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: 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: Ryan Blaney holds off powers of Hendrick to win at Michigan

With his win at Michigan, Ryan Blaney has now won multiple NASCAR Cup Series races in a single season for the first time in his career.

Faced with a challenge from Hendrick Motorsports’ finest, Ryan Blaney made sure that Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway was, instead, Penske material.

Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford took advantage of a late restart, taking his first lead of the day at lap 193 of 200. He then held off a furious rally from the HMS duo of William Byron and Kyle Larson long enough to earn his second win of the season and first since Atlanta in March. Blaney held off Byron by 0.077 seconds to secure the win and his first multi-victory season at the Cup level. Larson, leader of a race-high 70 laps, finished third while Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Blaney started the afternoon in the third spot but quickly fell out of the top 15. His descent allowed HMS Chevrolets to take over. Chase Elliott won the first 60-lap stage in his No. 9 Chevrolet. Kyle Busch won the second stage for Joe Gibbs Racing but Elliott (8th), Byron, and Larson united to lead 136 of 200 laps. After Elliott faded after the second stage (pitting twice within 13 laps for tires), Byron and Larson appeared to do battle for the final victory.

Two late caution flags, however, set up late dramatics. A brief stop for rain set up a 16-lap shootout which was interrupted by a multi-car get-together that took out Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Christopher Bell, and Josh Berry (who was subbing for Corey LaJoie in the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet due to COVID-19 protocols). Blaney was situated in the fourth spot when the race went green again with eight to go after the chaos.

Using a strong push from Kyle Busch (7th), Blaney managed to clear the front row of Byron and Kurt Busch to secure the lead. He then held off Hendrick’s finest, denying them their 12th victory of the season. Blaney also allowed the Ford Motor Company to keep a dominant streak at MIS alive. Those repping the blue oval have now won seven straight races in Brooklyn.

Sunday’s race at Michigan was the penultimate race of the NASCAR Cup Series’ regular season. All but one spot in the 16-seed playoff field has been clinched as Kevin Harvick (14th) secured his spot on points. One final spot is up for grabs at the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the famed Daytona International Speedway on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, NBC).

Tyler Reddick (29th) missed an opportunity to expand his hold on the final seed after his teammate Austin Dillon (36th) was involved in a wreck after stage two ended, as contact with Brad Keselowski put him into the wall. Reddick leads Dillon by 22 points for the final spot, though he would lose it if a winless driver inside the top 30 in points managed to win at Daytona.

For full results, click HERE

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: A.J. Allmendinger wins wild debut on Indianapolis road course

The NASCAR Cup Series’ first race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course featured an upset win mired by late calamities.

Late carnage yielded an unlikely winner at the NASCAR Cup Series’ maiden voyage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.

After the first 70-plus laps of Sunday’s Verizon 200 ran without major incident, a curb of calamity in the sixth turn took out numerous contenders in violent wrecks. In the end, it was A.J. Allmendinger, a NASCAR Xfinity Series regular running a part-time schedule that stole the victory in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet. It’s the first win for Kaulig, an Xfinity team that is set to make the leap to the premier Cup Series next year, and Allmendinger’s first Cup win since August 2014 at Watkins Glen.

Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, and Matt DiBenedetto rounded out the top five.

Sunday marked the Cup Series’ first road course endeavor at the legendary IMS, having run on its famous oval annually since 1994. Rumble strip curbs, made to prevent drivers from going into the trackside infield, in Turn 6 caused some trouble in yesterday’s Xfinity Series race. NASCAR removed one such rumble strip after that race but kept the rest of the curbing, including a relative “launchpad” that sent Kris Wright’s Xfinity car airborne.

The Turn 6 curbing was adjusted several times through the course of the race to clean up debris, but caused its biggest accident at lap 78. A 19-minute red flag period followed, during which a majority of the curbing was removed, though the launchpad stayed. Another wreck immediately ensued, setting up a second overtime session.

Rookie Chase Briscoe and Denny Hamlin led the field into the narrow first turn, during which Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford was sent through the nearby infield and back on the track. Briscoe was penalized for shortcutting the track but briefly continued to race Hamlin for the lead. In the ensuing battle, Hamin was spun out, giving third-place runner Allmendinger the opening he needed to steal the win. Briscoe and Hamlin shared a tense but ultimately peaceful confrontation on pit road.

