Saturday, March 2, 2024

Kyle Larson holds off Christopher Bell’s assault for Las Vegas victory

The battle to be the first driver to clinch a spot in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship Round came down to a mad dash to the finish as Christopher Bell chased down Kyle Larson in the final twenty laps of Sunday’s South Point 400 but was unable to complete the pass.

The win is Larson’s fourth of 2023 and second at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Bell and Larson, rivals in dirt track racing and former development drivers, were the top drivers Sunday as they qualified on the front row. While Larson swept the stages, Bell finished second and third in each before mounting his pursuit during the final green-flag run.

“He kicked my ass for a few years straight like every race,” Larson remarked about Bell in his post-race press conference. “I don’t know if I ever beat him. He made me work really hard to get better as a driver, especially on the dirt track stuff. We’ve had our run-ins along the way, just tight racing for wins and stuff, then now I feel like we actually get along and we talk quite a bit, then get to race with a lot of respect on Sundays on TV in front of millions of race fans.

“It’s cool. Just need to get to race with a guy like that. I’m sure he’ll be one of the guys to beat at Phoenix too when he’s in the Final Four.”

With the help of lapped traffic, Bell caught up to Larson by the final lap. Bell attempted to ride the high line along the wall as they entered turn three while Larson stayed low before moving up as they exited turn four. Coming to the finish, Bell tried to drop down only for Larson to follow suit, and a second overtake attempt on the inside came too late.

While an impressive defence, Larson admitted he “wasn’t confident” that he could keep Bell at bay but was thankful that lapped cars did not impede his progress.

“The #43 (Erik Jones) let us go, which I was very thankful for,” he commented. “The whole way down the back, I was hoping the #38 (Todd Gilliland) was going to run the middle or the top. I wanted that clean air for the bottom. When he pulled down to the bottom, I knew I couldn’t follow him because it was going to choke me down too much. I didn’t really know what to do at that point. I thought my best bet or an opportunity for me to at least hold on to the lead offer of four was to go to the middle and hope I had enough grip. I hadn’t been there that whole run.

“I peeled to the middle and was really loose, knew that Christopher was going to be able to get a run. Thankfully, he wasn’t able to get to my outside before the exit. Kind of looked in my mirror and had to zig and zag a little bit. He hit me square in the back bumper, kind of closed off the win for me. Got much closer than I wanted it to. Thankfully we were able to edge out a win. Thankfully, Christopher ran us really clean there off of (turn) four.”

Nearly every playoff driver scored a top ten, with Chris Buescher sneaking in after another contender in Ryan Blaney was disqualified for failing post-race inspection after finishing sixth. The left front shock on Blaney’s #12 did not conform to the length mandated by Section 14.11.3.5 of the rulebook, which states the left front extended damper length must be at least 22.55 inches (57.27 cm) for oval tracks.

The disqualification drops Blaney into a very precarious position as he is now fifty-seven points below the cut line. He is the second disqualification of 2023 after Kevin Harvick just two weeks prior at Talladega, a race ironically won by Blaney.

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 2 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
2 1 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
3 6 8 Kyle Busch Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
4 21 6 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford 267 Running
5 10 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 267 Running
6 3 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
7 8 45 Tyler Reddick 23XI Racing Toyota 267 Running
8 4 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
9 15 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 267 Running
10 5 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 267 Running
11 9 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 267 Running
12 7 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 267 Running
13 13 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 267 Running
14 36 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 267 Running
15 24 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 267 Running
16 18 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 267 Running
17 16 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
18 28 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
19 33 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 267 Running
20 22 16 A.J. Allmendinger Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
21 20 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
22 19 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 267 Running
23 27 77 Ty Dillon Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 267 Running
24 30 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 267 Running
25 32 41 Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 267 Running
26 29 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 266 Running
27 23 43 Erik Jones Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 266 Running
28 26 51 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Ford 266 Running
29 34 15 Brennan Poole* Rick Ware Racing Ford 266 Running
30 31 78 B.J. McLeod* Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet 266 Running
31 35 9 Chase Elliott^ Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 266 Running
32 17 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 263 Running
33 11 54 Ty Gibbs Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 259 Running
34 14 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 144 Accident
35 25 42 Carson Hocevar* Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 110 Accident
36 12 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 267 Running (DSQ)
Bold – Currently in playoffs
^ – Currently in owner playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points
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