Kyle Larson stood on pit road just before the finish line at Darlington Raceway. Inches behind Larson sat his sizzling No. 42 Chevrolet, cooling down after a long night in the Southern 500. And just over Larson’s right shoulder was a jubilant Brad Keselowski, celebrating.
Celebrating seemed something Larson would likely be doing at the end of the night, because he had dominated the 500-miler. But losing the lead on his final pit stop where he came off pit road second to Keselowski took away the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s advantage.
“We didn’t get beat off pit road by much, but it was enough, and being the control car at any racetrack is huge,” said Larson. “We just didn’t have that, and I was really loose that last run. You try to run hard to stay with him [Keselowski] and yeah, I was just too loose to stay close.
“I felt like maybe if I could stay close I could get to him at the end of the run. I knew that run would be borderline too short compared to the run where I was behind the 78 [Martin Truex Jr., who he caught and overtook early in the race]. Took me a little bit longer to catch these guys.”
Larson said he was praying for long runs. Two cautions within the final 40 laps kept the field close to Larson, who had times throughout the night had driven away to leads over five seconds. And those cautions also brought the field down pit road, with the No. 42 team keeping the top spot on the first of those cautions but losing it with 22 laps to go.
Keselowski drove away on the restart with 19 laps to go. Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano then quickly disposed of Larson to kick him to third.
“I was definitely better on long runs,” said Larson. “I felt like long runs if where we really shined. Those guys could stay with me for probably, I don’t know, 15 or so laps and then I’d start pulling away by quite a bit.
“We didn’t come out the leader so I wasn’t the control car on the restart and that’s important at the end of the races. So, lost our advantage there and I was pretty loose [too].”
Highlights of Larson’s dominant run included winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2. It was the first stage wins for Larson since back in Kansas. At the checkered flag to end Stage 2, Larson was leading by 12 seconds.
Larson’s quick pace also saw him lap most of the field. With less than 40 laps to go there were only ten cars on the lead lap. He led three different times for a race-high 284 of 367 laps.
“It sucks,” Larson said. “[Bristol] sucked. We had a terrible car and ran second, and that sucked. This week we had the best car and ran third. So, it obviously – everybody that doesn’t win isn’t happy, but at the same time we haven’t had a car like this all year, so I was extremely happy about that and looking forward to next couple months.”