The win was an emotional event for Allmendinger, who previously ran 11 years as a full-time Cup Series driver (2008-18). Allmendinger, made a name for himself as a professional racer on the open-wheel circuit, earning five wins on the Champ Car circuit. The 39-year-old is set to represent Kaulig Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs this fall.

After consecutive weeks at road course, the NASCAR Cup Series returns to an oval next week at Michigan International Speedway’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Two races remain in the Cup Series’ regular season, which will end on August 28 at Daytona.

For full results, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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: Aric Almirola disrupts playoff picture at New Hampshire

Mired in the 27th spot in the standings, Aric Almirola nonetheless clinched a NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot at New Hampshire.

Faced with a win-or-go-home situation, Aric Almirola raced through chaos to clinch a spot in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on Sunday afternoon-into-evening at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Braving a wet racetrack, a weather delay of over 100 minutes, and oncoming darkness, Almirola took home the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, his first win since the Talladega race in October 2018 (98 races ago) The race fell nine laps short of its 301-circuit distance, as rain and a New England sunset forced NASCAR to improvise.

Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, had struggled all season after enjoying a career-best campaign in 2020. He was mired in 27th-place in the Cup Series standings entering Sunday, posting only a pair of top ten finishes over the first 21 events of the year. With 232 points between him and Tyler Reddick, the 16th and final playoff driver, and only five races left on the regular season docket, Almirola was clearly in a must-win situation.

He took care of that and then some, leading the final 20 laps en route to this third career Cup Series race and his first on a non-superspeedway track.

Sunday’s race was defined by early controversy. The event went green under overcast skies in Loudon and rain began to fall shortly after. Polesitter and leader Kyle Busch wrecked on the slick racetrack on the sixth lap, as did Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. Afterwards, the race sat through a 101-minute rain delay while the track dried. Busch’s No. 18 Toyota was deemed too damaged to carry on. The two-time champion was visibly agitated with NASCAR’s decision to start the race under the misty conditions.

Almirola’s fellow Fords took over after the race resumed, as the affair appeared to come down to Kevin Harvick or the Team Penske tandem of Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. After the second stage, at lap 186, NASCAR announced that due to the setting sun and ensuing darkness, they would inform the drivers of a de facto 10-lap warning once conditions made a full finish impossible.

The No. 10 picked up speed over the final stage and led its first laps of the day with 55 to go, getting the best of Blaney in the last turn. Shortly after, the field was forced to come to pit road for the final service cycle of the day.

Another Ford, that of Matt DiBenedetto, tried to push his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing machine to the 10-lap notice but had to stop 28 laps from the originally scheduled finish. The gambit capped off an emotional week for DiBenedetto, who was informed that he would not be returning to the No. 21 Ford next season. NASCAR Xfinity Series standout Harrison Burton will take over the ride while defending Xfinity champion Austin Cindric will take over the No. 2 currently occupied by Keselowski, who is expected to move to Roush Fenway Racing. WBR holds a technical alliance with Penske and has hosted DiBenedetto for the last two seasons.

Behind DiBenedetto, Almirola did battle with Keselowski, who was looking for the perfect Penske parting gift. The No. 10 finally got the best of him as visibility dwindled. NASCAR gave the 10-to-go notice with 19 scheduled laps left, effectively wiping away only nine circuits. Despite some interference from the lapped car of Austin Dillon, Almirola managed to secure the win, holding off the closing No. 20 Toyota of Christopher Bell.

Penske Fords, with Keselowski and Blaney sandwiching teammate Joey Logano, rounded out the top five. Logano’s day was defined by an incredible comeback story, as he recovered from a penalty during the red flag process before making up the time to finish fourth.

Dillon might’ve had every reason to hold Almirola up. With Almirola leapfrogging himself into the playoff bracket, the winless Dillon is now the odd man out. Dillon is now five points behind Richard Childress Racing teammate Reddick with four races left in the regular season.

With TV partner NBC Sports broadcasting the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the NASCAR Cup Series will take a two-week break before resuming at Watkins Glen International’s road course on August 8 (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Chase Elliott reclaims road course crown at Road America

Elliott’s seventh road course win is good for sole possession of third place in NASCAR Cup Series history.

