Larson wins an eventful inaugural Cup event at Nashville

Having enough fuel in the tank when it mattered most, Kyle Larson’s comeback season continued following a dominating victory in the inaugural Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway on Sunday, June 20. The Elk Grove, California, native led a race-high 264 of 300 laps and had enough fuel to beat a hard-charging Ross Chastain by more than four seconds in the final laps to achieve his fourth consecutive victory in the NASCAR Cup Series in recent weeks.

Qualifying occurred on Sunday, June 20, and Aric Almirola started on pole position after recording a pole-winning lap at 161.992 mph. Kyle Busch, who earned his 100th Xfinity Series career victory at Nashville on Saturday, joined Almirola on the front row.

Prior to the event, William Byron, Erik Jones and Quin Houff started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective cars. In addition, Ryan Blaney made the left-hand turn to pit road and into his pit stall to have damage to his left-rear quarter panel repaired. The move dropped Blaney to the rear of the field. 

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Chase Elliott darted his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the outside of Almirola’s No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang in a bid for the lead. His plan, however, halted in Turn 1 when he nearly got sideways after getting out of the racing groove. Behind Elliott, teammate Alex Bowman also slipped from the groove and on the outside lane.

Just then, the caution flew when Quin Houff made contact with the outside wall through Turns 1 and 2 after losing a tire, an incident that eliminated him from contention following the first two turns. At the time of caution, Kyle Busch was the leader followed by Almirola, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Cole Custer, with Elliott back in sixth.

When the race restarted on the fifth lap, Kyle Busch and Almirola duked for the lead through the first two turns until Kyle Larson, winner of the last three Cup events, including the All-Star Race, made a three-wide move in-between Busch and Almirola to snatch the lead. With Larson’s No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE out in front, the field behind battled for early positioning.

By Lap 10, Larson was leading by nearly a second over Kyle Busch while Aric Almirola and Joey Logano, both of whom made contact that nearly sent Logano in the infield a lap earlier in Turn 4, were in third and fourth. Cole Custer was in the top five followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

Ten laps later, Larson stretched his advantage to one-and-a-half seconds over Kyle Busch while Almirola, Logano and Custer continued to run in the top five. DiBenedetto and Bowman remained in sixth and seventh while Elliott, Harvick and Stenhouse battled for eighth place. Rookie Chase Briscoe was in 12th, Tyler Reddick and Brad Keselowski were in 14th and 15th, Denny Hamlin was battling Daniel Suarez for 16th, Bubba Wallace was in 19th, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman were in 21st and 22nd, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. were in 24th and 25th and Ryan Blaney was in 28th behind Erik Jones. 

Through the first 30 laps of the event, Larson continued to lead by more than a second over Kyle Busch, who continued to track Larson. Almirola remained in third place followed by Logano and Custer. DiBenedetto also remained in sixth place followed by Stenhouse, Elliott, Bowman and Harvick.

By Lap 40, the battle for the lead between the two Kyles ignited as Kyle Busch closed in on Larson for the lead, with both encountering lapped traffic. By then, Blaney made a pit stop under green. Soon after, Martin Truex Jr. made the turn to pit road for his service. 

Not long after, pit stops under green commenced as Bubba Wallace pitted along with William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell, DiBenedetto, Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Brad Keselowski and others. During this sequence, the leaders, Larson and Kyle Busch, pitted along with Elliott.

With the green flag pit stops continuing, the caution flew when Reddick, who just completed his pit service, spun entering Turn 2 through the grass while trying to return to the main track. 

Under caution, a handful of competitors that had not yet pitted under green, led by Kurt Busch, pitted. Names like Almirola, Michael McDowell and Stenhouse also pitted.

Prior to the restart, a number of competitors took the wave around to return to the lead lap and when the field cycled back, Kyle Busch was the leader over Larson.

The race restarted on Lap 52, with the two Kyles out in front. At the start, Kyle Busch jumped ahead and moved in front of Larson to retain the lead. A lap later, though, Larson made his move beneath Busch’s No. 18 Pedigree Toyota Camry to reassume the lead. 

Another two laps later, a rough start to the day for Blaney went worse when his No. 12 Menards/Duracell Ford Mustang shot up the track and made hard contact against the Turn 1 outside wall following a brake issue, an incident that ended his day with a wrecked race car.

When the race restarted on Lap 61, the two Kyles battled dead even for the lead through Turn 1 until Larson gained the advantage on the outside lane entering Turn 2, thus keeping Larson in the lead. 

A few laps later, Elliott moved into the runner-up spot while Stenhouse started to challenge Kyle Busch for the lead. Kurt Busch, meanwhile, was in fifth followed by Logano, Almirola, Erik Jones, DiBenedetto and Bowman. 

