After 1,308 left and 545 right turns, Kyle Larson etched his name into the NASCAR Cup Series record book by winning the Bank of America Roval 400 on Sunday afternoon.
Holding off Tyler Reddick by 0.782 seconds, the 29-year old Californian became the first driver to win three road course races in a season. He had previously won at Sonoma in June and Watkins Glen in August. Overall, he had five top-fives in seven tries. After the win, Larson said:
"Man, my HendrickCars.com Chevy was really good, William (Byron) was obviously really good. Bummer to see that not work out for him. The 9 (teammate Chase Elliott) ended up making it. Heck, that was some great perseverance by that team, too. Just awesome day for Hendrick Motorsports. Glad to get another win. Looking forward to the next round a lot."
Kyle Larson led the only laps that counted
Larson would only lead eight laps — the final ones — after pushing past then-leader Denny Hamlin for his seventh overall win of the 2021 campaign. His monster day put him at the top of the leaderboard with a massive 35-point advantage over Hamlin.
Busch entered the day in the eighth and final transfer spot and was in jeopardy of missing the cut. His track record at the Roval was miserable, finishing P30 or worse in his previous three outings.
Alex Bowman, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Kevin Harvick will not advance. For Harvick, he was still in the hunt down the stretch, but he locked up his brakes and crashed headlong into the wall, knocking him out of the race. Earlier, Harvick spun out Elliott, who suffered significant damage to his No. 9, and he vowed to pay him back. As Elliott closed in to do so, Harvick saved him from getting called to the NASCAR hauler.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers from P3-10 were Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Matt DiBenedetto, Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman.
• NASCAR removed six sets of yellow and black rumble strips from the track layout after the Josh Bilicki incident in the Xfinity Series race on Saturday.
• Only car sent to the rear was the No. 53 of Garrett Smithley for multiple pre-race inspection failures.
• Each team issues eight sets of tires plus five wets in case of rain.
• Scheduled cautions: 10 (competition) / 25 (End Stage 1) / 50 (End Stage 2).
How the Cup Series Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway played out
LAP 1: Denny Hamlin (pole) and Brad Keselowski lead a field of 39 cars to the green flag. Hamlin is the only driver locked into the Round of 8. All playoff drivers started in the first 12 positions.
LAP 10: COMPETITION CAUTION. Most teams pit before yellow comes out. Christopher Bell was penalized for speeding. Aric Almirola was sent to the back for a crew member over the wall too early. Top 10: Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace, Michael McDowell, AJ Allmendinger, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Of the leaders, Wallace, McDowell, and Stenhouse came in for service. Restart Lap 14. Keselowski restarted P5 but was spun out after contact with Bowman, dropping to P38. Blaney passes Logano for the lead.
LAP 21: CAUTION. Ryan Newman No. 6 blows right-rear tire, spins and hits the outside wall. All leaders pit except Blaney, Elliott, and Logano. Chris Buescher (+2), Bell, and Briscoe (+3) advance after stops. Restart with 3 to go in stage with Allmendinger taking the lead, followed by Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Elliott and Ryan Preece. Exiting chicane, Preece spins and falls to P37.
LAP 25: END STAGE 1. Elliott made a terrific pass on Allmendinger in the closing turns of the final lap for his fourth stage win of the year. He picks up ten points plus a valuable playoff point. Blaney, Truex, Logano, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, William Byron, McDowell and Harvick rounded out the top ten finishers. Allmendinger did not pit and restarted P1at Lap 29, followed by Kyle Busch, Byron, McDowell, and Harvick. Kyle Busch takes the point at 30.
LAP 35: CAUTION. Chase Briscoe spins on the frontstretch after being hit in the back by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Two of Hendrick Motorsports' playoff drivers, Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson, pitted with electrical issues. Bowman drops to P34, Larson to P37. Restart Lap 36 with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick pacing the field. All cars remain on the lead lap except Newman, who is out.
LAP 50: END STAGE 2. Many of the leaders pit before it closed. With one to go, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Elliott, Blaney, and Logano stayed out and ran P1-5 which was how they ended the stage. It was win number six for Busch. The remainder of the top ten were Larson, Keselowski, Truex, Bowman, and Byron. Larson was having electrical issues, and during his stop, his crew replaced the alternator belt after a four-tire change.
Larson drops to the back of the field (P35) after a lengthy pit stop. The restart at Lap 53 showed him below the final transfer spot -4. The top five were Byron, Austin Dillon, Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, and Allmendinger.
LAP 56: CAUTION. Possible payback from Bristol as Harvick takes out defending champion Chase Elliott, who slams the wall, gets clipped by Cole Custer, suffering severe damage to his right rear deck. Elliott is now shown in P37. With 52 to go at the restart, Elliott and Harvick were below the final transfer spot behind Kyle Busch in eighth. Meanwhile, Allmendinger restarted P5 but suffered an engine failure ending his day.
At Lap 60, only two playoff drivers were inside the top ten, Byron first in a must-win situation (started day -44), and Hamlin P3. If there are no more cautions the rest of the way, green flag stops will occur with around 30 to go. At Lap 70 of 109, Hamlin was still the only driver guaranteed to advance to the next round.
34 TO GO: Green flag stops begin. Byron peeled off from P1 and was followed by Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon. Elliott is staying out, hoping he can get closer to Harvick to return the favor. He eventually came in three laps later. After a stop-and-go for missing a chicane, Hamlin assumed the lead. Byron retakes the point when the No. 11 comes in for service. That puts Harvick and Elliott below the cutoff.
Elliott’s rear bumper is ready to fall off, and if it does, it will bring out a caution. According to the rules, it is not required to continue racing on a road course. Byron has a two-second advantage over Reddick but +12 over P3 Austin Dillon. A yellow flag will bunch up the field.
LAP 88: CAUTION. Debris is on track from Elliott’s bumper. Top ten: Byron, Reddick, Austin Dillon, Buescher, Kurt Busch, Larson, Hamlin, Blaney, Harvick, Logano. Byron pitted, but Hamlin stayed out. Speeding penalty for Bowman. Restart with 20 to go. Hamlin is on point alongside DiBenedetto. Anthony Alfredo, Kurt Busch, Reddick, Byron, Larson, Buescher, Austin Dillon and Logano round out the top ten at the green. Byron was out of contention for the victory after contact with Reddick, forcing him to miss the chicane. A stop-and-go drops him to P11.
LAP 94: CAUTION. Debris is on track from Joey Hand after hitting the outside wall. He was making his first Cup Series start. Hamlin, Larson, Reddick, DiBenedetto, and Kurt Busch are P1-5. With 16 to go, Keselowski trails Harvick by two points for the final transfer spot. Restart Lap 95.
LAP 100: CAUTION. With Elliott closing in on Harvick's bumper, he never got a chance to dump the No. 4. Harvick locks up and misses Turn 1, crashing hard into the wall. It will be the first time Harvick has not advanced out of the Round of 12 in the current playoff format. The top ten are Hamlin, Larson, Reddick, Buescher, Logano, Byron, DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Blaney, and Suarez.
Byron in P6 is back in the hunt in a must-win situation. If he does, Keselowski is eliminated. Larson pushes Hamlin onto the grass and takes the lead, with Reddick following him into P2. Byron moves to P3, but Larson maintains more than a second advantage over second and third. He would not be caught.