Winless streak ends in style for Larson on the Monster Mile

Image by Kinrade/LAT

Winless streak ends in style for Larson on the Monster Mile

NASCAR

Winless streak ends in style for Larson on the Monster Mile

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Kyle Larson won the race off pit road at the end of Stage 2 in Dover and then went on to win the race, his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in over two years.

Larson led a total of 154 laps Sunday afternoon, which included 151 of the final 160 in the Drydene 400. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver went unchallenged to the checkered flag as he held a lead of more than four seconds when the final round of pit stops cycled through with less than 85 laps to go.

Lapped traffic did allow Martin Truex Jr. to chop into the lead, but only briefly as Larson settled back in and crossed the finish line 1.5-seconds ahead.

“It’s really critical,” said Larson of his win going into the next race at Talladega. “Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing next week at Talladega except for me, so that’s good. [In the spring] I wound up on my lid — and I mean, I could still end up on my lid next week; but it’s not going to matter after this win.

What a day,” Larson went on. “This Clover Chevy was really good. After the first stage I kind of changed up my driving style, and I felt like I made the car better at the same time. And it really benefitted our long runs. That’s as good as I’ve ever been cutting the bottom around here. Just a great combination here — good to be fast in practice and then be good again in the race and get the win.

“This is unbelievable. I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a Golden Monster is going to be pretty sweet.”

Larson is locked into the Round of Eight in the playoffs with this win. Sunday was Larson’s first win of the season, his first at Dover, and the sixth of his NASCAR Cup Series career.

Truex had won Stage 2 — his sixth of the season — when he passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin with 11 laps to go in the stage. However, on the ensuing pit stop, Truex lost five positions when the rear tire changer slipped and fell, which also knocked his gun out of position and cost the team several seconds.

Behind Larson and Truex came Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, and Hamlin, rounding out the top five.

“It was about everything, to be honest with you,” Truex said of traffic. “We got the lead there, Stage 2 — got that stage win and then had a pit stop issue and lost track position. Then we just ‑‑ the whole third stage we were behind. We were catching him at the end. We got close, but just were unfortunate there. We win and lose as a team. The guys will clean it up, I’m sure, and it’s cool to come home second after that as hard as it was to pass today.”

The final stage started with Larson leading Hamlin, Erik Jones and Harvick. Hamlin, who dominated the first part of the race leading from the pole, began complaining of a possible engine issue in the No. 11 Toyota. Told there was nothing the crew could do, Hamlin was forced to tough it out and faded to a fifth-place finish.

Completing the top 10 were Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, and Clint Bowyer. With just three cautions on the day, there were only eight cars on the lead lap by the checkered flag.

Finishing outside the top 10 were playoff drivers Brad Keselowski (11th) and William Byron (13th). Multiple playoff drivers had issues at Dover resulting in finishes outside the top 30.

Joey Logano didn’t make the green flag to start the race when he told his No. 22 Ford team that something was broken on his car. After jacking it up on pit road, the crew was forced to make repairs in the garage, and when Logano eventually joined the race he was 23 laps down. He finished 34th.

Ryan Blaney pitted on Lap 298 with what he said was a brake issue that forced him into the garage. He never returned to the race and finished 35th.

Last on the result sheet was Chase Elliott, who suffered an engine issue just eight laps into the race and earned his fifth DNF of the season.

“A million dollars earlier this year was pretty nice, but to win a playoff race — my first playoff victory — is special,” said Larson. “I hope there’s another one in our future, especially in the next round. We’ll see what we can do.

“I’ve kept saying that I felt really close to winning here or anywhere right now. Our pit crew has been doing a better job, our team has been doing a better job — I’ve been doing a better job. So just gotta keep it going now.”

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