Kyle Larson came from the rear of the field to win at Auto Club Speedway, but not without upsetting one of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
Larson led the way when the Wise Power 400 restarted for the final time with four laps to go. Although he would briefly lose the lead when Daniel Suarez powered by on the inside lane off Turn 2 with three laps to go, Larson stayed committed to the top lane entering Turns 3 and 4. It paid off as Suarez went low, and Larson used a run off the high side, coming to two laps to go to retake the lead for the final time.
“It’s always fun to win in the home state,” Larson said. “Hard work all weekend there. It didn’t feel great in practice yesterday, Cliff [Daniels, crew chief] and everybody made some good adjustments overnight, and the car handled a lot better. There were definitely some guys that were quicker than us, but they had their misfortunes, so just keep our heads in it all day.
“Long race. Just restarts crazy. The whole runs were crazy. Definitely wild, but cool to get a win here in California, and hopefully we’ll get on a little streak.”
Larson started in the rear because the No. 5 team had to deal with an ignition switch issue Sunday morning. It was deemed an unapproved adjustment, and Larson gave up the 13th starting spot.
Chase Elliott brought out the final caution when he spun off Turn 2. Elliott was already angry and dealing with a damaged race car having been squeezed into the wall by Larson near the entry to Turn 1 with 11 laps to go.
LARSON PUTS CHASE IN THE WALL! pic.twitter.com/aXUfQUCtCc
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 28, 2022
As Joey Logano made a move to the inside of Larson going down the frontstretch, Larson moved right to begin his entry to Turn 1 as Elliott went to make it three-wide on the outside. The move pushed Elliott into the wall and out of contention, and he expressed his displeasure with Larson as he was being lapped by coming down on Larson on the frontstretch.
Elliott spun with nine laps to go. Larson won the race off pit to hold the lead and chose the outside lane for the final restart.
Once Larson cleared Suarez, Austin Dillon made a charge into second place with two laps to go. Dillon was never close enough to mount a serious challenge on Larson for the win.
Erik Jones finished third as Suarez faded to fourth. Joey Logano completed the top five finishers.
Aric Almirola finished sixth and Kevin Harvick finished seventh. Kurt Busch finished eighth after starting in the rear, a speeding penalty, overheating issues and colliding with Chase Briscoe.
Daniel Hemric came back from seven laps down to finish ninth. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top 10.
When Tyler Reddick blew a left-rear tire from the race lead with 49 laps to go, the door opened for Larson and the rest of the field. Reddick was the strongest car Sunday as he swept both stages and led 70 of the first 130 laps. However, when the tire blew, he was trying to limp back to pit road when William Byron got loose underneath Reddick coming off Turn 2 and the two collided.
Byron exited the race after leading 16 laps, and Reddick’s car was heavily damaged. Reddick led a race-high 90 laps and finished 24th.
Larson earned his second win at Auto Club Speedway and first of the season as he defends his Cup Series championship. There were 32 lead changes among nine drivers and 12 cautions.