Though already locked into the four-driver championship-deciding NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix in two weeks, Kyle Larson refused to take the day off on Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
Larson held off Hendrick Motorsports teammate and fellow playoffs driver Chase Elliott over the final 14 laps to win the Hollywood Casino 400.
The victory in the Round of 8 race was Larson’s third in a row and his series-best ninth on the season.
“Glad we could capitalize and get another win, and hopefully we can go to Martinsville (Speedway, site of next weekend’s final race in the Round of 8) and get a clock,” which serves as the trophy at the storied short track, Larson said.
His margin of victory over Elliott, who scraped the wall several times over the last several laps, was 3.6 seconds.
Larson, who secured his admission to the championship race at Phoenix in two weeks when he won last weekend at Texas, led the most laps by far.
“Pulled together a win and I really don’t know how that happened,” Larson said, noting his own contact with the wall in the late going. “I thought that we were like a third-place car maybe.”
As he attempted to track Larson down over the final laps, Elliott, who will start Martinsville 34 points above the cut line, scraped the wall several times, and it cost him his shot.
Elliott said he “didn’t really have a choice” but to end his pursuit of the win and walk away with just a good points day. “Once I hit it, it hurt it (his car) pretty bad.”
“Thought we had something for Kyle there. Just got the wall there off of (Turn) 2 (trying) to get up to him. Every few feet you get close to him, the harder it gets.”
Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing is not a playoffs contender and came up short in his bid to get his first win of the season after challenging Larson for the lead late in the race. Harvick finished third.
Fourth was Kurt Busch of Chip Ganassi Racing, while championship contender Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing was fifth.
Hamlin, who will hit Martinsville 32 points above the cutline, described his day as, “Not a lot of brilliance. Just very average, Certainly not fast enough to run with the Chevys and Hendrick cars right now on these type of race tracks. Just hope to have a solid day next week and move on.”
Martin Truex Jr. of JGR, was seventh and Joey Logano of Team Penske was ninth. They will start Martinsville three and 26 below the cut line respectively.
Kansas was tough on several teams and drivers who are still in the playoffs.
Kyle Busch was the first playoffs driver to run into trouble.
On Lap 23, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver scraped the outside wall while running eighth. His crew went to work and kept him on the lead lap.
By the end of the first stage, Busch had driven to ninth place and collect two stage points. But on Lap 133, Busch again slapped the wall. He had to pit and again fell off the lead lap. Worse for the two-time champion, the damage he suffered seriously slowed his car. He finished 28th.
On Lap 38, playoff driver Brad Keselowski popped the wall with his right front fender. He slowed considerably until a flat tire sent him to the pits. As a result, he fell off the lead lap. Keselowski had led a couple laps early in the race and appeared to have good speed. He wound up 17th, a lap off the lead.
He will be six points below the cut line next week.
With 44 laps to go, contender Ryan Blaney of Team Penske tangled with Austin Dillon and as a result, he slammed the wall while running top 10. His race was over.
He will start Martinsville one point behind Busch and one point below the cutoff.
–Field Level Media
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