Kyle Larson Conquers Bristol, Playoff Field Reduced to 12

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    Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN — September 18, 2021

    “It’s Bristol Baby” and the excitement of a playoff elimination race makes Saturday night under the lights at the “The Last Great Colosseum” a real treat for NASCAR Fans. The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race from Bristol Motor Speedway is always a popular event on the schedule. As they did in 2020, NASCAR placed Bristol as the first elimination race of the playoffs where the postseason drivers will be cut from 16 to 12 prior to the next round. Uping the ante for drivers where the term “bump and run” has always been a part of the track legend.

    Three Playoff drivers have locked themselves into the Round of 12 by either wins or points in the first two races of the Round of 16 – Denny Hamlin (won at Darlington), Martin Truex Jr. (won at Richmond), and Kyle Larson (clinched on points) – leaving nine spots still up for grabs tonight.

    The Cup Series at Bristol

    In total Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted 120 NASCAR Cup Series races dating back to the inaugural event on July 30, 1961 – the race was won by Jack Smith (with relief from Johnny Allen). The 120 NASCAR Cup Series races at Bristol have produced 51 different pole winners and 42 different race winners.

    NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip leads the series in wins at Bristol Motor Speedway with 12 victories; including eight straight (1978, 1979, 1981 sweep, 1982 sweep, 1983 sweep, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1992).

    Six former Cup Bristol winners are entered this weekend, led by Kyle Busch with eight victories (Spring 2007, 2009 sweep, Fall 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019). Kevin Harvick is the most recent winner at the track taking the checkered in this event last season.

    Active Bristol Winners Wins Seasons
    Kyle Busch 8 2019, ’18, ’17, ’11, ’10, ’09 sweep, ’07
    Kurt Busch 6 2018, ’06, ’04, ’03 sweep, ’02
    Brad Keselowski 3 2020, ’12, ’11
    Kevin Harvick 3 2020, ’16, ’05
    Denny Hamlin 2 2019, ’12
    Joey Logano 2 2015, ’14

     

    Playoff Advancement

    Rank Driver Points Race Wins Stage Wins Playoff Pts Pts From Cutoff
    1 Kyle Larson 2,151 5 13 53 Clinched On Points
    2 Denny Hamlin 2,127 1 8 23 In On Wins
    3 Martin Truex Jr. 2,113 4 5 29 In On Wins
    4 Joey Logano 2,093 1 5 13 40
    5 Ryan Blaney 2,081 3 4 24 28
    6 Kevin Harvick 2,078 0 0 2 25
    7 Chase Elliott 2,072 2 3 21 19
    8 Christopher Bell 2,070 1 0 5 17
    9 Brad Keselowski 2,066 1 2 8 13
    10 Kyle Busch 2,061 2 5 22 8
    11 Aric Almirola 2,056 1 0 5 3
    12 Kurt Busch 2,053 1 3 8 0
    13 Alex Bowman 2,053 3 0 15 0
    14 Tyler Reddick 2,048 0 3 3 -5
    15 William Byron 2,035 1 3 14 -18
    16 Michael McDowell 2,015 1 0 5 -38

    Locked, Likely In, In Danger, Currently Out

    Tonight’s Race

    The 500 laps around “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” make up 266.5 miles. Stage lengths are 125/125/250. Martin Truex Jr.(19) sits on the Pole with his teammate Denny Hamlin(11) starting next to him on the Front row. Joey Logano(22) and Chase Elliott(9) make up Row 2 with one of the race favorites Kyle Larson(5) taking the green from Row 3.

    The “Choose Rule” is in effect tonight meaning, on restarts, drivers have the option of starting on the outside or inside of the track. Expect to see positions swapped throughout the evening as drivers try to take advantage of the decision made by the car directly in front of them in the lineup.

