Kyle Larson NASCAR Cup Series Texas
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Kyle Larson's crew chief Cliff Daniels spent Texas Motor Speedway weekend preaching "base hits" were all his No. 5 team needed to advance in the playoffs. 

Well, if Sunday was their version of a single, watch out. A home run might lap the field next month in the Championship 4 finale at Phoenix. 

Larson watched behind him as multiple title contenders made mistakes, falling apart in the closing laps of Sunday's Autotrader Echopark Automotive 500. He was too busy leading 218 consecutive laps to finish the race, nailing restart after restart in a victory that left even the winner himself in awe of the overall performance. 

"Our car was amazing," Larson said. "That's probably the best 550 [horsepower] package, intermediate car, we've had all year." 

It's a strong statement from a driver who led 327 of 400 laps at Charlotte earlier this year, winning the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600 by over 10 seconds. His margin of victory was much smaller this time around, just a handful of car lengths, but seemed just as inevitable with teammate William Byron a strong second. It was like having an offensive lineman up to block, a 1-2 Hendrick Motorsports punch that no other competitor could fully climb over. 

"We had long run speed," said fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski, "But the 5 and 24 were just blistering fast on the restart[s] and drove away." 

Larson survived a whopping six caution flags in the final 60 laps, several of which chewed up and spit out title contenders (just he and Keselowski ended inside the top 5). Tops on the list was his top rival for the championship, Denny Hamlin, who cut a tire after contact with Ryan Blaney, spun out and got in a second wreck shortly thereafter with Chris Buescher. 

"Just weren't ourselves today," Hamlin said, finishing 11th. "Obviously, getting in two wrecks at the end didn't help." 

As for Larson, his reward is a two-week edge on preparing a car for Phoenix while everyone else gets busy battling behind him. With just 24 points separating second through sixth place, even Hamlin will spend the next two races grinding out a Championship 4 bid. 

That's a tremendous advantage for the No. 5 team, successful in not repeating the mistakes of last year's dominant driver, Kevin Harvick. After collecting a season-high nine wins, a 45-point edge over the cutline deteriorated for him with runs of second, 16th and 17th in the Round of 8. 

"That will always be on my mind," Larson said of Harvick's 2020 collapse. "I wanted to play it smart and take what I could get." 

So 256 laps led and a career-best eighth win was his version of conservatism? Can you imagine what Larson is capable of unleashing at Phoenix? Anything less than a title at this point has to be considered a disappointment. 

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Green: Brad Keselowski. Team Penske's lame duck veteran did a yeoman's job of slowly marching through the field. A fourth-place finish was his second top-5 result in three weeks, his best stretch since Talladega and Kansas back in May. Guess what track is next up on the schedule? The No. 2 team is still an underdog, some 15 points behind the cutline, but has put themselves in position to make a little Midwestern magic next weekend at Kansas Speedway. 

Yellow: Joe Gibbs Racing. JGR had a mixed bag performance. The good? Non-playoff driver, Christopher Bell was third while Kyle Busch ran eighth, won a stage and moved above the cutline by eight points. The bad? Hamlin was off his game, leaving the No. 11 team vulnerable and Martin Truex Jr. had a hard crash after contact with Daniel Suarez. 

In the end, all three championship-eligible teams can still make it; Truex especially has past success at Martinsville Speedway, the Round of 8 finale. But a month's worth of momentum has been wiped out the last two weeks as Hendrick has now tied JGR in the postseason win tally, 3-3. 

Red: Joey Logano. It was a bad time for Logano to blow an engine, his first with Team Penske in seven years! (How about that reliability!?). While consistency has been his calling card to this point in the playoffs (six top-11 finishes) the 2018 Cup champion now needs a win to advance. With only 13 laps led during these playoffs, that seems unlikely. 

Speeding Ticket: Chase Elliott. A season filled with missteps small and large for the reigning 2020 Cup champion continued. First, his team stumbled, forced to the rear when they failed pre-race inspection twice. Elliott came ready to fight for them, slicing through the field and into the top 15 within the first 25 laps. 

But Elliott stalled out from there, only collecting three stage points as their weakness on intermediates this year came home to roost. Race strategy never went crew chief Alan Gustafson's way, then his driver nearly wrecked the No. 9 after a midrace restart. A seventh-place finish, with zero laps led, stuck out like a sore thumb when Larson ran circles around the field. 

Can Elliott get to Phoenix and defend his title? A feud with Kevin Harvick remains a distraction, even after NASCAR talked to both drivers this week and told them to cut it out

"I'm still baffled that he's worried about me," said a coy Harvick, who ran fifth, two spots ahead of Elliott in this one. "I had no chance to win a championship. Looks like he should figure out how to take the same car and run as fast as the 5." 

At least Elliott has a sense of humor about it all after this tree was placed in the Texas media center. 


A weird Texas race also included the largest multi-car wreck in the history of the track. Some 16 cars got involved in this lap 32 melee caused by Bubba Wallace losing control on the backstretch. When the smoke cleared, eight of those drivers were knocked out of the race, including Wallace, a first-time Cup winner just two weeks ago. 

"Just an embarrassment on my part," Wallace said in taking responsibility for the incident. "Just trying to get clean air, went to the middle, and I was like 'eh, this isn't good.' Backed out, but by the time I backed out, it was already around. 

"Sorry for everyone who came here to cheer for the 23 car… I let everybody down."