CONCORD, N.C. – After completing the Round of 12 of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, Kyle Larson could breathe a sigh of relief. The 2021 Cup Series champion had overcome having to go to a backup car to advance to the next round.
On Saturday afternoon, during his eighth lap in practice, Larson hit the wall coming out of turn eight, where the infield section of the 17-turn layout blends into the oval section. After assessing the damage, the team decided to move to a backup car.
Starting 36th in the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Sunday's race, Larson drove up to 21st before crew chief Cliff Daniels called his driver down for service to short pit near the end of stage one. That move set up Larson to start stage two from 17th and he got into the top five to earn six valuable stage points at the end of stage two. The tradeoff to earning the stage points was that it put the No. 5 in the back of the pack in the 31st position for the restart to the final stage. Nevertheless, he quickly worked his way up into the top 15 and held a top-10 position with 19 laps to go. The 31-year-old driver narrowly avoided an incident on lap 88 and was able to finish 13th. That result got Larson into the Round of 8 and also moved the No. 5 team through on the owner’s side of things.
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"It was a stressful weekend, but the No. 5 team and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports did a great job working hard on this backup car late last night," Larson said. "I felt like our car was really good today. We were just pretty conservative there at times. I just didn’t want to make a mistake like I did last year and take ourselves completely out of it. It was just stressful there in the final stage, but we were able to get in, which was the goal."
Sunday’s outcome helped erase the memories of 2022 when Larson’s contact with the wall late in the race eliminated him from the driver playoffs. This time around, with the Round of 8 reset, he sits fourth with 4,024 points and holds a three-point advantage on the elimination line. On top of that, Larson has won at all the remaining tracks. His win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was his first victory with Hendrick Motorsports in 2021. Additionally, he has one triumph each at Homestead-Miami Speedway (2022), Martinsville Speedway (2023) and Phoenix Raceway (2021).
"I’m just happy to get through this round," Larson said. "I didn’t execute nearly good enough (in the Round of 12). We’re going to some great tracks for us in this next round. Hopefully, we’ll make it to Phoenix."
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In the six playoff races so far, Larson has the second-most laps led (274), is tied for the second-most points (226) with teammate Chase Elliott and has the fourth-best average finish (11.00). Since the win in the playoff opener at Darlington, Larson has been in the mix for the win in the closing laps of four of the last five races.
The Round of 8 kicks off at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile track that happens to be Larson’s best track left on the schedule based on average finish (yes, even over Homestead-Miami). In 14 starts, he has one win, six top-five finishes, 10 top-10s and an average finish of 10.5. In his five starts there with the Rick Hendrick-owned organization, the Elk Grove, California, native has a win, two runner-up finishes and 288 laps led.
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Tune in to watch Larson and the No. 5 HendrickCars.com team vie for a spot in the Championship 4 on Sunday, Oct. 15, at 2:30 p.m. ET. Coverage will be on NBC, NBC Sports App, PRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).