Kyle Larson can’t seem to celebrate a NASCAR Cup Series playoff win in an elimination race without some sort of drama involving team-mate Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick in the background. As he scored his seventh win of the season in Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, everyone’s focus was on the grudge between Elliott and Harvick as the two tangled once again as they did at Bristol three weeks ago.
Denny Hamlin started on the pole ahead of Brad Keselowski.
Stages #1 and 2
Hamlin led until the competition caution on lap 10, during which he and other leaders pitted; Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Christopher Bell suffered a speeding penalty on his stop. Team Penske‘s Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney would assume the top spots for the restart, while third Penske driver Brad Keselowski spun further back on the backstretch shortly after.
On lap 19, Keselowski avoided another brush with disaster when he barely missed a spinning Ryan Newman. Blaney led the field to the restart but lost two positions to Elliott and Saturday Xfinity winner A.J. Allmendinger. Elliott, one of the top road racers in the Cup Series, and Allmendinger, whose six road course wins are the most in Xfinity Series history, sparred until the end of the stage. Elliott cleared Allmendinger on the final lap to take the win.
Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Logano, Kurt and Kyle Busch, William Byron, Michael McDowell, and Harvick rounded out the top ten. Kurt Busch and McDowell were eliminated in the Round of 16 while Allmendinger, being an Xfinity full-timer, is ineligible to receive stage points.
Allmendinger paced the field to kick off the second stage before losing the lead to Kyle Busch. Meanwhile, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Alex Bowman began reporting electrical issues that forced them to change batteries, with Larson also having his alternator belt replaced, during a lap 33 caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spinning Chase Briscoe.
Busch led to the end of the stage. Elliott, Harvick, Blaney, Logano, Larson, Keselowski, Truex, Bowman, and Stenhouse followed. Stenhouse was the lone non-playoff driver in the top ten.
The final stage commenced with Byron leading.
On lap 55, Harvick and Elliott re-ignited their feud from Bristol when the former turned the latter into the wall, resulting in substantial but not fatal damage. As his car was still able to continue, Elliott sought out Harvick but ran at his own pace. With both drivers below the cut line, the situation sets up the potential for more drama entering the final Round of 12 race.
Byron continued to lead before pitting on lap 75, beginning a cycle of stops that allowed Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, and Hamlin to lead laps before it resettled with Byron. Further back, Elliott’s wounded car dropped its rear bumper cover that resulted in a lap 86 caution, which quickly generated controversy as critics argued he should have received a black flag, a penalty that is often applied in such situations. However, such a body component is not required for road courses and short tracks.
Hamlin assumed first for the restart. On lap 92, Cup newcomer Joey Hand and Corey LaJoie hit the wall in turn two for a caution.
Shortly after another restart, Harvick met his own demise when Elliott was giving chase, only for Harvick to lock his brakes entering turn one and slam into the wall. Unlike Elliott, the damage was terminal and eliminated him from the playoffs.
Larson held off Hamlin on the final restart and led for the final eight laps to win his third road course race of the year. With his Coca-Cola 600 win in the spring, he is the first driver to sweep both Charlotte Motor Speedway races in a season since Kasey Kahne, coincidentally a former Hendrick #5 driver, in 2006 (when the fall race was also on the oval).
“I obviously had a pretty good idea (of being below the cut line),” began Larson in his post-race interview. “I’ve gone through it here a couple years ago, a few years ago in the #42. When you think you’re good, all of a sudden you’re running like fortieth—whoa, I’m down below the cut line.
“I knew I was going to have some sketchy moments, just had to pick my way through traffic, stay calm. We had some good restarts towards the end. Was able to use my tire advantage to get under Denny, squeeze him out of real estate off of four.”
While Larson moves on to the Round of 12, Hendrick team-mates Byron and Bowman were not as fortunate as they were eliminated; Bell and Harvick were also knocked out. Elliott was able to rebound from his early wreck to finish twelfth and advance.
“Our team has a lot of fight, I’m just super proud of that,” said Elliott after the race. “As far as Kevin goes, just want to wish them a merry offseason and a happy Christmas.”
|1||10||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|2||29||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|3||16||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|4||9||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||109||Running|
|5||1||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||109||Running|
|6||30||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|7||3||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||109||Running|
|8||4||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||109||Running|
|9||6||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||109||Running|
|10||12||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|11||11||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|12||8||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|13||25||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|14||15||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||109||Running|
|15||14||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|16||19||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||109||Running|
|17||17||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|18||23||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|19||31||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|20||2||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||109||Running|
|21||18||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|22||22||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|23||27||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|24||21||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|25||13||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|26||20||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||109||Running|
|27||36||52||Joey Hand||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|28||37||15||Josh Bilicki*||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||109||Running|
|29||5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||109||Running|
|30||28||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||109||Running|
|31||35||78||Scott Heckert||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||109||Running|
|32||39||66||Timmy Hill*||MBM Motorsports||Toyota||108||Running|
|33||7||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||98||Accident|
|34||34||53||Garrett Smithley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||96||Running|
|35||26||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||93||Accident|
|36||32||51||Cody Ware*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||90||Accident|
|37||38||77||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||66||Engine|
|38||33||16||A.J. Allmendinger||Kaulig Racing||Chevrolet||57||Engine|
|39||24||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||19||Accident|
Underline – Eliminated from playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points