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Kyle Larson earns spot in Championship 4 with Vegas win

Kyle Larson repeated his winning performance from six weeks ago on Sunday and set himself up for a title shot next month.

Larson took his next step in competing for a second title by winning the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs’ opening Round of 8 race, the South Point 400, Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas.

He led on the final restart with 45 laps to go and nipped polesitter Christopher Bell by 0.082 seconds to claim the 267-lap race around the 1.5-mile, high-banked layout.

Larson’s win at LVMS puts him and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team into the Championship 4 that will compete for the championship at Phoenix Raceway next month.

The victory was the fourth for the Elk Grove, Calif., native in 2023 and 23rd of his career in 328 races.

The 2021 Cup champion, Larson’s performance in the desert was similar to the way he opened the playoffs last month.

At Darlington Raceway in the postseason’s opening race, Larson scored the win in the Southern 500 and moved on to the Round of 12.

Bell made a hard charge on the final lap and got to Larson’s bumper off Turn 4 but could not make the pass.

“I could see him coming in my mirror for sure, and I was hoping those lappers would give me the bottom (lane),” said Larson. “Thankfully, Christopher always races extremely clean. It could have got crazier than it did coming to the start-finish line, so thank you to him for racing with respect.”

Larson lost control of his Camaro and tagged the Turn 2 wall on Lap 141.

“I almost gave it away there in (Turns) 1 and 2, getting sideways and hitting the wall,” he said.

Bell said the final circuit was his shot to make the four-car title race.

“I felt that was my moment to make the final four and didn’t quite capture it,” said Bell, who is fifth in points, two below the cut-line of advancing. “I don’t even know that I had a run to get by him at the (finish) line.”

William Byron (+9 points), Martin Truex Jr. (+2) and Denny Hamlin (+2) grid above the cutoff.

Tyler Reddick (-16), Ryan Blaney (-17) and Chris Buescher (-23) are below it.

Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Ross Chastain completed the race’s top-five finishers.

For the fourth time in the past eight races, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell put his No. 20 Camry on the pole, giving him six top qualifying spots in 2023 and Toyota six in the playoffs’ first seven events.

However, Larson moved to the point on Lap 3 and eventually held on to win the top playoff points in Stage 1, which featured seven of the eight playoff contenders collecting points.

After a series of pit stops as Stage 2 neared its end, Larson — who was the top restarting driver who took four tires — charged to the front past Byron and beat Chastain to the checkers for the bonus points.

However, Bell went to the point on the restart with just under 100 laps to go and led Chastain, Keselowski, Larson and Byron.

Ty Gibbs brought out the day’s seventh caution on Lap 216 when the wheel came off his No. 54 JGR Toyota to set up a 45-lap shootout with all the playoff drivers racing inside the top 14.

–Field Level Media

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