Kyle Larson scores big win at Texas Motor Speedway
Larson's victory at Texas handed him a berth in the season-ending, championship-deciding Round of 4 race at Phoenix Raceway in three weeks.
The undisputed top driver in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021 earned the chance to finish his best season off with a championship on Sunday when he won the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in overtime.
That driver is Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson, who has now won eight races this season, three of them in the playoffs.
His victory at Texas handed him a berth in the season-ending Round of 4 race that will decide the championship at Phoenix Raceway in three weeks.
"Yeah, this is unreal," Larson said. "I knew we had a good shot to win today, and our car was amazing. That's probably the best 550 package, intermediate car, we've had all year. So, thanks to everybody on this No. 5 team, HendrickCars.com, Rick Hendrick, this is so cool; we had a lot of people from HendrickCars here. We get to go race for a championship in a few weeks. This is crazy."
The berth in the final round of the playoffs is a first for Larson and comes in his first season at Hendrick and a year after he lost his job at Chip Ganassi Racing for uttering a racial slur into an open microphone.
"Yeah, it'll be cool," he said about being locked in and not have to worry about the next two races. "I don't think we're going to lose focus on Kansas or Martinsville, but I definitely think we can shift a little bit more to our Phoenix car and I really look forward to that.
"I love the West Coast. I love Phoenix. We've always been fast there. At least I was really fast earlier this year in the No. 5 and made a lot of mistakes. But I think we should have a good shot. Our team has been so strong all year long and we might as well close it all out," Larson added
Larson dominated in the win, leading 256 laps but needed to survive several restarts over the final 30 laps. The final caution forced the race into overtime.
"Brad (Keselowski) gave me a good push, like I knew he would," Larson said of the final restart. "I was able to get clear in the lead."
Hendrick teammate William Byron, who was bounced from the playoffs last weekend in Charlotte, finished second.
Third was non-playoff driver Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Team Penske's Keselowski, a playoff driver, was fourth, while non-playoff driver Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing was fifth.
"Well, we didn't need all those yellows," said Keselowski, who will head to Kansas 15 points below the cutoff line. "We had the car balanced really well with the Discount Tire Ford on the long runs.
"The last few times we have been here, you get 40 or 50 or 100 lap runs at the end but today, geez, we didn't run more than two laps at a time for the last 45 or 50 laps. That is just not what we needed. We needed the long runs to be able to keep them honest. We had long-run speed, but the 5 and 24 were just blistering fast on the restart and drove away from me. I just wanted some laps to let their stuff wear down," Keselowski said.
Playoff contenders Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch finished sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
"It was a pretty decent day," Blaney said. "I didn't think we had winning speed today. I thought the 5 (Larson) was pretty incredible, and the 24 (Byron) was fast too."
Busch seconded that.
"We just didn't have it," Busch said. "Certainly the 5 (Larson) and the 24 (Byron) were the class of the field again. We were just slow."
The second race of the three-race Round of 8 will be held next Oct. 24 at Kansas Speedway.