Only a few hours removed from a second place on the dirt at the Knoxville Nationals, Kyle Larson staged a thrilling comeback finish executing a perfect restart to win Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Larson restarted fourth on the final restart that came after a short red flag period and in NASCAR overtime. Ahead Martin Truex Jr., who led 57 laps up to that point, led the field to the green followed by his teammate Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth. When the green flew, the top four fanned out with Larson fighting to the lead, Truex second.
Truex had nothing for Larson who powered to victory.
“I was running a few options through my head of what to do if I got a good jump” Larson said. “And that was one of them and it worked out perfect. I can’t believe that happened. We were struggling all day. We were definitely not as good as the last two times we won here, but we preserved and had a great restart at the end.”
The biggest loser in the exchange was Kenseth, who overcame a speeding penalty to be in contention for the win. He suffered a flat tire and ended up in 24th.
The win was the third consecutive at Michigan for Larson. Three of his four career Cup wins have now come at Michigan.
“I wanted to get a good jump on him, get to his bumper and if I stayed locked at the start/finish line I was going to try and pull out like I did,” Larson said. “It just worked out good. I didn’t have a car that was capable of winning throughout the race, but we had a restart there that allowed us to try and be perfect and we were. “
Behind second place finisher Truex, Jones held on for a career best third, Ryan Newman used smart pit strategy for fourth as did Trevor Bayne who finished fifth.
“I just tried to do something a little different there with (Kyle) Larson behind me,” Truex said. “But when he hit me I went and I spun the tires. They just got too cold under that red flag and not enough time to get them warmed up. Our car generally took a few laps all day to get warm, but while we had enough caution laps I could kind of keep heat in the tires. Just spun them a bit and he got a run and there was no way he was going to go around me on the bottom with all that stuff down there and I just went into one and spun the tires because they were so cold. It’s one of those deals, sometimes these things don’t work out.”
Pole sitter, and hometown favorite Brad Keselowski led the most laps of the day 105 most coming in the first half of the race winning the first stage at lap 60 along the way.
“It just didn’t come together there at the end, but it was nice to lead a bunch of laps,” Keselowski said. “That was good and something I was really proud of, but I just didn’t have enough to really run with the 77 and the 78. We tried a little strategy to kind of get something out of it, but the way it all played out I ended up getting the bottom lane on the restarts and getting absolutely swallowed. We tried. We put in as much effort as we could. We knew we didn’t have as much as those two, but we gave it 100 percent effort and I was really proud of my team for that.”
Truex took the lead during a round of pit stops and took the second stage on lap 120. The race was under his control as Larson methodically worked his way forward; Keselowski meanwhile began to fade and thanks to pit stops found himself ninth late in the going. He would finish the day 17th.
Daniel Suarez led several laps and was running strong but was forced to pit on lap 130. While trying to move up through the field he was involved in a heavy crash with Kasey Kahne on lap 139. Both cars were done for the day. It was the first DNF for Suarez since the season opening Daytona 500.
Joey Logano, desperate for a win to make the playoffs, ran up front much of the race, but a flat tire late sent him to the pits on lap 185 and force NASCAR to throw a caution flag that mixed up the field who was on varying pit strategies.
“The speed wasn’t there,” Logano said. “We were a little better and obviously in qualifying our cars are good, but we just couldn’t hang with the Toyotas up front there. Those two cars there – really the Furniture Row cars is what I should say. They’re just lights-out fast. The fastest car didn’t win the race, I can tell you that much for sure. We had a flat tire. I don’t know why we had a flat tire, but maybe we ran something over. I don’t know. On to the next one. We’ll keep moving.”
The only other caution that came outside of the stage came with six laps to go when Michael McDowell spun exiting turn 2, hitting the wall and leaving fluid on track. NASCAR was forced to throw a red flag to clean up fluid; setting up an overtime finish, a furious battle and the win for Larson.
“This has been an incredible week for me,” Larson said. “We ran second in Knoxville yesterday to Donny Schatz, and then to come here and win and beat Martin Truex, Jr., who is a Donny Schatz right now, is definitely a week I’ll never forget.”
Chris Buescher was sixth followed by Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.
In his last Michigan race as a fulltime driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished a quiet 14th.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race with live coverage on NBC starting at 7:30 p.m. ET.