Yesterday, the NASCAR Cup Series opened the second round of the playoffs just outside of Dallas, at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. Unlike the past few years, the track wasn’t covered in the dreaded PJ1 compound that had tarnished the racing product as of recent. This time, the track was covered in a special type of resin that had been used at the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway, a race which had a positive reaction from fans and drivers alike.
The first eight starting spots were held by the remaining 8 playoff drivers, with Texas All Star Race winner and last week’s winner, Kyle Larson, starting in the first position in the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Camaro, with Denny Hamlin in the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry starting alongside. Kyle Busch in the #18 JGR Toyota and Ryan Blaney in the #12 Team Penske Ford both started right behind the two leaders, with Joey Logano in the #22 Penske Ford and Chase Elliott in the #9 Hendrick Camaro starting behind them, though Elliott dropped to the rear due to multiple inspection failures. Behind them were Brad Keselowski in the #2 Penske Ford and Martin Truex, Jr. in the #19 JGR Camry, last among the playoff drivers.
At the start, Larson pulled away relatively easily, as the #18 of Kyle Busch trailed behind. Larson held the lead for the majority of the opening laps, with the other cars up to two seconds behind. He easily led all of the laps until the competition caution on lap 27.
Choosing to pit for four tires, Larson lost the lead and was shuffled back, though he still remained in the top-ten. His teammate, William Byron in the #24, who only took two tires, was the leader, and elected to use the inside lane for the restart, with Martin Truex, Jr. on the outside lane. Byron was pushed to a large lead by the #8 Richard Childress Racing Chevy of Tyler Reddick on the back stretch. As the leaders were going into turn one, the #23 23XI Camry of Bubba Wallace lost the handling of his car exiting turn two. He spun into the #48 Hendrick Camaro of Alex Bowman, and the two wrecked and collected many other cars, essentially blocking that portion of the track. The caution then would be displayed as a few of the midfield cars couldn’t continue.
Byron once again elected for the outside lane on the restart with Truex beside him. Exiting turn two, Byron’s car got loose, sliding in front of Truex’s car. Matt DiBenedetto in the #21 passed Tyler Reddick, moving him up to third. After a few laps, Reddick, DiBenedetto and Truex were in a hard battle for second place, as Byron pulled ahead to a decently sized lead. Larson’s four-tire strategy, though, began to work out, as he easily caught the leaders and began to catch the #24 car. Near the end of the stage, drivers began making green flag pit stops. Kyle Busch, however, didn’t stop, and ended up putting all the cars up to fourteenth place one lap down. Busch then won the stage.
For the restart, Kyle Busch lined up on the inside line with Kyle Larson to his outside. Busch and Larson battled for the lead, though Larson and Byron would eventually take first and second position. Midway through the stage, Chase Elliott in the #9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy was forced to pit due to a tire issue, putting him a lap down. This wasn’t much of an issue for the #9 team, as the caution was displayed a few laps later for debris on the track.
Larson once again took the lead at the restart, being virtually unchallenged by the #24. Byron began getting closer and closer to Larson in the #5, and with two laps to go he began gaining lots of time on the leader. On the final stretch, Byron was much faster than Larson, though it wasn’t enough as Kyle Larson won the second stage over Byron by less than half a second.
Larson and Byron started the final stage side by side, though Larson once again pulled away to a large lead over his teammate. All of this portion was led by Larson, until Chase Briscoe had a tire issue after contact with the fence, bringing out the caution flag.
Larson led once again during the restart, and Byron held on to second. They remained like this for a while until Joey Logano’s engine expired about 20 laps later, bringing out the caution and granting Logano a thirtieth place finish.
Going into turn one at the restart, Kyle Busch hooked the #17 of Chris Buescher, sending him into a semi-spin. Though Buescher saved the car, Anthony Alfredo in the #38 checked up anticipating a crash. Chase Briscoe, however, did not slow down, and ran into the back of the #38, spinning him and sending him hard into the turn two wall. Alfredo’s car then caught fire after the impact, though he fortunately escaped unharmed. The cleanup, however, called for a red flag.
At the restart, Larson was pushed by Tyler Reddick on the inside, with Byron on the outside. Behind the leaders, the #11 of Denny Hamlin and the #12 of Ryan Blaney made contact. Hamlin then had smoke coming from his car for a few laps, when eventually his tire went down, sending him into a spin and bringing out another caution.
At the restart, Kyle Larson would once again be pushed out to a great lead, though it didn’t last long as the #19 of Martin Truex, Jr. slid down in front of the #99 of Daniel Suárez, sending the #19 very hard into the wall and ending his day.
Restarting, Reddick would push Larson to a sizeable lead again, though Reddick’s #8 car would become very loose exiting turn two, sliding back into the #4 of Kevin Harvick where he nearly spun. Behind them, the #14 of Chase Briscoe would slow down hard exiting turn two. Chris Buescher in the #17 attempted to avoid him, though he made contact with the #14 and spun, also making contact with the #11 of Denny Hamlin, bringing out another caution flag.
At the restart, Larson would take the lead with two laps to go. Byron and Brad Keselowski in the #2 were unable to make a move on the #5 to try and take the lead. After taking the white flag, he was basically unchallenged. Kyle Larson won the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500, and punched his ticket to the Championship Four in Phoenix!
William Byron brought his #24 Hendrick Chevy to a second place finish, Christopher Bell finished third in his #20 JGR Toyota, Brad Keselowski in the #2 Penske Ford finished in fourth, Kevin Harvick in the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford finished fifth, Ryan Blaney finished sixth in his #12 Team Penske Ford, the #9 HMS Chevy finished seventh with Chase Elliott, the #18 JGR Toyota of Kyle Busch finished eighth, Tyler Reddick in the #8 RCR Chevrolet finished ninth, and Daniel Suárez brought his #99 Trackhouse Racing Chevy to a tenth place finish.
Photo Credit///@TXMotorSpeedway, Twitter