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NASCAR Cup at the Charlotte ROVAL: Larson a surprise winner; the Harvick-Elliott feud continues

Charlotte, NC, Oct 10/21 (GRW): Much as I dislike races on the strange Charlotte speedway road course as well as the preoccupation of the NASCAR-paid media to talk up the developing story of the season-end playoffs, this year’s race at the Charlotte road course was engaging and the cliff-hanger story of who would advance to the Round of 8 the next week was deservedly the centre of attention att eh Charlotte race.

As for the racing on the ROVAL, the design of this course makes it almost un-raceable given the tight infield section with little or no runoff areas and the two difficult chicanes. However, this time, the racing , for the most part was engaging and it only on a few occasions threatened to descend to a demolition derby level. While there were ‘offs’ and crashes, these incidents did a lot to advance the story line of the day. Hence we actually saw quite a bit of genuine racing, not just the bang-em-up style of event.

So, what happened?

The biggest story of the race had to be Kyle Larson and his team. Very soon after the start of the second Stage, Chase Briscoe crashed, bringing out the first genuine yellow. During the ensuing caution, two of the Hendrick cars came in complaining of a loss of voltage. Alex Bowman thought his alternator was not working but when the crew replaced his battery, the problem seemed to be fixed. After that, Bowman had a fairly uneventful race, finishing in 10th place.

Meanwhile Kyle Larson, who had been running comfortably in the top five, reported that his voltage was dropping rapidly. He came in and the crew diagnosed the problem as a missing alternator belt. But, rather than take the time to try to fix it, they sent him out and got ready to put a new belt on at the next pit stop. This saw Larson falling to 22nd place at the restart – and his hold on transferring to the next elimination round looked grim.

The second Stage ended on lap 50 of the 109-lap race, Larson came in and his crew scrambled to replace the missing belt. The problem was now solved but the long pit stop had seen him fall even farther back in the field – to about 25th place. Had the race ended then, he would have failed to transfer to the next elimination round – but the race had another 50-plus laps to the checker.

After this, Larson car proved to be okay and he started marching his way up through the field. By lap 77, he was up to tenth. By lap 82 he was in sixth place and well above the cutoff line to avoid elimination from the next round of the playoffs.

Given the 59-lap length of this third caution, everyone was going to have to pit sooner or later. The seventh yellow flew on lap 88 for debris from Chase Elliott’s car (more on that later) giving everyone a chance to pit under caution. After the green, Larson vaulted up to second behind Denny Hamlin (Hamlin had already won in this elimination round, so he had a guaranteed advance to the next three-race elimination round).

A few laps later Joey Hand spun bringing out the eighth caution. Now Larson took the restart from the front row alongside Hamlin. Another caution, another restart with these two side-by-side and Larson powered his way to the lead ahead of Hamlin – and he went on to lead the final eight laps to take the win and advance to the next three-race elimination round. This win here at Charlotte was his second win this year at Charlotte, his seventh Cup race win this season and his third road race win of the year.

“It wasn’t looking too good,” Larson said of the electrical problems that beset his car. “Thankfully, everybody on our 5 car did a great job of staying calm. (Crew chief) Cliff (Daniels), as always, did a great job of communicating with me what was going on, getting the battery changed, the alternator—whatever was going on to get our battery running.

“I knew I was going to have some sketchy moments. I had to work my way through traffic, stay calm, and we had some good restarts there at the end… It was just a fun race there and a lot of craziness all day long.”

Hamlin lost ground in this final run and he finished in fifth place behind Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher and Kyle Busch.

This finish set up the group of eight drivers who will advance to the three-race Round of 8. They are Larson, Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch. Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex. The four drivers who were eliminated at this point are Harvick, Christopher Bell, William Byron and Alex Bowman.

During the middle of the race, William Byron had looked like a contender, leading twice for a total of 30 laps. As a race winner, despite his low number of playoff points, he would have automatically moved on to the next round, displacing Truex. In the end, he was unable to hold off the others and he fell back, eventually spinning off the track and finishing in tenth place.

The other excitement came from Harvick reopening his feud with Elliott. On lap 53, Harvick found himself behind Elliott and, as the twisted their way though the infield, Harvick jumped on his accelerator and rammed Elliott virtually the back of the car. How do I know this? Because we all saw it as a television replay and one could clearly hear the sound of Harvick’s engine revving up as his car ran into Elliott’s and spun him out. It was no surprise when NASCAR’s three monkeys took no action to penalize Harvick for this blatant ramming of Elliott.

Elliott’s crew did an amazing job of patching up his car well enough that he was able to get back up to speed and he actually finished in 12th place, good enough to advance to the next round. Harvick got his just deserts when he failed to make the cut – his worse result in all the years of the playoffs.

With this round completed, there are four more races left in the NASCAR Cup season: the three-race Round of 8 followed by the top four playoff drivers advancing to the winner-take-all championship finale at Phoenix.

Next week’s race, the first race in the Round of 8, will be run at the Texas Motor Speedway, next Sunday, October 17th.

• Click HERE for the Race Results

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