Kyle Larson keeps on rolling, wins at Kansas

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Kyle Larson has earned his place in the NASCAR Cup Series’ Championship 4. But he and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team aren’t letting up before the title race in two weeks at Phoenix Raceway.

Larson led a race-high 130 laps Sunday at Kansas Speedway in claiming his ninth win of the season. He is now on his second three-race win streak of 2021. The last driver to have two three-race win streaks in a season was Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt in 1987.

Entering next Sunday’s Round of 8 elimination race at Martinsville Speedway, he’s the only one of the eight remaining playoff drivers that knows he’ll have a shot to win it all in Phoenix.

Larson’s win at Kansas was tinged with poignancy for his Hendrick Motorsports organization. It came 17 years to the day that an HMS-owned plane crashed while in route to a race at Martinsville Speedway. All 10 passengers aboard were killed, including team owner Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky, and Rick’s older brother and team president, John.

“I want to dedicate this win to Rick and Linda (Hendrick),” Larson told NBC Sports after the race. “I didn’t get to ever meet Ricky or the other men and women who lost their lives that day. But I felt the importance of this race, no doubt.

“Crazy kind of how it all worked out there for me to win. I know they were all looking down, helping me out there on all the restarts and stuff and after getting in the wall.

“Again, thank you to Rick Hendrick. I know this means a lot to you and I’m glad I could get it done.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammate and reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott finished second to boost his hopes of making the Championship 4.

With the help of 17 stage points, Elliott went from eight points below the cutline to advance to 34 points above it going to Martinsville. Elliott won last fall’s playoff race there to set up his title-clinching victory the following week at Phoenix.

Non-playoff drivers Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch turned in strong drives to finish third and fourth, respectively.

Rounding out the top five was Denny Hamlin in fifth. He managed to score nine stage points, which helped expand his cushion above the cutline to 32 points at day’s end.

Below Larson, Elliott and Hamlin however, there’s little margin for error now.

Kyle Busch holds the final transfer spot to the Championship 4 by a single point over Ryan Blaney. Both drivers suffered poor results Sunday to put them in this situation.

Martin Truex Jr. (-3) and Brad Keselowski (-6) did enough Sunday to noticeably close their deficits entering Martinsville. At the bottom is Joey Logano (-26), who finished ninth Sunday but is still in a must-win situation for next week.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Larson

STAGE 2 WINNER: William Byron

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Martin Truex Jr. was one of several playoff drivers that got into the wall in the opening stage and had to pit for flat tires and damage repair. But Truex was able to recover for seventh place at day’s end. … Also salvaging his day from a run-in with the wall was Brad Keselowski, who recovered to finish 17th and draw within striking distance of a Championship 4 berth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff driver Kyle Busch’s second run-in with the wall at Lap 133 forced him to pit under green and lose multiple laps for damage repair. He couldn’t recover and finished six laps off the pace in 28th … Austin Dillon got loose in Turn 2 with 44 laps to go, and his attempt to correct sent him into playoff driver Ryan Blaney, who promptly hit the wall. Blaney’s car was too damaged to continue. His 37th-place finish was made even worse due to having scored zero stage points.

POST-RACE INSPECTION: Christopher Bell‘s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was found with two lug nuts not safe and secure. That will mean a one-race suspension and $20,000 fine for No. 20 crew chief Adam Stevens.

Other notes:

  • Chase Briscoe‘s No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and Joey Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford were each found with one lug nut not safe and secure. That will mean a $10,000 fine for crew chiefs John Klausmeier (No. 14) and Paul Wolfe (No. 22).
  • Logano’s car, as well as those of winner Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin, will go to NASCAR’s research and development center for further inspection.

NOTABLE: A pop-up rain shower led to an early red flag at Lap 12. During this period, a lightning strike within eight miles of the track initially triggered a 30-minute delay. However, as the inclement weather quickly moved away from the track, the delay was lifted and drivers were called back to their cars to resume the race. The red flag time was 15 minutes, 46 seconds.

NEXT: Round of 8 elimination race – Oct. 31 at Martinsville Speedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC)