 laps at the Toyota/SaveMart 350. Rick Hendrick’s vehicles have now won four consecutive races while Larson joined Martin Truex Jr. as the only three-time winner this season.

Larson sat on the pole for the return to Sonoma, a familiar spot for him at the Wine Country-based road course. He had started first in each of the last three visits to Northern California but led only 11 laps in six previous visits, his best finish being 10th in 2019.

On Sunday, however, the No. 5 was clicking on all cylinders, as the victory was earned through a complete team effort. A rare threat to Larson’s supremacy came with 18 laps to go, when the No. 00 Chevrolet of Quin Houff lost its engine and stalled on the racetrack. When a majority of the lead lap cars visited pit road for tires and fuel, Larson’s crew got him out quickly, setting him up in fifth-place and top car on fresh tires.

“All these wins are team wins,” Larson said of his No. 5 squad. “My relationship with (crew chief Cliff Daniels) and everybody on the No. 5 car is great…This series is so tough that you can easily get knocked back down and be struggling. We just have to continue to work hard. The pit crew has been doing a great job. Cliff and everybody out at the shop on all the cars have been doing great.”

It took Larson only two laps to retake the lead, passing Joey Logano right before another yellow flag for a multi-car get-together. Larson then overcame several other on-track incidents to hold the lead on multiple restarts before holding off teammate and defending series champion Chase Elliott for the win in an overtime finish.

HMS driver William Byron saw his day end in one of those wrecks (his first DNF since Martinsville last November) but Larson continued to carry the torch. With Larson winning and teammate Chase Elliott finishing second, HMS vehicles have also finished in the top two spots in four consecutive races. Such a streak had not been achieved in NASCAR since 1956, when Carl Kiekhaefer’s vehicles pulled it off.

Between Larson, Elliott, Byron, and Alex Bowman, Hendrick Chevrolets have united to win seven of the 16 points races on the Cup Series docket.

I feel like you have to race each other a little bit differently. You don’t want to run into each other and damage their car or damage yours take out two opportunities for our organization to get a win,” Larson said of racing his teammates for big positions. “It’s been cool to get to race really hard with Chase. William and Alex have been doing a great job this year. To have us all getting wins and battling upfront, all throughout the race, it’s awesome.”

“We all want to see each other do good, so we work really well together. I think we all learn something off of each other each week.”

Martin Truex Jr., the winner of the last two Sonoma visits, finished third, while Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.

Following the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway next weekend, the Cup Series returns to action on Sunday, June 20 for its maiden voyage at Nashville Superspeedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • After only one incident-induced caution (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s wreck a lap 32) over the first 70 laps (not counting two stage endings and a competition flag at lap 10), the final 20 featured several wrecks that induced damage to several renowned names.

 

  • With Byron failing to finish the race (his wreck also involving Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, and Christopher Bell among others), only Denny Hamlin (8th), Austin Dillon (13th), and Chase Briscoe (17th) have been running at the finish in all 16 races this season.

 

  • After Sunday’s race, Larson moved into second place in the points standings and now sits 47 points behind leader Denny Hamlin. Larson trailed Hamlin, who has yet to win this season, by 135 points after the Richmond race seven weeks prior. The Cup Series’ regular season champion earns 15 bonus points to start the opening playoff round at Darlington in September. Ten events linger before the postseason cutoff.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Kyle Larson domination secures Hendrick Motorsports record

Through Larson’s dominant win at the Coca-Cola 600, Hendrick Motorsports became the winningest team in NASCAR Cup Series history.

Hendrick Motorsports made history in a familiar way: together in dominant fashion.

Rick Hendrick’s race team became the winningest team in NASCAR Cup Series history on Sunday night, as Kyle Larson dominated the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway to earn the group’s 269th victory, passing Richard Petty’s Petty Enterprises. Larson led 327 of 400 laps in the longest event on the NASCAR circuit (600 miles).

HMS Chevrolets have now won three consecutive events to tie and break Petty’s record. Larson took home his second win of the year, with his teammates Chase Elliott, William Byron, and Alex Bowman finishing second, fourth, and fifth respectively. Only third-place Kyle Busch broke up on the HMS monopoly in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

“It’s perfect. Everything down to the way they mow the lawn. It looks amazing. They put a level of pride and effort into everything…(Hendrick) has built such an amazing empire. Everyone there loves to work there,” Larson said of working with HMS. “I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. Getting to see the level of respect everyone has for him, how they love to work for him, it shows how great of a person he is…there’s a lot to be learned off of him.”

Hendrick, 71, made his fortune as the owner of several Chevrolet dealerships. He entered NASCAR ownership in 1984 and his team has gone on to win 13 Cup Series titles and over 300 races in the three national touring series. Elliott earned the most recent championship last season in the No. 9 Chevrolet.

Sunday’s win was almost thematic in its timing. Not only is Charlotte a five-minute drive from HMS headquarters in Concord, but the No. 5 Chevrolet currently driven by Larson also raced to Hendrick’s first victory back in 1984 with Geoffrey Bodine behind the wheel at Martinsville.

Hendrick had a little bit of pride in capturing the win at Charlotte but would’ve been happy with any of his quartet reaching victory lane.

“I really wanted to do it in Charlotte,” Hendrick said. “(But) I didn’t care who broke the record, I just wanted to win it. Any one of them, I pull for them all the same. It’s tough when they’re battling each other for the lead, but the objective in this race was winning…It’s like having a bunch of kids. You love them all the same, each one of them has different strengths and characteristics. But at the end of the day, they work well together.”

The Charlotte dominance was Larson’s second win in the No. 5, which also played host to Terry Labonte’s Cup Series title in 1996. Finishing off dominating performances has been a struggle for Larson. He previously led at least 200 laps in six prior events but came out winless each time. Additionally, he is by far the 2021 leader in laps at the front with 1,105. It wasn’t hard for Larson to get the lead early on. This weekend’s events held qualifying at the 1.5-mile oval and Larson’s time put him on the pole next to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the front row.

He closed the deal on Sunday, holding a final margin of over 10 seconds on Elliott. The No. 5 led the way for HMS, whose four vehicles led all but 17 laps on Sunday. It wasn’t hard for Larson to get the lead early on. This weekend’s events held qualifying at the 1.5-mile oval and Larson’s time put him on the pole next to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the front row. Elliott and Byron were third and fourth right behind them at the start.

HMS Chevrolets have now won each of the last three races, with Bowman previously winning at Dover and Elliott winning last week at the Circuit of the Americas. Byron, piloting Jeff Gordon’s No. 24, has finished in the top ten in all but one of the past 13 races and set a new career-best with his sixth top-five finish of the year on Sunday.

“It’s a great problem to have,” Larson said of racing his teammates for victories. “We’ve done a great job of racing each other hard, but yet not putting each other in a bad spot either so. We all want to see each other succeed for Rick and we all work great together during the week and even on the weekends…we’re racing with respect.”

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Sonoma Raceway’s road course for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 (4 p.m. ET, FS1).

 (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Race Notes

  • Hendrick vehicles last won three consecutive races in 2015, when Gordon, Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. respectively won at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix.

 

  • Only two cautions emerged for on-track incidents. Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Chevrolet had a belt issue that eventually leaked oil on the track at lap 174 while Ryan Newman lost a tired and hit the wall at lap 297. All other cautions signaled the end of three 100-lap stages (all won by Larson).

 

  • Busch’s bad day was part of a brutal outing for Chip Ganassi Racing, as Ross Chastain likewise had a problem in his No. 42. The day was not a total loss for CGR, as Alex Palou placed second in the Indianapolis 500.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags