Larson Wins Again at Texas, Becomes the First Driver to Reach the Finals

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Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, TX — October 17, 2021

The Round of Eight in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begins today at the Texas Motor Speedway in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. With the points reset for each round, four drivers start today below the cut line.

Rank Driver Points Status
1 Kyle Larson 4065 +42
2 Denny Hamlin 4030 +7
3 Martin Truex Jr. 4029 +6
4 Ryan Blaney* 4024 +1
NASCAR Playoffs Round of 8 Cut Line
5 Kyle Busch 4023 -1
6 Chase Elliott 4022 -2
7 Joey Logano* 4013 -11
8 Brad Keselowski* 4008 -16

*Ford Mustang Drivers

With his win at the Roval, Kyle Larson is almost assured of being one of the four to contend for the title at Phoenix in four weeks, he sits 42 points above the cut line. Only 23 points separate 2nd from 8th and anyone could climb out of the bottom four.

Team Penske, the only Ford Mustangs left in the championship chase, will have to compete among themselves as Ryan Blaney is on the bubble in 4th, Logano is 11 points out in 7th, and Brad Keselowski is 16 points out in 8th.

Today’s Race

The 501 miles consist of 334 circuits around the 1.5-mile race track. Stages are 105/105/124 laps. There will be a competition caution on or after Lap 25.

The defending champion of the race is Kyle Busch(18), a repeat today would lock Kyle into the final four. Busch leads all active drivers in wins at Texas with four victories (2013, 2016, 2018, 2020).

Kyle Larson(5) sits on the pole for today’s race, he won the race at Texas held earlier this year. Denny Hamlin(11) starts beside him, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney(12) take the green from row 2. Chase Elliott(9) failed pre-race inspection twice and will have to start from the rear of the field.

Denny Hamlin (red) and Kyle Larson (blue) sit on the front row for today’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 from Texas Motor Speedway / NASCAR Photo

Elliott managed to overcome an on-track feud with Kevin Harvick(4) to barely scrape by into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 8 last weekend at the Charlotte Road Course, and now the 2020 series champion finds himself sixth in the Playoff standings just two points back from Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney in the fourth and final Championship 4 Round transfer spot.

This season, Elliott has been superb, collecting two wins, 13 top fives, and 18 top 10s. The 25-year-old, Elliott, is looking to make the Championship 4 Round for the second time in his career (2020). He has made 10 series starts at Texas posting two top fives and five top 10s. His average finish at the 1.5-mile track is 12.0.

Stage 1

Larson jumped out to the lead into Turn 1 and stretched the interval between 1st and 2nd to over three seconds by lap 25. The Top 5 when the caution displaced were Larson, Joey Logano(22), Blaney, William Byron(24), and Kyle Busch.

 Early Racing at Texas Motor Speedway / NASCAR Photo

Crews employed a wide variety of strategies on pit road with the first out after service being drivers that only received two tires in addition to fuel. Byron, Martin Truex Jr.(19), Tyler Reddick(8), Christopher Bell(20), and Logano were the Top 5.

Kyle Busch was caught speeding on pit road and will drop to the rear of the field for the restart. That could have been a costly mistake as a huge wreck collected a number of cars mid-pack on the backstretch after taking the green flag. Busch suffered a minor dent to the right rear and returned to pit road for quick repairs.

Ross Chastain(42), Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47), Alex Bowman(48), Ryan Preece(37), Bubba Wallace(23), Joey Gase(53), Cody Ware(51), Justin Haley(77), Ryan Newman(6), Michael McDowell(34), Cole Custer(41), Josh Bilicki(52), and Aric Almirola(10) were all involved in the incident.

Matt DiBenedetto(21) replaced Logano in the Top 5 for this restart. Wallace, Bowman, Stenhouse, Newman, Preece, Haley, Ware, and Gase were unable to continue as a result of the damage suffered in the pileup.

With 47 laps to go in the Stage, Elliott had worked his way into the Top 5 trailing Byron, Reddick, Hamlin, and Larson.

