Kyle Larson emerged the victor after a wild 30-lap battle with Brad Keselowski at Texas Motor Speedway in a race that saw Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler set themselves up in a solid position to reach the Championship 4.
Keselowski led on a restart with 30 of 200 laps remaining in Saturday’s O’Reilly Challenge but Larson – with help from a push from Sadler – cleared Keselowski and took the lead with 29 laps remaining.
The remainder of the race, Keselowski furiously worked to run down Larson, once following him as Larson split a pair of lapped cars. Larson, however, deftly held on for his second win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season and fifth of his career.
“I love racing with Elliott Sadler on the restarts, he’s really good at taking off and pushing and he helped me out at Pocono earlier this year,” Larson said in Victory Lane. “I was just really tight running the bottom (lane) on short runs and while I was in traffic.
“I hit the wall with about five to go but I had a big enough gap to hold him off. It was a fun race there. Brad was better than we were, I thought. I had to run the top (groove) to be really fast.”
Kevin Harvick finished third, Erik Jones was fourth – first among the Xfinity Chase drivers – and Suarez was fifth.
Keselowski won the pole and led 145 of the first 170 laps but it was the final restart that proved the biggest challenge.
“I haven’t looked at the replay, but from what I could tell (Larson) got a really good push and we didn’t,” Keselowski said. “We were able to get back to the lead but just couldn’t quite pass him.
“We just needed another crack at it.”
Matt DiBenedetto experienced a brutal hit on Lap 134 in Turn 4 to bring out the fourth caution of the race. He was treated and released from the infield care center and finished 36th.
With Cup drivers taking wins in the first two races of this round of the Chase, only next weekend’s race at Phoenix remains as an opportunity for a series regular to win a spot in the Championship 4.
If so, that still leaves the three other positions to be filled based on points.
Following Sunday’s race, Suarez leads the Chase standings and holds a 17-point advantage over fifth-place. If no Chase driver wins at Phoenix, the four lowest drivers in points will be eliminated from title contention at Homestead.
“I think we are in a good spot,” Suarez said of his chances to compete for the championship. “We have to continue to do what we’ve been doing the past month, month-and-half. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Sadler is second in points (16 over fifth), Jones is third (seven over fifth) and Blake Koch is fourth (one point over fifth).
Justin Allgaier, Ryan Reed, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Brendan Gaughan hold the bottom four positions in points.
After the race, NASCAR determined that Sadler's car had 19 out of 20 lug nuts secured. Being the first occurrence, it will be a monetary fine of $5,000. The No. 62 RCR and No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolets were found to be too low in the rear. The former sits at the bottom of the driver's Chase standings with Gaughan while the latter is part of the owner's Chase.