By Lap 70, Larson was leading by more than a second over teammate Elliott, with Stenhouse in third ahead of the Busch brothers. Almirola and Logano were in sixth and seventh followed by Erik Jones, DiBenedetto and Bowman. 

Eight laps later, the caution flew when Justin Haley and Chris Buescher made hard contact into the outside wall separately in Turns 1 and 2. Haley’s incident was due to a brake rotor while Buescher’s incident was due to hitting a piece of debris on the track. The incident ended Buescher’s run, with broken rotors and loss of fluid.

Under caution, some led by Larson pitted while the rest led by Elliott remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Bowman was sent to the rear of the field due to speeding on pit road. 

With five laps remaining in the first stage, the race restarted as Elliott and Kurt Busch started on the front row. At the start, Elliott and Kurt Busch battled for the lead while Daniel Suarez was in third ahead of Erik Jones and the field. Behind, Larson, racing on fresh tires, charged his way into fourth place while Kyle Busch was also trying to march his way forward.

With the field behind jostling for positioning, Elliott was able to retain the lead and claim the first stage on Lap 90, thus recording his second stage victory of the season. Kurt Busch settled in second followed by Larson, Suarez and Kyle Busch. Austin Dillon, Stenhouse, Keselowski, Logano and DiBenedetto were scored in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, names like Elliott, Kurt Busch, Suarez, Austin Dillon and Truex pitted. During the pit stops, Truex was penalized due to a pit entry violation, where he did not enter pit road in a single-file line with his fellow competitors. In addition, Kurt Busch made another pit stop due to a loose wheel. 

Back on the track, Larson, who pitted earlier, remained on the track to assume the lead followed by Kyle Busch, Stenhouse, Logano and DiBenedetto.

The second stage started on Lap 97, and Larson retained the lead over Kyle Busch through the first two turns. Behind, Stenhouse overtook Logano for third followed by Denny Hamlin while Ross Chastain and DiBenedetto battled for sixth. Harvick, meanwhile, was back in the top 10 in eighth followed by Christopher Bell and Custer.

At the Lap 100 mark, Larson was leading by more than a second over Kyle Busch and Stenhouse, who started to challenge Busch for the runner-up spot. Hamlin moved into fourth followed by Logano, DiBenedetto, Chastain, Harvick, Bell and Custer.

Ten laps later, Larson extended his advantage to nearly three seconds over Stenhouse. Hamlin, Logano and Chastain were in the top five while Kyle Busch, who was battling handling issues, fell back to sixth.

By Lap 125, Larson continued to lead by more than two seconds over Stenhouse, with third-place Hamlin trailing by less than seven seconds. Chastain was in fourth followed by Logano, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Almirola, Bell and Custer. Meanwhile, DiBenedetto was losing spots on the track due to an engine issue.

Seven laps later, the caution returned when Bubba Wallace spun in Turn 2 after losing a left-rear tire. Under caution, the leaders pitted. Following the pit stops, Truex was penalized again, this time for speeding on pit road. In addition, teammate Bell was penalized due to an uncontrolled tire violation.

On Lap 138, the race restarted under green, with Larson and Hamlin on the front row. At the start, Kyle Busch challenged Larson for the lead. Despite his challenge, Larson retained the lead when the field returned to the start/finish line. 

Not long after, Stenhouse overtook Kyle Busch for the runner-up spot while Logano prevailed in a battle with Hamlin for fourth.

By Lap 150, Larson was leading by over two seconds over Stenhouse, with Kyle Busch, teammate Hamlin and Kevin Harvick in the top five. Almirola was in sixth ahead of Logano, Byron, Chastain and Elliott.

On Lap 173, the caution returned due to debris on the track that came from Cole Custer, who lost a right-rear tire after he also lost his brakes.

Under caution, the leaders pitted and Briscoe exited in first following a two-tire stop. Reddick exited in second followed by Larson, the first competitor on four fresh tires. Austin Dillon was in fourth and Kyle Busch was in fifth.

With five laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted. At the start, Briscoe took off with the lead followed by Larson while Reddick struggled on the start as the field was also bunched up and fanned out to three lanes entering Turn 2.

The following lap, Larson overtook Briscoe in Turn 2 to reassume the lead. Behind, Kyle Busch charged his way to fourth ahead of teammate Hamlin while Elliott was in seventh behind teammate Byron. Reddick, meanwhile, had fallen out of the top 10 while trying to keep his car straightened on old tires. 

