XFT: Kyle Larson wins dash to finish line at Austin

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Kyle Larson was ultimately patient and smart, taking the lead on the final overtime lap to win an aggressive Featured Health 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, the first road course test for the series this year.

New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen and Austin Hill were duking it out for the lead — and pushing each other high off the race line as the field approached the checkered flag. With those two fending off each other, Larson drove his No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet low around both and pulled away to a 1.215-second victory — the only lap the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champ led all day around the 20-turn 3.51-mile road course.

Van Gisbergen finished second in the No. 97 Kaulig Racing Chevy but was assessed a 30-second penalty for exceeding track limits in that last-lap battle with Hill, which ultimately put Van Gisbergen in 27th. So Hill, driver of the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, officially finished second.

Larson was all smiles climbing out of the car, conceding he wasn’t surprised things got so aggressive in the end. He was one of the few cars — and only one among the leaders — to drop into pit lane on the final caution to get gas and had worked his way back up front.

“It feels really special because it seems like every time we’ve run the 17-car — any of us four drivers — we’re always fast on track and somehow give it away,” Larson said. “Today, I was definitely not the fastest, but we were patient. I knew the 21 (Hill) had shoved SVG (Van Gisbergen) through (Turn 1) and if he got to him, it could get dicey.

“I was just trying to be patient. I was thinking when to make my move and when I saw him shoving him through (Turns) 15 and 16, I thought this could get good and thankfully I cleared them off in that corner. Pretty crazy. Just wild there. … Really cool, just awesome to win here at COTA.”

Neither Van Gisbergen nor Austin Hill was too happy with the final outcome — both of their cars were damaged from the aggressive beating and banging on the final lap. Asked if he would speak to Hill about the racing, Van Gisbergen said, “Yeah, I guess so.” But he was mostly positive about having a chance to win in only his fifth NASCAR Xfinity Series race of his career.

“It was a crazy race and the car got better and better,” Van Gisbergen said. “On that last restart, (Hill) just drove through me in (Turn 1). I guess I stood up for myself. But it was pretty awesome racing with (teammate) A.J. (Allmendinger) and in the end just turned into a mess. That’s how it is.

“It was really fun. Wish I could have gotten through to the lead, but (Larson) just snuck through there. He was driving really well. A lot of fun.”

While Van Gisbergen managed a smile for the post-race television interview, he definitely had to battle all afternoon — including with Allmendinger, a two-time winner of this COTA Xfinity Series race and the series’ best active road course driver.

They battled head-to-head for the final laps of the regularly scheduled race only for Allmendinger to get swept up and out in a three-wide attempt for the lead in Turn 1 during the first green-white-checkered flag period. He was running fifth at the time of the final caution that forced a second overtime start and ultimately finished 10th.

John Hunter Nemechek finished third, reigning series champion Cole Custer was fourth and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top five. Rookie Jesse Love, Austin Green, last week’s winner Chandler Smith, Sam Mayer and Allmendinger rounded out the top 10.

It was a particularly impressive day for Green, son of former Xfinity Series champion David Green, finishing eighth in his first series start.

Big Machine Racing driver Kligerman earned his first stage win of the year, claiming the Stage 1 victory. Brandon Jones seemingly won Stage 2 only to receive a penalty for cutting Turn 5 on the last lap of the stage. Second-place Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst was instead awarded the Stage victory — his first of the season.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race — Focused Health 250
Circuit of The Americas, Austin, Texas

1. (1) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 50.
2. (11) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 50.
3. (20) John Hunter Nemechek(i), Toyota, 50.
4. (8) Cole Custer, Ford, 50.
5. (12) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, 50.
6. (14) Jesse Love #, Chevrolet, 50.
7. (25) Austin Green, Chevrolet, 50.
8. (4) Chandler Smith, Toyota, 50.
9. (10) Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, 50.
10. (5) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 50.
11. (17) Parker Retzlaff, Chevrolet, 50.
12. (30) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 50.
13. (15) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 50.
14. (27) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 50.
15. (29) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 50.
16. (18) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 50.
17. (6) Sage Karam, Toyota, 50.
18. (31) Brad Perez, Chevrolet, 50.
19. (24) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 50.
20. (34) Leland Honeyman #, Chevrolet, 50.
21. (22) Daniil Kvyat, Chevrolet, 50.
22. (36) Blaine Perkins, Ford, 50.
23. (35) Hailie Deegan #, Ford, 50.
24. (3) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, 50.
25. (33) Patrick Gallagher, Chevrolet, 50.
26. (26) Alex Labbe, Toyota, 50.
27. (2) Shane Van Gisbergen #, Chevrolet, 50.
28. (37) RC Enerson, Chevrolet, 50.
29. (32) Kyle Weatherman, Chevrolet, 50.
30. (21) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 49.
31. (23) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, Suspension, 48.
32. (7) Sheldon Creed, Toyota, 47.
33. (38) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, Accident, 45.
34. (19) Riley Herbst, Ford, Accident, 45.
35. (16) Ed Jones, Toyota, Accident, 42.
36. (13) Sammy Smith, Chevrolet, Accident, 36.
37. (28) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, Suspension, 33.
38. (9) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, Overheating, 24.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 72.374 mph.
Time of Race: 2 hours, 21 minutes, 21 seconds. Margin of Victory: 1.354 seconds.
Caution Flags: 4 for 9 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: S. Van Gisbergen # 1-9; A. Allmendinger 10-11; P. Kligerman 12-15; A. Allmendinger 16-27; S. Van Gisbergen # 28; B. Jones 29; R. Herbst 30-31; A. Allmendinger 32-37; S. Van Gisbergen # 38-44; T. Gibbs(i) 45; S. Van Gisbergen # 46-48; A. Hill 49;K. Larson(i) 50.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): AJ Allmendinger 3 times for 20 laps; Shane Van Gisbergen # 4 times for 20 laps; Parker Kligerman 1 time for 4 laps; Riley Herbst 1 time for 2 laps; Brandon Jones 1 time for 1 lap; Kyle Larson(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Ty Gibbs(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Austin Hill 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage No. 1 Top 10: 48,8,26,31,98,21,35,16,92,97
Stage No. 2 Top 10: 98,00,16,17,97,35,39,92,19,81

–By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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