Saturday's motors: Larson returns to Las Vegas looking for another victory
Overlooked in the post-race spat between Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott was yet another trip to victory lane for Kyle Larson, NASCAR’s championship favorite.
As Larson celebrated his Cup Series-high sixth points win of the season, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott jawed with Harvick following their on-track dustup at Bristol Motor Speedway. A flat tire had ruined Elliott’s own shot at the win so he deliberately slowed Harvick to help his teammate beat his new rival.
Their heated feud injected some excitement into NASCAR’s 10-race playoff series, which shifts Sunday to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the opening race of the second round. But the dustup between Harvick and Elliott distracted from the results; Larson potentially jumpstarted another streak, and Hendrick Motorsports slid all four of its drivers into the next playoff round.
It’s a shift in momentum from the first round, when Joe Gibbs Racing opened with a pair of wins from Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., while Hendrick seemed vulnerable with both William Byron and Alex Bowman in danger of playoff elimination just one week ago. Instead, all four Hendrick drivers go to Las Vegas with their title chances still intact and Larson returning to the site of his first victory of the season.
The playoffs started with talk of Rick Hendrick’s four Chevrolets claiming all four spots in the championship round but it faded after the pair of JGR wins. Now it’s a reset and the Hendrick drivers are back in business.
“I think there’s a lot of strength in the individual (Hendrick) teams,” Byron said this week. “We had a difficult stretch there with the start of the playoffs … (but) we all ran well at Bristol and that was a really good sight to see. I think we’re poised to do really good things and we’ve overcome some things and there will be a lot more as we go through the playoffs.”
Larson dominated in March by leading a race-high 103 laps for his first victory driving for Hendrick. It opened what has been a breakout season in which Larson through 29 races has career bests in wins (six), top fives (16) and top 10s (21).
His 1,905 laps led is also a career best, and he needs just 95 more laps out front to become only the 20th driver in NASCAR history to lead more than 2,000 laps in a season. There are only three active drivers to hit that mark: Harvick, Truex and Kyle Busch.