    Honoring America’s Servicemen

    In a touching ceremony prior to the command to start engines, 13 trucks circled the speedway in honor of the servicemen that lost their lives recently helping Americans evacuate from Afghanistan. Each truck carried the name of one of those soldiers, an American flag, and a flag representing the branch of the Armed Forces that the individual served in.

    Bristol Motor Speedway Honors the Sacrifice of 13 Servicemen Who Lost Their Lives in Afghanistan / Lasco Press Photo

    The Start

    Truex drove off into Turn 1 with the lead and Elliott followed him past Hamlin into 2nd. With just six laps in, Elliott moved under Truex and took over the top spot.

    Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr.(19) and Denny Hamlin(11) share the front row at the start of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race from Bristol Motor Speedway / NASCAR Photo

    Hamlin moved past Truex as the #19 car began to fade back outside the Top 5. Larson, Brad Keselowski(2), and Kevin Harvick(4) made up the lead group.

    With no practice or qualifying, NASCAR scheduled a competition caution for after Lap 40. The leaders had begun lapping traffic by the time the caution displayed.

    All the lead lap cars came to pit road for service. The Top 5 exited in the same order they presented themselves on pit road.

    Stage 1 

    On the restart, Larson surged ahead of Hamlin for the 2nd spot. But, Denny quickly moved back around as traffic sorted out into a single file line. The two drivers swapped positions again, but neither one of them could make a move on Elliott.

    On Lap 84, Elliott got trapped behind a lapped car. Both Larson and Hamlin were able to pass the leader. Contact between Hamlin and Elliott caused minor sheet metal damage on the #11 car.

    The damage was inconsequential as Hamlin took over the top spot 8 laps later. Hamlin stretched the lead as they continued to battle through lapped traffic. With a clear race track, Larson was able to cut the interval between himself and Hamlin.

    The two swapped the lead twice coming to the green and white checkered flag at the end of the Stage. Hamlin prevailed, as Bubba Wallace(23) provided a block on Larson after going a lap down. There were 22 cars on the lead lap at the end of the Stage, with the #22 of Joey Logano being the last car on the lead lap.

    Playoff drivers took all 10 bonus points positions on Lap 125.

    Stage 1 Results

    Position Car Driver Points
    1 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 10
    2 5 Kyle Larson (P) 9
    3 9 Chase Elliott (P) 8
    4 2 Brad Keselowski (P)* 7
    5 12 Ryan Blaney (P)* 6
    6 4 Kevin Harvick (P)* 5
    7 18 Kyle Busch (P) 4
    8 20 Christopher Bell (P) 3
    9 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 2
    10 24 William Byron (P) 1

    (P) Playoff Driver  *Ford Mustang Drivers

    Stage 2

    Pit stops shuffled the front of the field. Larson was 1st off followed by Keselowski, Hamlin, Harvick, and Ryan Blaney(12). Chase Elliott was 2nd off pit road but was caught speeding and sent to the rear of the pack for the restart, a huge mistake for a driver with no room for error if he wants to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

    Larson did not hold the lead long as Keselowski passed and took Hamlin with him. Denny made short work of Keselowski, retook the lead, and began to pull away. Keselowski lost 2nd to the constant harassment of Larson.

    On Lap 167 Ryan Newman(6) and Cole Custer(41) got together, Wallace also got involved and the caution displayed. It was a good break for Aric Almirola(10) who was trailing smoke from the rear of his car and it gave him an opportunity to come to the pit road for inspection.

    One of the oil lines on the #10 car was leaking, Almirola was trying to maintain his position on the lead lap, but NASCAR black-flagged the car forcing him into the pits for the line to be repaired. Track crews had to apply oil dry to the track to clean up lubricant dropped from his car. Somehow the crew managed to keep Almirola from going a lap down during the repair process.

    Back to racing just before the halfway point of the Stage, Larson led followed by Hamlin, Keselowski, Harvick, and Blaney. Elliott worked his way through the field and was back into the Top 10.

