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 184.108.40.206 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.
|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)|
^ – Currently in owner playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points