It had been a long time since the NASCAR Cup Series descended upon Elkhart Lake’s Road America road course in Wisconsin. Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, made sure the uniqueness was kept to a minimum.

As the Cup Series held its first event at Road America since 1956, Elliott reclaimed his road course crown by passing Kyle Busch on lap 46 of 62 to take home the Jockey Made in America 250. Christopher Bell got by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to finish second while Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin, another Gibbs Toyota, rounded out the top five at the 4.048-mile circuit.

The defending NASCAR Cup Series champion has now won seven races on road courses, good for sole possession of third place in the circuit’s history. Only Jeff Gordon (9) and Tony Stewart (8) have won more. Elliott previously won in May at the rain-shortened event at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. HMS Chevys also returned to victory lane after a one-race pause at Pocono last Sunday, having now won seven of the last eight points-paying events.

Elliott’s latest road course triumph was an uphill battle. During Sunday morning’s qualifying session, the No. 9 failed to finish a full-speed lap in the allotted window, forcing him to start in the 34th position. He was able to move up to 10th by the end of the first 14-lap stage (won by HMS teammate William Byron), assisted by some teams that pitted late for strategy purposes. The No. 9 led its first laps at the onset of the third and final segment, passing Matt DiBenedetto at lap 38.

Kyle Busch briefly got back out front when a majority of the field made its final pit stop under caution at lap 44, a sequence initiated by Anthony Alfredo’s spin into the gravel in Turn 1. Elliott quickly resecured the lead and coasted over the final 17 laps of green flag racing, beating out Bell by a 5.7-second margin.

At over four miles, Road America is one of the most daunting visits on the NASCAR circuit. But the only time the distance affected Elliott’s No. 9 group was through his celebration. Eager to greet the fans at every turn, Elliott indulged those in Turn 5 with a victorious burnout, one that wound up tearing up his tires to the point he not only needed a push from the track’s safety crew but an impromptu pit stop at the stop finish line so his winning vehicle could make it to victory lane. The joyous reactions from his crew, however, were more than enough proof that the extra work was completely worth it.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Quaker State 500 presented by Walmart (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

For full Sunday results, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kyle Busch good to the last drop at Pocono finale

Kyle Busch had just enough fuel to win the second half of the NASCAR Cup Series’ weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway.

It wasn’t pretty, but Kyle Busch ended Hendrick Motorsports’ monopoly on the NASCAR Cup Series in style on Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway.

Busch fought an ill-handling No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and saved just enough fuel in the final stages to win the Explore the Pocono Mountains 350, the latter of a Cup Series weekend doubleheader in Pennsylvania. The win snaps a six-race winning streak for Rick Hendrick’s team, though Kyle Larson, the winner of three of those races, finished in the runner-up spot.

“Even though we were in the back and behind and having to come through and persevere through being stuck in fourth gear, no clutch, all that stuff it’s all burned out…It was awesome today,” Busch told NBC Sports after exiting his car. “Great job to my team. Thanks to (crew chief) Ben Beshore. Thanks to Matt (Tyrrell) the fuel guy for getting it full. That’s a big important one today. Really great to take home another checkered flag.

Shortly after the halfway mark of the 140-lap event at the “Tricky Triangle”, Busch’s No. 18 got stuck in fourth gear due to transmission issues. Things became so dire for the JGR team that a crew member had to enter the car during the caution at the end of the second stage in an ultimately futile attempt to fix it. Busch retreated to the rear of the field while at the onset of the third and final stage, the first two won by Martin Truex Jr. and HMS rep William Byron.

The race turned into a fuel mileage struggle after the caution came for Erik Jones’ encounter with the wall at lap 93. Busch joined several others on pit road, seeking to stretch out one final tank of fuel over 47 final laps. The fuel window at the 2.5-mile triangle is often open for 42-45 laps.

Contenders dwindled as they slowly ran out of fuel over the final laps. Byron threatened to keep the HMS streak alive but was forced to pit road with two laps to go. The stage was set for a battle between JGR Toyotas, but Busch’s teammate Denny Hamlin ran dry on the final turn of the penultimate lap. Busch had just enough to finish the 140th circuit and capture the 59th Cup Series victory of his career. That gives him sole possession of ninth place on the all-time Cup Series wins list, breaking a tie with fellow Sunday racer Kevin Harvick.

