Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson led 256 of 334 laps became the first NASCAR Cup driver to advance to the Championship 4 finale with a convincing win in the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
It's only fitting that Larson would be the first to punch his ticket to the sport's version of the Final Four. His won on Sunday was his series-leading eighth of the season. Next on that list among the Round of 8 challengers is Martin Truex Jr. with just four.
The win was also Larson's third in seven races this postseason.
“This year it’s been really good (at TMS),” said Larson, who will be making his first appearance in the Championship 4. “It (the car) was okay at the All-Star Race but cool to get that win and today my team did a great job studying up and they gave me a fast, fast race car, so huge thanks to all them, hendrickcars.com, and we get to race for a championship in a few weeks, that’s awesome.”
The season finale featuring the Championship 4 finalists will be at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, Nov. 7.
At Texas, Larson was put to the challenge with seven Stage 3 restarts, including one with two laps remaining, to secure the win by holding off his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron by .459 of a second. Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing came back from two laps down to finish third.
In addition to Larson, four other Round of 8 playoff drivers finished among the top 10 to stay in the championship picture. Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski finished fourth with teammate Ryan Blaney, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch finishing sixth through eighth, respectively. Larson led the way with 18 stage points, including a win in Stage 2, and was followed by Blaney (17) and Busch (11), who was the Stage 1 winner.
Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing finished 11th after recovering from a cut tire that led to a single-car spin and subsequent front-end damage.
Joey Logano of Team Penske and Martin Truex Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing weren't able to dodge trouble, either. Logano went out with engine trouble with 36 laps remaining to finish 30th. Truex Jr., who brought out the 10th of 11 cautions with 14 to go when contact by Daniel Suarez sent him hard into the Turn 3 wall, finished 25th.
“The track position was important for us,” Larson said. “We were able to pretty much lead the whole race, which was great and to stay ahead of that mess, but to fight through a lot of those restarts at the end, try to get the best pushes we could. We were able to just time it out right and get clear into (Turn) 1 every time.”
Blaney (+17), Hamlin (+9), Busch (+8) leave Texas above the cutline while Elliott (-8), Keselowski (-15), Truex Jr. (-22) and Logano (-43) are below as they compete for the remaining three berths in the Championship 4.
Truex Jr. and Logano have the most work to do in the remaining two Round of 8 races at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 24 and at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 31.