Kyle Larson knows he got “pretty lucky” on the final lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Torn up in a Lap 105 accident in Turn 1, Larson had all but given up on advancing in the playoffs as he watched his peers creep up the leaderboard. Then Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson spun coming to the checkered flag, and Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 96 Toyota sat stalled off the final chicane after being turned by Daniel Hemric.
Suddenly, Larson was hustling to get himself to the finish line.
“We had, I guess, so much camber and tow in our car they said if I ran fast I would blow a right front. But I was like, you’ve got to go,” Larson said. “So, I ran hard through [Turns] 1 and 2 over there and through the Bus Stop, and then blew a right front center of [oval Turns] 3 and 4 and plowed the wall.
“I was like, crap, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get down to make the chicane, but luckily it came down off the banking and I could turn right okay. So, I got through the 16th corner, and then 17 I hit the wall again on the frontstretch, and the 96 (Earnhardt) was stalled the whole time. I think they told me the 96 was stalled when I was like at the backstretch over there, and he wasn’t able to get his car re-fired.
“He was like 100 feet from the start/finish line. I could start to see him creep in when I was getting to 16. I was like, gosh, don’t go, don’t go, and we were able to make it. Hey, I was pretty lucky.”
Until Larson passed Earnhardt for the 25th spot the points as they ran had Larson one point out of a transfer spot. Instead, Larson jumped into a three-way tie for the final spot with Aric Almirola and Johnson. Johnson was the odd man out based on best finish in the round.
Hearing Larson tell the tale of his final lap had Almirola amused because his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing team had previously told him that he was one point to the good and not in danger.
“So, you passing the 96 was the one point,” Almirola said. Almirola finished 19th, also in a damaged car from a wild day of his own.
However, it was Larson who nearly went from hero to zero, because until the Lap 105 accident he had dominated the day.
Larson started fifth and was running second before the end of the first lap. Hounding pole-sitter Kurt Busch through the course, Larson eventually took over the top spot on Lap 7. He led through the end of the first stage, picking up his fourth stage win of the year, and into the early portion of the second stage.
Larson then led 17 more laps in the final stage for a race-high 47 laps led. With six laps to go, Larson was lined up second to Brad Keselowski for the restart, still with a shot at his first win of the season, until a 15-car wreck in Turn 1 changed the complexion of the race.
“I knew that it was going to be tough to turn getting into [Turn) 1,” Larson said of the accident. “I didn’t know that all of us were going to go in there and not be able to turn at all. I was going to struggle to make the corner and then the 2, he just went head-on into the wall. I was hoping I would have enough room to squeak by him, but I got into him and destroyed the right front of our car.
“We had a great Clover by First Data Chevy today, led a bunch of laps, would have liked it to have played out there and just run to the end there. I was saving fuel and it sounded like the 2 was really short on fuel. I felt like I could have won, but the 17 [Ricky Stenhouse Jr.] ended up spinning out and the caution came out. Obviously, we all went down on that restart and couldn’t turn, so like I said, I hope we made it; pretty hectic last lap for me.
“They said they were all crashing there at the end and I ran really hard and blew a right-front and hammered the wall twice and got at least one extra point.”