Kyle Larson suffered an alternator issue early in the Bank of America Roval 400 on Sunday that necessitated a lengthy pit stop near the halfway point of the 109-lap race. But he recovered to challenge Denny Hamlin for the lead on two late-race restarts, finally taking the lead from Hamlin on the final restart on lap 102. The win in the elimination race of the playoff second round, or round of 12, was Larson’s NASCAR Cup Series-leading seventh win of the season.
“I wouldn’t have believed it, that’s for sure. I don’t know. I didn’t even feel that good early,” Larson said. “Started changing some things and they were doing a good job letting me know what to do inside the cockpit to get better. About that time, I noticed my battery was going low, so I was getting stressed out. Like, man, I’m not going to get knocked out of the playoffs like this. It wasn’t looking too good. Thankfully, everybody on our # 5 car did a great job of staying calm. Cliff [Daniels, crew chief], as always, did a great job of communicating with me and what was going on and getting the battery changed and the alternator changed and whatever it takes to get our battery running. But, man, my HendrickCars.com Chevy was good.”
Non-playoff drivers Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher finished second and third.
“That was a fun time,” Buescher said. “I’m really appreciative of everybody on this Fastenal Ford Mustang group. We worked hard. We were able to stay on pace all day and had a game plan and followed through and ultimately got us into the top-five. I had a top-three, there, but it got a little rough there at the end and I made a mistake with probably five to go, and unfortunately, we didn’t have a shot to win because of that, but we were definitely in the hunt. That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the day. I’m pretty thankful for everybody.”
Kyle Busch was fourth, and Hamlin slid back to fifth on older tires after losing the lead to Larson.
“I feel like we had a good day, just made a few mistakes with missing the chicane and speeding on pit road [early in the race], but came back from that,” Hamlin said. “Just kind of was in between trying to decide if we should pit or not, and who knows, I’m not sure we had enough speed to beat the 5 [Larson] out right. We held those guys off as long as we could on the older tires. Just fell back to fifth.”
Hamlin took the lead by being one of three drivers who stayed out during a caution for debris from Chase Elliott’s car on lap 87. The rear bumper cover finally fell off Elliott’s car after he crashed from contact from Kevin Harvick’s car on lap 55.
“You remember Bristol,” Harvick said when asked if the contact was retaliation for an incident between the two drivers late in the race at Bristol Motor Speedway a few weeks earlier.
Eliott still managed playoff advancement with a 12th-place race finish. Harvick,though, was eliminated from championship contention after crashing on lap 99 and winding up with a 33rd-place finish.
“I just pushed it in there too hard and I got the tire locked up and I couldn’t stop it once I felt like I needed to go to get a couple spots back that I had lost, and I got the left-front locked up and I couldn’t get it to turn,” Harvick said.
Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman also were eliminated from the playoffs, despite top-10 race finishes — Bell eighth and Bowman 10th — as was William Byron after finishing 11th.
Byron appeared dominate in the second half of the race. He pitted late in the second stage that ended on lap 50 and stayed out during the caution that followed the stage to inherit the lead. He gave up the lead to pit during the caution when the bumper cover fell off Elliott’s car. After three drivers, including Hamlin, stayed out and a few others beat Byron out of the pits, Byron restarted sixth.
Byron quickly got back up to second in the running order before a penalty for missing the backstretch chicane on lap 91 because of contact from Reddick. Meanwhile, Hamlin continued to lead.
Elliott won the first 25-lap stage and was second to Kyle Busch in stage two.
Hamlin started on the pole and led early before giving up the position to pot just before a lap-10 competition caution. Most drivers pitted during the first stage that also included a caution for Ryan Newman on lap 20. Drivers including Elliott, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney waited until after the first stage to make initial pit stops. Elliott took his stage win by passing Allmendinger on the final lap of the stage.
Allmendinger, who won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Roval the previous day, fell out of the race with a blown engine on lap 58.
Busch took his lead on the restart for stage two and dominated the second 25 laps for his stage win.
“We got everything we could out of it today,” Busch said. “If you were out front, you could kind of set sail and get gone, there, which is what we did in stage two. But it seemed like everyone was pretty equal in traffic. Once everyone got single-filed out, there really wasn’t anyone out there killing the field. I guess that’s pretty equal racing. Overall, pretty good day for our M&M’s Camry. Came here with a plan, and we were able to execute that. We’ll go see what happens next week.”
Other top-10 finishers included Matt DiBenedetto in sixth, Joey Logano in seventh, and Blaney in ninth.
“We’re maximizing the races,” Logano said. “That’s what we’ve got. Our speed is close enough to point your way in. It’s hard to win where we’re at. We’ve got to be a little bit faster to be up there contending for a win, but we keep doing what we’re doing and grinding it out and focus on every point. That’s our slogan for the playoffs is every point and that’s what we’ve got to continue to do — look for every opportunity that’s there and don’t make mistakes throughout it and be in the championship four again.”