Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 looked like most of the other NASCAR Cup Series events at intermediate tracks this season, with Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports showing their strength once again, collecting his eighth victory of 2021 and punching his ticket into the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.
The 29-year-old continued to show the NASCAR Cup Series field no mercy, leading 256 of the event’s 334 laps, and surviving a myriad of advances from teammate William Byron, Tyler Reddick, and Brad Keselowski to capture his 14th career win in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Byron was able to come home in second, with Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick rounding out the top-five. Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, and Daniel Suarez were able to emerge from a chaotic final stage with results inside the top-10 for their respective organizations.
A string of six caution flags in the final 60 laps of the event, brought unrest to many drivers and teams still in contention to capture the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship, with the high volume of restarts and three-wide racing taking its toll on some playoff drivers, as well as some non-playoff drivers.
With just under 35 laps to go, Team Penske’s Joey Logano saw his chances at a second NASCAR Cup Series championship go up in smoke, literally, when his No. 22 Ford Mustang suffered a rare engine failure. The premature end to Logano’s day would result in a 30th-place finish, and a major points deficit heading into Kansas.
Denny Hamlin was involved in a pair of accidents in the final 50 laps of the race, first cutting a left rear tire after contact with Ryan Blaney on Lap 315, causing the No. 11 to spin around. Just 14 laps later, after repairing the damage to his Crafstman Toyota, Hamlin had nowhere to go when Chris Buescher spun into his path, creating huge damage to the nose of the Joe Gibbs Racing entry.
In between those two on-track issues, Hamlin’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr. also ran into a major issue, slamming the outside wall HARD after contact from Daniel Suarez, a driver not competing in the NASCAR Playoffs. The accident took the No. 19 Toyota Camry out of the event early, resulting in a 29th-place effort.
With only Kansas Speedway and Martinsville Speedway left before the NASCAR Cup Series determines who will compete for the championship in Phoenix, there are still three spots up for grabs, currently occupied by Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch. While Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, and possibly Martin Truex Jr. are in striking distance, it appears Joey Logano may already be in a must-win situation.
NASCAR Playoff Standings (After Texas):
- No. 5 – Kyle Larson – ADVANCED
- No. 12 – Ryan Blaney (+17)
- No. 11 – Denny Hamlin (+9)
- No. 18 – Kyle Busch (+8)
- No. 9 – Chase Elliott (-8)
- No. 2 – Brad Keselowski (-15)
- No. 19 – Martin Truex Jr. (-22)
- No. 22 – Joey Logano (-43)