Brad Keselowski led the most laps on Sunday with 31. He beat out Harvick for third, while Bubba Wallace rounded out the top five. Wallace’s finish is good for the first top-five/ten finish the history of 23XI Racing, the team co-owned by Hamlin and NBA legend Michael Jordan.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Independence Day, as the circuit makes its first run on the Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, WI since 1956 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

For full results, click here.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Alex Bowman wins after Kyle Larson misfortune at Pocono

A Hendrick Motorsports civil war ended in heartbreak for Kyle Larson, whose teammate Alex Bowman sped off to victory.

Kyle Larson seemed well on his way to his fourth consecutive victory on Saturday afternoon at Pocono Raceway. The racing gods had other plans for him, but Hendrick Motorsports was nonetheless there to pick up the pieces.

Larson passed teammate Alex Bowman with four laps to in the Pocono Organics CBD 325, but lost a right-front tire on the white flag lap allowed Bowman to reassume the lead and earn HMS’ sixth consecutive team victory. The victory ends Larson’s personal winning streak at three races, but the No. 5 Chevrolet still managed to cross the finish line in ninth place. Bowman earned his third victory of the season in the No. 48 Chevrolet and beat out Kyle Busch, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney, who rounded out the top five.

Saturday’s race was the first of the second annual Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, with the latter race being run tomorrow afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“The morale is obviously super high at Hendrick Motorsports. It’s really cool to see it that way. I think there’s not one thing,” Bowman said after his win “It’s each and every individual at Hendrick Motorsports from top to bottom in every department, it’s everybody at Chevrolet. Our engines are strong, bodies are great, chassis are great. The guys putting them together are doing a great job.”

Bowman lingered in the upper half of the field in the early stages of the 130-lap race while Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, broke the HMS monopoly on stage victories. Kyle earned the first stage victory (25 laps) while Kurt took the latter after lap 77. Larson, Saturday’s pole sitter, reassumed the leap on lap 84 from Kurt. During the third stage’s round of green flag pit stops, Bowman inserted himself into contention with a two-tire stop on lap 93, which put him in the top five. A caution for debris on lap 108 bunched the field together, giving Bowman his chance.

Situated in the front row after the choose lap, Bowman warded off Larson and Kyle Busch to take the lead before engaging in a civil war with his teammate. Larson made what was believed to be the winning pass with four laps to go, but lost his right front tire headed into the “Tricky Triangle’s” third and final turn, allowing Bowman to coast to his third win of the season and the fifth of his career. Bowman, who succeeded seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet this season, will go for the sweep tomorrow in the same vehicle.

“This is the strangest win I’ve ever been a part of,” Bowman said of his unusual victory. “I thought I was running second, which was still going to be a good day for us with how we struggled throughout the course of the day. Then he blows a tire, we win; can’t do a burnout because I have to race the car tomorrow. I typically stand on the roof of the car; can’t do that because I got to race the car tomorrow. I typically drink all the beers; can’t do all that because I got to race a car tomorrow.”

Larson’s bad luck cost him the honor of being NASCAR’s first winner of four consecutive points events since Johnson in 2007. He did secure his seventh straight top-ten finish but will start from the rear of the field tomorrow because the late wreck will force him to a backup car.

“It’s little bit laughable just because I can’t believe it,” Larson told NBC Sports in his interview after making the mandatory stop at the infield care center. “I hate that we didn’t get another win. It would have been cool to win five in a row. It just wasn’t meant to be I guess today. I felt something like right in the middle of the tunnel. I wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. (The tire) finally kind of shredded halfway through the short chute there.”

“I hate that we didn’t get the win, but cool that Alex still did, a Hendrick car with another win. Cool to keep (team owner Rick Hendrick’s) streak going.”

Race Notes

  • The top 20 of Saturday’s final ledger will be inverted to form the starting lineup for Sunday. Thus, 20th-place finisher Chris Buescher will start first next to Michael McDowell (19th). Buescher is currently four points out of the last playoff spot behind Kurt Busch.

 

  • The latest HMS victory comes days after the team announced that Jeff Gordon would become the vice chairman of the team. Gordon, a four-time Cup Series champion, spent nearly his entire career in the No. 24 Chevrolet now piloted by Byron.

 

  • Cole Custer and Ryan Newman each failed to finish due to their involvement in on-track incidents.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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