Fuel economy played an important part in determining the finishing order in Stage 1 as all the leaders were forced to pit road for fuel in the waning laps. Kyle Busch took the Stage Win and the 10 bonus points for being the first driver under the green and white checkered flag.

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 18 Kyle Busch (P) 10
2 12 Ryan Blaney (P)* 9
3 5 Kyle Larson (P) 8
4 1 Kurt Busch 7
5 24 William Byron 6
6 14 Chase Briscoe* 5
7 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 4
8 9 Chase Elliott (P) 3
9 8 Tyler Reddick 2
10 2 Brad Keselowski (P)* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

Kyle Busch led off pit road, followed by Larson, Blaney, Byron, and Elliott. However, it did not take Larson long to move back to the front. Blaney dropped back into the pack while Reddick returned to the Top 5.

Everyone was watching as Kevin Harvick(4) moved up to challenge Elliott for the 5th spot, given their history at Bristol and the Roval. Harvick made the pass cleanly and entered the Top 5 for the first time in the race.

At the halfway point of the Stage, Elliott was forced to pit when one of his tires blistered and lost a chunk of rubber. The stop put Elliott a lap down, but it triggered the start of green-flag pit stops among the leaders.

With 45 laps to go, NASCAR was forced to display a caution flag for debris on the track. This allowed the remainder of the lead lap cars to pit while those drivers who had already come in for service stayed out and received the wave around to get back on the lead lap.

Larson, Kyle Busch, Byron, Brad Keselowski(2), and Blaney led the field back to green with 40 laps left in Stage 2. Kyle Busch dropped back during the closing laps, Larson maintained the top spot with his teammate Byron finishing the Stage in 2nd.

Stage 2 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 5 Kyle Larson (P) 10
2 24 William Byron 9
3 12 Ryan Blaney (P)* 8
4 4 Kevin Harvick* 7
5 2 Brad Keselowski (P)* 6
6 1 Kurt Busch 5
7 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 4
8 14 Chase Briscoe* 3
9 8 Tyler Reddick 2
10 18 Kyle Busch (P) 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Not gaining any Stage points has put Logano in a bad position, he sits at the bottom of the standings among the 8 drivers trying to advance to Phoenix.

The Final Stage

With 100 laps to go in the race, Larson stayed out front, Byron ran 2nd, with the Ford Mustangs of Keselowski, Blaney, and Harvick rounding out the Top 5.

Larson leads Byron / NASCAR Photo

Chase Briscoe(14), running in the Top 10, tapped the wall and flattened a tire with 60 laps to go bringing out the 6th caution of the day. The lead lap cars took the opportunity to stop under the yellow and should be good to go to the finish with fuel and fresh tires. Larson and Byron held onto the first two positions. Keselowski, Reddick, Hamlin, and Blaney completed the next two rows.

With 34 laps to go, Logano detonated an engine and was forced to retire from the race. He will finish in the 30th position dealing a serious blow to his playoff hopes. Dousing the track with fluids brought out the caution again. The leaders stayed on track, but those drivers that were not happy with their cars came in for fresh tires.

Harvick, Truex, Kyle Busch, and Elliott took advantage of the yellow to change tires. They did not get to see if the new rubber made a difference.

Late Trouble

Back in the pack Stenhouse got loose and looked like he would spin out. Ricky saved the car, but as drivers checked up Anthony Alfredo(38) got pinched, lost control, and hit the wall.

Alfredo’s wreck resulted in fire belching out underneath his car as it rested on the apron. He exited safely, NASCAR opted to display the red flag to protect the safety vehicles attending to the damaged car and clean up the track for the final sprint to the finish.

Restarting with 25 laps to go and 7 playoff drivers in the Top 11 it is sure to get crazy. Three-wide racing caused Hamlin to dent a fender and damage a tire. He spun bringing out another caution with 20 laps to go. Hamlin pitted to change tires before pit road opened. He did manage to stay on the lead lap but will have to start at the back of the longest line.

