Same story, different month. In a repeat of last August, Kyle Larson held off Chase Elliott to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series Firekeepers 400 at Michigan International Speedway Sunday.
Larson led from the pole and led the most laps and won in nearly the same fashion as he did last August when he scored his first career win at the same track. Last August he led a race high 41 laps, Sunday he led a race high 96. It was third career win and his second this season, the first coming at California.
The key to the win for Larson was restarts. He was able to take the lead on several restarts throughout the 400 miles, most importantly he was able to grab the top spot on three restarts that came in the final 20 laps.
“Ryan Blaney gave me a heck of a push,” Larson said of the final restart. “So, I’ve really got to thank him a ton. I knew the Penske cars took off good, so I was happy to see him behind me. For us to withstand a few restarts there with some tough competitors there was pretty important. I can’t thank these guys enough. The Cars 3 Chevy was really, really fast. And it was cool to win it.”
The only time Larson wasn’t near the front of the field was during the mid-part of the race when he lost ground for the only time of the day on a restart.
“I think restarted third or fifth that time and got loose off of (Turn) 2 and I got freight trained down the backstretch,” Larson said. “Just really hard to restart on the bottom unless you are on the front row you can get clear of them. Just had to keep fighting all day. The restarts really paid off there at the end. We were lining up in the right lines and getting the right pushes at the right time.”
While the high lane was the fastest on restarts, Larson proved to be an adept restarter taking the lead on a restart from the bottom with 15 laps to go. A result of a debris caution that erased a 1.4 second lead for Kyle Busch. There would be two more restarts after that including one with five laps to go. One that saw Larson again take the lead and never look back.
“I just had a hell of a push from Ryan Blaney behind me,” Larson said. “I can’t thank him enough for shoving me like that. It was cool to see him get his win last week and then he helped me a ton today to get this win. He stayed committed to me all the way down the frontstretch and got me past the No. 18 which was key.”
The second place for Elliott marked the third Michigan race where he’s finished top five, including his second place to Larson here last August.
“From where we started the day to where we ended up, I was really proud of our effort,” Elliott said. “I really think we over-achieved today from what we had on Friday and Saturday and even last night, I was getting a little nervous about how the day was going to go. So, I’m happy that we could have a solid day and put ourselves in position and kind of rely on some late-race restarts.”
Behind Elliott, Joey Logano was third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray fifth.
“You have no idea how good this feels,” Logano said. “It’s been a struggle the last month-and-a-half and it’s nice to come here to Michigan, maybe our best race track and be able to overcome a lot. I’m not sure we had a third-place car today but the team executed like they needed to get the Shell-Pennzoil Ford into the top-three.”
Martin Truex Jr. led 62 laps in the first half of the race. He won both the first and second stages, but came home sixth. Kyle Busch led 40 laps and looked to be the car to beat, but on the final restart with five laps to go he fell back and had to settle for eighth.
“We had the best car out there without a doubt,” Truex said. “Just inside lane restarts at the end killed us, so just stinks when you have to race like that, you know? You get just in a bad spot and there’s nothing you can do about it. We seen it the last couple restarts, so just wrong place. Probably should have took two tires that last time we pitted – we took four. That killed us. Just wrong lane on the restart every single time all day long and couldn’t use the best car to win.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was ninth, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. was tenth.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads to Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota-Save Mart 350 next Sunday. Live coverage will be on Fox Sports 1 starting at 3:00 p.m. ET.
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