As the field continued to scramble for late positioning, Larson was able to cruise to the second stage victory on Lap 185 and record his 12th stage victory of the season. Austin Dillon edged Briscoe for the runner-up spot while Byron edged Kyle Busch for fourth place. Hamlin, Elliott, Stenhouse, Almirola and Harvick were scored in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, some like Briscoe, Truex, Bell, Austin Dillon, Reddick, Erik Jones, Ryan Newman, Wallace and McDowell pitted while the rest led by Larson remained on the track.

With 110 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as teammates Larson and Byron led the field on the front row. At the start, Larson utilized the outside lane to retain the lead over teammate Byron while Kyle Busch was challenged by teammate Hamlin and Stenhouse for third. Soon, Elliott challenged Stenhouse for fifth with Kurt Busch lurking behind. 

Six laps later, the caution flew when Ryan Preece spun in Turn 2. Under caution, some like Chastain, Bowman, Reddick, McDowell, Corey LaJoie, Suarez and DiBenedetto pitted.

With 98 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Byron got loose and nearly clipped Larson sideways in Turn 1, but Larson was able to retain the lead through Turn 2. As Larson led teammate Byron, teammate Elliott was in third ahead of Hamlin and Kurt Busch. Stenhouse and Harvick battled for sixth followed by Briscoe, Almirola and Logano. Kyle Busch, meanwhile, was in 17th as he continued to battle handling issues to his car.

With 90 laps remaining, Larson was leading by more than a second over teammate Byron, with teammate Elliott trailing by more than two seconds. Hamlin was in fourth followed by Kurt Busch, Harvick, Stenhouse, Briscoe, Almirola and Logano.

Seven laps later, the event’s 10th caution flew when Wallace spun for a second time in Turn 2. Under caution, nearly all of the leaders pitted as Larson exited in first. Harvick, meanwhile, boosted his way to second place followed by Byron, Kurt Busch and Hamlin. Back on track, Chastain was the leader after he remained on the track without pitting.

With 78 laps remaining, the race restarted. At the start, Larson powered away from Chastain to reassume the lead while Byron, who battled with Chastain and Harvick through Turn 2, moved back up to second. 

Down to the final 75 laps of the event, Larson was leading by seven-tenths of a second over teammate Byron while Chastain, Harvick and Elliott were in the top five. Kurt Busch was in sixth followed by Briscoe, Hamlin, Almirola and Logano. Truex was in 12th behind teammate Bell, Keselowski was in 14th and Kyle Busch was in 18th ahead of Austin Dillon and Bowman.

Soon after, the caution returned due to Briscoe making contact with the outside wall in Turn 3 after he lost his brakes.

Under caution, names like Chastain, Suarez, Keselowski, Stenhouse, Reddick, Jones, Bowman, Corey LaJoie, Wallace, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and others pitted while the rest led by Larson remained on the track.

The race restarted with 68 laps remaining, and Elliott made slight contact with teammate Byron in a three-wide bid for the lead. With Elliott backing out, Larson was able to receive another strong start on the outside lane to retain the lead over Byron. Behind, Harvick overtook Elliott in third while Kurt Busch continued to hold strong in fifth ahead of Almirola and the field.

With 50 laps remaining, Larson was leading by two seconds over teammate Byron while Harvick, Elliott and Kurt Busch were in the top five. By then, Larson used the lapped car of J.J. Yeley to clear some debris off of his car. Almirola was in sixth and challenging Busch for the top-five spot, with Hamlin, Chastain, Bell and Stenhouse in the top 10. 

Fifteen laps later, Larson continued to lead by more than three seconds over teammate Byron. Harvick was in third followed by teammate Almirola and Elliott. Kurt Busch fell back to sixth in front of teammate Chastain while Hamlin, Stenhouse and Bell were in the top 10.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Larson was out in front by more than four seconds over teammate Byron, with Harvick, Almirola and Chastain in the top five. Kurt Busch was in sixth ahead of Stenhouse, Elliott, Bell and Hamlin. 

With 10 laps remaining and fuel questions beginning to arise from a multitude of teams, Larson was leading by more than five seconds over teammate Byron. Harvick remained in third followed by Chastain and Almirola. Kurt Busch was in sixth followed by Stenhouse, Bell, Suarez and Hamlin.

A few laps later, Truex pitted. Meanwhile, Chastain, who had enough fuel to the finish, overtook Harvick for third place and went to work on Byron for second place, which he succeeded.

With five laps remaining, Larson, who remained in question about having enough fuel to the finish, was leading by more than five seconds over a hard-charging Chastain.

Down to the final two laps, Hamlin and Kurt Busch ran out of fuel, with Hamlin pitting while Kurt Busch continued to run on the track.

