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NASCAR Cup at Bristol: Another win for Larson, his sixth so far

Bristol, TN, Sept 18/21 (GRW): Kyle Larson led 175 laps of the 500-lap grind here at Bristol but it was the final four laps that counted. With a little help from his friend (teammate Chase Elliott) Larson got past Kevin Harvick for the lead and he held on to the checker, finishing just 0.2 seconds ahead of Harvick. This locked him into the transfer to next week’s Round of 12 race at Las Vegas.

In a race series that has two championships each year – the ‘Regular Season’ championship and the end-of season championship determined by a shootout in the final race of the year at Phoenix, Larson has already won the first and his chances of being there to win the second championship title are looking pretty good as well .

The last caution ended on lap 407. The field had been bunched up after the previous caution ended on lap 396 and Larson was now battling with Denny Hamlin for the lead. The two were side-by-side when the two came together and Hamlin suffered a flat tire and slammed up into the wall – ending his hopes for the win. Larson continued with minor damage.

On the restart, Elliott had chosen the lower line which enabled him to gain the lead over Larson and Harvick. He led for the next 52 laps until he had to pit under green – having gotten a flat in the close running with Harvick, falling laps down and out of contention. However, when he came back out, he was running on the track mixed up with Harvick, who had the lead with Larson close behind.

With nothing to lose and a grudge to bear, Elliott refused to concede anything and he kept racing with Harvick. This caused Harvick to lose the lead to Larson – and Elliott’s interference kept Harvick from ever mounting a successful challenge and the race ended that way.

“Yeah, that was an awesome race,” said Larson, who won for the first time at Bristol and the 12th time in his career. “It was so cool to be able to race there for the win. Obviously, Harvick and Chase got together. Chase was upset. Kind of held him up. It got Harvick having to move around and use his tires up off the bottom.

“I started to get some dive-ins working off of (Turn) 2, got a big run, decided to pull the trigger, slide him, squeeze him a little bit. Then he had me jacked up down the frontstretch. It was wild.”

The argument between Elliott and Harvick continued after the race – first in front of the TV cameras and then, showing better judgement, the two adjourned behind the closed doors of a hauler and continued their ‘discussion’. If anyone was the beneficiary of these bad feelings, it had to be Larson.

“It’s just chicken (expletive),” Harvick said after the confrontation broke up. “I don’t know what else to say. Throw a temper tantrum like you’re two years old because you got passed for the lead and got a flat tire. We barely even rubbed. It’s all Chase’s way, or it’s no way. If he doesn’t get his way, he throws a fit.”

Not surprisingly, Elliott had a different interpretation of the events in the closing stages of the race.

“It’s something that he does all the time,” said Elliott, who finished 25th. “He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks, and sometimes it does cut down your left sides. Other times it doesn’t. Whether he does it on purpose, it doesn’t matter. At some point, you’ve got to draw the line. I don’t care who he is and how long he’s been doing it. I’m going to stand up for myself and my team, and we’ll go on down the road.”

On a half-mile track like Bristol, 500 laps is only 250 miles of racing but it can seem to be as long as Le Mans. This day, the race took over three hours to be completed and it seemed like forever.

Early on Elliott took the lead but then Hamlin took over and he went on to win the first Stage. No clear leader emerged after that until Larson did on lap 173. He led for 81 laps then, winning the second Stage. Early in the final Stage, Ryan Blaney took over on lap 256 and he led 43 laps. After that it became the battle involving Larson, Harvick and Elliott – which ultimately turned out to Larson’s benefit.

Finishing behind Larson and Harvick were William Byron, Blaney and Alex Bowman – three Hendrick cars in the top five.

Of the 12 drivers who advanced to the second round of the playoffs, four represent Hendrick Motorsports (Elliott, Larson, Byron and Alex Bowman); four represent Joe Gibbs Racing (Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell); and three represent Team Penske (Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney).

Seven races remain in the NASCAR Cup elimination playoffs. Next week they will be at Las Vegas (on September 26th) for the first race in the three-race Round of 12. With his six race wins so far this year, Larson seems to have the hot hand and he has to be the favourite to win the second 2021 NASCAR Cup championship as well as the first.

• With files from NASCAR Wire Service

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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