By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Despite a pre-race penalty, Kyle Larson climbed through the field and clinched a spot in the Round of 12 for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
At the start of the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders, Larson dropped to the rear of the field. His No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE failed pre-race tech inspection twice. However, Larson wasted little time working his way back through the field.
By the time the competition caution waved on lap 30, Larson had already climbed into the top-15. By the end of Stage 1, the Elk Grove Calif. native was already well inside the top-10. Larson stayed inside the top-10 throughout the rest of the 400-lap race.
Although he showed speed in the first 80 laps, Larson bounced up and down the running order inside the top-10 during the two long green flag runs in Stage 2 and to end the race. The differing strategies of when to pit put some drivers on fresher Goodyear tires than others.
Larson found himself in sixth in the closing laps, behind Joey Logano and ahead of Ross Chastain. With the intervals between the three drivers around three or more seconds, the Hendrick Motorsports driver ran out of time to score a top-five. Taking the checkered flag in sixth, Larson was just one of nine drivers to finish on the lead lap.
“It’s a lot better than we were here at Richmond earlier in the year,” admitted Larson. “At the beginning of the race, I thought I was going to have a really good shot to win, but we kind of lost the balance there and got it back a little bit there at the end. So, we probably finished where we deserved. The No. 18 (Kyle Busch) kind of had his problems, so maybe we finished one spot better. Not a bad day. To go to Bristol and know that we’re locked in is nice. We’ll try to be aggressive and get a win this week.
“As bad as we were the last time we were here, I think to have a win in your expectations would be difficult to do. I think we exceeded what I thought we would do here. I thought it would be a good day to run around tenth. I feel like I ran from fourth to kind of seventh, once I got there, all race. So, it was a good day for our HendrickCars.com Chevy and I’m looking forward to Bristol now.”
As he did in Stage 1, in Stage 2, Larson finished fourth. The additional 14-points he earned were enough for secure a spot in the Round of 12 of the Cup Series playoffs. Larson ended the race at Richmond Raceway with a comfortable 98-point lead over the cutoff for the Round of 12, currently held by his Hendrick teammate, Alex Bowman.
The sixth-place finish is the 20th top-10 finish for Larson this season. It is also the 121st top-10 in the 29-year-old’s Cup Series career.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo