Six inches. That’s what Kyle Larson said he needed to further contend for the victory in the Southern 500 at Darlington.
“Six inches less on the spoiler, probably,” said Larson. “For everybody. Just was really hard to pass. I think this package has been good for a lot of places, but here being a high-grip track, already narrow, it was just tough to pass.
“I felt better than the 18 (Kyle Busch) there at the end and anytime I got within just a few car lengths I would lose a lot of grip, and even the 20 (Erik Jones), the run before that green-flag stop.”
Six inches and better execution for the No. 42 Chevrolet team would also have helped the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. Larson used the exact word after qualifying when speaking of what it would take to win one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races.
Larson knows all too well because this was a win that he really wanted but didn’t get a year ago. He dominated but lost last year’s Southern 500 because the execution wasn’t perfect. Late-race pit stops and restarts didn’t go his way, so Larson said he hoped things would go better this time around.
It ended up being the same story.
Larson led twice for 44 laps and traded the lead back and forth with Jones off a restart with 86 laps to go before settling in second. Keeping pace with Jones before the leaders made their final green-flag pit stop with less than 50 laps to go, Larson, Jones, and third-place Busch all pitted on the same lap.
Busch closed the gap to the top two significantly entering pit road, and then Jones and Busch gapped Larson when rejoining the race. Larson spent the remainder of the race hunting down the two, taking second when Busch caught the wall in the final few laps. Jones, however, was long gone with the victory.
“Just came down to restarts and pit stops, and just didn’t have the greatest restart there to allow Erik to get by me. Then that last green-flag stop was not as fast as the 18 and the 20, so disappointed about that,” said Larson.
“We had some good stops and bad ones, but all in all a good day. Good to get another finish here. Nice to have a shot to win. Thought we would have a dominating car after practice; we were still a top-three car but thought it would be a little easier.”
Larson has now led 497 laps in the last four Darlington races for an average finish of 5.5.