Back at the front, Larson continued to lead by more than five seconds over Chastain as he started the final lap of the race. Having enough fuel in his tank, Larson was able to coast his car around the circuit for a final time and take the checkered flag to win in Music City nation.

With the inaugural victory in Nashville and a Gibson Guitar trophy, Larson achieved his 10th NASCAR Cup Series career victory and fourth of the season since returning as a full-time competitor. In addition, Hendrick Motorsports has won the six Cup events, including the All-Star Race.

“Yeah, it was a great day,” Larson said on NBCSN. “We never really had to run behind people. When my teammates got out in front again, it would’ve probably been hard to pass them. The Valvoline Chevrolet was really good. It could cut the middle of the corner really well and our pit crew did an awesome job again. That number one pit stall helps a bunch, too. This crowd’s awesome…We had enough rubber and enough fuel leftover to do a good burnout there at the end. I can’t say enough about everybody at Hendrick Motorsports…I just hope we can keep it going.”

Settling in a career-best runner-up result was Ross Chastain, who also achieved his second top-five result of this season and of his career.

“We had the speed to run top five all day, but I sped on pit road and I boxed us in our pit box,” Chastain said. “For most of the day, I was so loose entry of Turn 1, just almost like wheel-hopping, bouncing the right rear. So, I really struggled, and finally, the last three runs of the race, [crew chief] Phil Surgen and this Clover Chevy team, they got it where I could hustle it and that’s what I needed. At the end, I didn’t want a caution. I knew Kyle [Larson] was out there. Just get to second and we’ll be happy with it.”

Byron finished third followed by Almirola, who achieved his first top-five result of the season, and Harvick, who ran out of fuel coming to the finish line. 

Stenhouse came home in sixth place followed by Suarez, Kurt Busch, Bell and Logano.

Kyle Busch settled in 11th following a long battle with handling issues, Elliott fell to 13th after reporting concerns of a flat right-rear tire to his car, teammates Hamlin and Truex finished 22nd and 23rd, Keselowski came home in 24th following brake issues and DiBenedetto settled in 25th. Bowman finished 15th, Reddick settled in 19th ahead of Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace and rookie Chase Briscoe ended his run in 32nd.

Following the race, Elliott was disqualified due to his car having five lug nuts not secured. As a result, he was credited with a 39th-place result and he was not awarded his playoff point from the Nashville event.

There were 14 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured 11 cautions for 60 laps.

With nine regular-season races remaining until the 2021 Cup Playoffs commences, Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by nine points over Larson. Eleven competitors, (Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell and Michael McDowell), are guaranteed positions for the Playoffs along with Denny Hamlin, who leads the regular-season standings. Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher occupy the remaining postseason spots as winless competitors, with Kurt Busch trailing the top-16 cutline by 24 points, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. trailing by 43, Matt DiBenedetto trailing by 46, Ross Chastain trailing by 50, Daniel Suarez trailing by 61, Bubba Wallace trailing by 77 and Ryan Newman trailing by 81.

Results.

1. Kyle Larson, 264 laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Ross Chastain, four laps led

3. William Byron

4. Aric Almirola, one lap led

5. Kevin Harvick

6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

7. Daniel Suarez

8. Kurt Busch, three laps led, Stage 1 winner

9. Christopher Bell

10. Joey Logano

11. Kyle Busch, 10 laps led

12. Austin Dillon

13. Ryan Newman 

14. Alex Bowman

15. Corey LaJoie 

16. Michael McDowell

17. Anthony Alfredo

18. Tyler Reddick

19. Erik Jones

20. Bubba Wallace, one lap down

21. Denny Hamlin, one lap down

22. Martin Truex Jr., one lap down

23. Brad Keselowski, one lap down

24. Matt DiBenedetto, two laps down

25. Garrett Smithley, two laps down

26. Josh Bilicki, two laps down

27. J.J. Yeley, two laps down

28. B.J. McLeod, five laps down

29. Joey Gase, five laps down

30. Cole Custer, 48 laps down

31. Chase Briscoe – OUT, Accident five laps led

32. Ryan Preece – OUT, Brakes

33. Chad Finchum – OUT, Rear end

34. David Starr – OUT, Brakes

35. Justin Haley – OUT, Accident

36. Chris Buescher – OUT, Accident

37. Ryan Blaney – OUT, Accident

38. Quin Houff – OUT, Accident

39. Chase Elliott – Disqualified, 13 laps led

Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ second annual Pocono Raceway doubleheader feature on June 26-27. The first Cup event of the weekend on Saturday, June 26, will occur at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the second on Sunday, June 27, will occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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