NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR takeaways: Kyle Larson first driver to secure Championship 4 berth
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR takeaways: Kyle Larson first driver to secure Championship 4 berth

Updated Oct. 17, 2023 12:34 p.m. ET

LAS VEGAS — Among the highly talented drivers who could nearly wreck and save the car enough to win the race, Kyle Larson would be included in that list.

He proved that Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as he got loose and kissed the wall with the right side of his car, kept going, got a few breaks and then a solid pit stop to take the lead before holding off a hard-charging Christopher Bell to win the opening race of the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8.

"Probably not many [can do that]," Larson crew chief Cliff Daniels said. "Huge credit to him. ... I'll give it a 9.4 [rating]. He hit the wall. If he wants a 10, don't hit the wall. 

"It was a ridiculous save."


The victory vaulted the Hendrick Motorsports driver into the championship in three weeks as he will be one of the four drivers competing for the title Nov. 5 at Phoenix Raceway. He can spend the next two weekends — at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Phoenix Raceway — not worried about the result.

"It's nice to get to go there and race with just winning on your mind and not points racing on your mind," Larson said. "We'll go to Homestead and try to do what we did today and go to Martinsville and do the same thing, and then hopefully have a lot of momentum into Phoenix."

Seven other drivers will vie for the final three spots in the Championship 4.

The driver furthest back is Ryan Blaney, whose sixth-place finish was wiped out as NASCAR disqualified him — putting him last in 36th — for a left front shock that didn’t meet the minimum length in postrace inspection (NASCAR later found an issue with its inspection process and rescinded its decision to disqualify Blaney's car, restoring his original sixth-place finish).

Takeaways from the opening race of the Round of 8, where Larson and Bell were followed by non-playoff drivers Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain and Brad Keselowski

Things Go Larson's Way

Larson has wrecked while leading or battling for the lead in six races this year. So he hasn't felt things have always gone his way in a season where now has four Cup wins.

But he had to feel a little fortunate Sunday. In practice Saturday, he had enough time when he felt a vibration to slow down and not crash when his tire was about to blow.

Then he had the near-wreck Sunday. And then on the final pit stop, he was able to go from third to first, in part because Bell spun his tires a little bit exiting his pit stall.

"I was glad that it kissed the wall because had it not, I was going to slide down and hit the inside wall and have our race over," Larson said. "I thought I had it saved and ... and then I really lost it and just floored it and thankfully caught the wall but then didn't catch the front end in the wall.

"Then the caution came out just a handful laps later and kind of saved our race from there."

And then there was the finish where Bell nearly caught him, losing by just 0.082 seconds.

"I knew those guys were going to come back to me, I just didn't want them to have Bell get as close as he did there at the end," Larson said. "Thankfully it wasn't one more lap because I think he was definitely getting ready to drive by me."

Kyle Larson takes the checkered flag to make it to the Championship 4

Bell Sees Chance Slip Away

Bell agreed with Larson as far as how much more he needed to pass him.

"I needed a mistake [by him] — it stings," Bell said. "It stings to be that close and to know that this is one of our best tracks in the round, and we had a great opportunity to win today and we didn't capitalize on it."

Bell knew he might have trouble launching from his pit stall as the last stall on pit road at Vegas is known for being a little slick. But its placement, like at most tracks, typically makes it the most advantageous.

"We knew that when we picked [that] pit stall," Bell said. "It's notoriously slick."

Hamlin, Truex Leave Frustrated

Two drivers who were championship favorites at the start of the playoffs now find themselves on the brink of the cutoff.

Martin Truex Jr. (eighth) and Denny Hamlin (ninth) are both two points ahead of Bell (who would be the first driver out if the round ended now) in the standings with two races remaining.

Check out the full highlights from the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Truex rebounded from a bad pit call where he stayed out after the first stage instead of pitting for tires. But he rallied from dropping to around 20th to finishing ninth, which is about where he would have run anyway as they were not great in traffic.

"Our car was just really bad in dirty air," said Truex, who had not finished in the top 15 in any of the first six playoff races. "There's stuff to look at to be better ... Another top-10 — finally."

Hamlin had an unusual day where his team made a late adjustment that didn't work. He was seventh in the first stage and ran in the top-5 until about 50 laps to go.

"I didn't have a very good restart the second-to-last one where I got split three-wide and lost two spots and then when we pitted, we just made an adjustment that didn't work," Hamlin said. "It didn't work with the car and then add the track position to ... and couldn't do much."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.


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