    Kyle Larson(5) leads, followed by Denny Hamlin(11), and Brad Keselowski(2) at Bristol / Lasco Press Photo

    More Trouble

    Anthony Alfredo(38) and BJ McLeod(78) crashed in Turn 4 bring out another caution on Lap 219. So much fluid was dumped on the track, NASCAR had to bring out the red flag and stop the race for track crews to clean up the race track.

    BJ McLeod(78) crashes at Bristol / Lasco Press Photo

    Most of the leaders stayed out to maintain track position, including Chase Elliott who moved up to the 2nd row for the green flag. The race restarted with 18 laps to go in Stage 2.

    Hamlin tried to put the pressure on Larson as the laps wound down. But, Larson held on for the Stage win. Bubba Wallace(23) was the only non-playoff driver to crack the Top 10 for Stage points, he finished 4th.

    Stage 2 Results

    Position Car Driver Points
    1 5 Kyle Larson (P) 10
    2 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 9
    3 2 Brad Keselowski (P)* 8
    4 23 Bubba Wallace 7
    5 9 Chase Elliott (P) 6
    6 24 William Byron (P) 5
    7 18 Kyle Busch (P) 4
    8 4 Kevin Harvick (P)* 3
    9 20 Christopher Bell (P) 2
    10 12 Ryan Blaney (P)* 1

    (P) Playoff Drivers  *Ford Mustang Drivers

    Harvick, Blaney, and Logano clinched a spot in the next round based on their points earned in the first two Stages.

    The Final Stage

    Again, the front of the pack was mixed up after pit stops. Harvick, Blaney, Christopher Bell(20), Truex, and Ryan Preece(37) led the field to the restart.

    Blaney drove to the top spot for the 1st time in the evening. Hamlin moved into the Top 5 and began tracking down the leaders. With 250 laps in the Final Stage, it will be interesting to see if drivers are required to make a green flag pit stop or the timely cautions will continue.

    Harvick worked his way back to the front through lapped traffic and began to pull away from the other leaders as he seemed to find that line that works so well for him at Bristol. Larson and Hamlin also passed Blaney as slower cars blocked the track in the corners.

    Kevin Harvick(4) drives under Martin Truex Jr.(19) to make a pass for position at Bristol / NASCAR Photo

    Larson quickly closed on Harvick and completed the pass after running in the #4s tire tracks for several laps. As the leaders caught drivers contending for playoff spots, putting those cars a lap down turned into real fights for position on the track. This allowed Harvick and Hamlin to close on Larson and make it a 3-way battle for the lead.

    Another incident in Turn 4, this time between Quinn Houff(00) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) gave drivers the break they were looking for as everyone came to pit road when the caution waved.

    Larson was 1st off, followed by Hamlin, Harvick, Kyle Busch(18), and Blaney as the race will restart with about 150 laps to go. With the “choose rule” Harvick will restart on the inside of Larson and Elliott sits on the inside of Hamlin.

    Houff brought out the caution again with 133 laps to go, crashing into the 3rd turn wall. The Top 5 stayed out, however, some of the guys further back among the contenders took the opportunity to pit for service. Alex Bowman(48) moved into the Top 5 for the first time tonight.

    Chase Elliott accumulated enough points at this point of the race to also advance to the next round.

    The Final 100 Laps

    Larson and Hamlin raced side-by-side for the lead. They banged together and Hamlin cut down a tire causing him to hit the wall. Fortunately, the caution came out allowing Hamlin to come to pit road for service without losing a lap.

    But, with 21 cars on the lead lap, Hamlin will have some work to do getting back to the front in the final 100 laps. With Hamlin out of the way, Elliott moved up to challenge Larson on the restart and he drove to the lead with 87 laps to go.

    With 50 laps to go, Elliott maintained the lead followed by Harvick, Larson, William Byron(24), and Blaney. With 44 to go Kyle Busch cut down a tire and had to pit under green losing two laps in the process. Busch returned to the track right behind Harvick and Elliott.

