The undisputed top driver in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2021 earned the chance to finish his beat season off with a championship on Sunday when he won the Autotrader Echo Park 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 which have come in the Playoffs.
His victory at Texas handed him a berth in the season-ending, championship-deciding Round of 4 race at Phoenix Raceway in three weeks.
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.
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.
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 Brad Keselowski, a Playoff driver, was fourth while non-Playoff driver Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing was fifth.
Playoff contenders Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch finished sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
The second race of the three-race Round of 8 will be held next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
A couple of contenders ran into big trouble and may need to win at Kansas or the following week at Martinsville to make the final four.
Taking the first hit among Playoff drivers was Joey Logano of Team Penske. With 36 laps to go, his engine blew and he was a DNF. He was running just outside the top 10 at the time.
Contender Denny Hamlin was running seventh with 24 laps to go when he was sideswiped by Ryan Blaney. The contact resulted in a flat tire and spin for Hamlin. He had to pit and dropped to 16th as the last car on the lead lap. With seven laps to go and back in traffic, Hamlin got caught up in a wreck in front of him and his car suffered big damage. He hung on to finish 11th.
With 15 laps to go, Playoffs driver Martin Truex, Jr. was knocked loose by Daniel Suarez and slammed the wall, ending his day. He was running 10th at the time and finished 25th.
–Field Level Media