Reddick managed to pass Byron and he will restart on the front row next to Larson. Byron and Keselowski sit on row 2 when the green flies with 16 laps to go. Truex hits the wall in Turn 4 after slight contact with Daniel Suarez(99) and with 14 laps to go the 11th caution flag of the day flies.

Truex’s car is too damaged to continue and he will drop from 3rd in the standings to 7th. This restart will fire off with 9 laps to go with Larson and Byron on the front row. Cautions breed cautions late in the race. Reddick and Byron get side-by-side and bump causing a tire rub on the 24 car. Back in the pack Briscoe and Chris Buescher(17) get together. Buescher spins in front of Hamlin who slams into the 17 and damages the front end of his car.

The race goes into NASCAR overtime as the damaged cars try to hold on to the finish. Larson and Byron on the front row, Keselowski and Bell on row two. Bell has the freshest tires of all the leaders.

Larson pulls away for the win as Byron and Keselowski battle for 2nd. Byron wins the last lap sprint and takes second, Keselowski loses the 3rd position to Bell and Harvick beats out Blaney for 5th.

Playoff Standings

Position Car Driver Status
1 5 Kyle Larson In-Win
2 12 Ryan Blaney* +17
3 11 Denny Hamlin +9
4 18 Kyle Busch +8
NASCAR Playoffs Round of 8 Cut Line
5 9 Chase Elliott -8
6 2 Brad Keselowski* -15
7 19 Martin Truex Jr. -22
8 22 Joey Logano* 43

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Kyle Larson’s win is the best-case scenario for the remainder of the playoff field. He was likely to advance on points so now the remaining seven drivers know he is in and they are going to have a shot at one of the final three positions.

Larson Wins at Texas / NASCAR Photo

Joey Logano suffered the biggest loss of the day when his engine blew. He faces a must-win situation in one of the next two races at Kansas and Martinsville. Truex might be able to recover for 22 points down with a pair of strong runs and trouble for the drivers in front of him. Blaney has a nice advantage at 17 points above the bubble, but he cannot afford a bad performance or accident that would drop him into danger.

The last two playoff spots are likely to be contended for among Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, and Brad Keselowski. Only 24 points separate the four drivers with Busch and Elliott just 8 points apart at the cut line.

Results of the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 from Texas Motor Speedway

Position Car Driver Interval Laps
1 5 Kyle Larson (P) 334
2 24 William Byron 0.459 334
3 20 Christopher Bell 0.516 334
4 2 Brad Keselowski (P) 0.556 334
5 4 Kevin Harvick 0.629 334
6 12 Ryan Blaney (P) 0.789 334
7 9 Chase Elliott (P) 0.891 334
8 18 Kyle Busch (P) 1.331 334
9 8 Tyler Reddick 1.336 334
10 99 Daniel Suarez 1.437 334
11 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 1.468 334
12 43 Erik Jones 1.563 334
13 21 Matt DiBenedetto 1.600 334
14 3 Austin Dillon 2.992 334
15 14 Chase Briscoe 10.435 334
16 1 Kurt Busch -2 332
17 34 Michael McDowell -2 332
18 10 Aric Almirola -3 331
19 41 Cole Custer -4 330
20 7 Corey LaJoie -5 329
21 17 Chris Buescher -7 327
22 78 BJ McLeod -10 324
23 66 David Starr -11 323
24 15 Garrett Smithley -13 321
25 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) -14 320
26 52 Josh Bilicki -15 319
27 13 Timmy Hill -17 317
28 42 Ross Chastain -23 311
29 38 Anthony Alfredo -35 299
30 22 Joey Logano (P) -36 298
31 0 Quin Houff -275 59
32 23 Bubba Wallace -296 38
33 48 Alex Bowman -298 36
34 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -303 31
35 6 Ryan Newman -303 31
36 37 Ryan Preece -304 30
37 77 Justin Haley -304 30
38 51 Cody Ware -304 30
39 53 Joey Gase -305 29