    With fresher tires, Busch made the pass. While that was happening Harvick and Larson took advantage and also drove past Elliott. Elliott collided with Harvick and cut down a tire. Coming to pit road for a four-tire change, Elliott’s chance at the win went away.

    Harvick came out of the battle with the lead and just 20 laps to go. With 10 to go, Larson trailed Harvick by almost a second. But Elliott, three laps down, was holding up Harvick allowing Larson to close to Harvick’s bumper with 5 to go. Larson took the lead as Harvick could not hold him off. Larson’s win denied Harvick his 1st victory of the season.

    Harvick and Elliott came together on pit road after the race, both exited their cars, and a heated discussion ensued.

    Byron, Michigan native Erik Jones(43) posted an 8th place finish, he and Matt DiBenedetto(21) in 10th were the only non-playoff drivers to finish in the Top 10.

    Playoff Standings

    Tyler Reddick (Richard Childress Racing), Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing),
    Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing), and Michael McDowell( Front Row Motorsports) were the four drivers eliminated in the first round.

    The big winner at Bristol was William Byron. He started the night all but dead, 18 points below the cut line. A 3rd place finish was enough to advance Byron into the Round of 12 by the slimmest of margins, 2 points.

    Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch started the night in the Top 12, both failed to hold their spot and Alex Bowman become the other driver to advance his position with a 5th place showing.

    NASCAR CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS

    Field to be cut to 8 drivers after 3 more races

    Points Cut (+/-)
    1 Kyle Larson 3059 46
    2 Martin Truex, Jr 3029 16
    3 Denny Hamlin 3024 11
    4 Ryan Blaney* 3024 11
    5 Kyle Busch 3022 9
    6 Chase Elliott 3021 8
    7 Alex Bowman 3015 2
    8 William Byron 3014 1
    9 Joey Logano* 3013 -1
    10 Brad Keselowski* 3008 -6
    11 Christopher Bell* 3005 -9
    12 Kevin Harvick* 3002 -12

    *Ford Mustang drivers

    Results of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race from Bristol Motor Speedway

    Position Car Driver Interval Laps
    1 5 Kyle Larson (P) 500
    2 4 Kevin Harvick (P) 0.227 500
    3 24 William Byron (P) 0.412 500
    4 12 Ryan Blaney (P) 1.439 500
    5 48 Alex Bowman (P) 1.619 500
    6 2 Brad Keselowski (P) 1.789 500
    7 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 3.680 500
    8 43 Erik Jones 5.971 500
    9 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 6.096 500
    10 21 Matt DiBenedetto 6.941 500
    11 22 Joey Logano (P) 7.965 500
    12 8 Tyler Reddick (P) 8.328 500
    13 14 Chase Briscoe 9.594 500
    14 42 Ross Chastain 13.153 500
    15 3 Austin Dillon 13.726 500
    16 23 Bubba Wallace 14.726 500
    17 37 Ryan Preece 14.869 500
    18 10 Aric Almirola (P) 15.423 500
    19 1 Kurt Busch (P) 15.884 500
    20 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -1 499
    21 18 Kyle Busch (P) -1 499
    22 99 Daniel Suarez -2 498
    23 17 Chris Buescher -2 498
    24 34 Michael McDowell (P) -2 498
    25 9 Chase Elliott (P) -3 497
    26 7 Corey LaJoie -3 497
    27 51 JJ Yeley -5 495
    28 41 Cole Custer -6 494
    29 20 Christopher Bell (P) -7 493
    30 53 Garrett Smithley -13 487
    31 52 Josh Bilicki -18 482
    32 66 David Starr -18 482
    33 15 James Davison -26 474
    34 0 Quin Houff -125 375
    35 38 Anthony Alfredo -187 313
    36 77 Justin Haley -284 216
    37 78 BJ McLeod -285 215
    38 6 Ryan Newman -323 177