Kyle Larson sweeps NASCAR weekend with hard fought victory at Auto Club Speedway

FONTANA, CA - MARCH 26: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, celebrates in victory land after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on March 26, 2017 in Fontana, California. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

A Kyle swept the NASCAR weekend; it wasn’t the usual Kyle however.  Kyle Larson survived a green-white-checkered flag finish Sunday to score his second career win and his second in two days.

Fresh off his Xfinity Series win on Saturday, Larson dominated Sunday leading a race high 110 laps. Larson became the first winner in 2017 to have the fastest car and win. It also comes after he finished second in the previous three Cup races.

The pivotal moment came with 10 laps to go when the races sixth caution flew.  Larson led a group of leaders in for tires while Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., who led the second most laps on the day 73, and Jamie McMurray stayed out.

Larson quickly grabbed the lead, but the races final caution came out on lap 196 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and teammate Trevor Bayne got together and the overtime finish was set up.

On the final restart, Larson shot to the lead and never looked back.  Hamlin meanwhile faded, fell out of the top 10 and on the final lap hit the wall exiting turn 4 finishing 14th.

“I was staying as calm as I could be, but also frustrated at the same time” Larson said.  “It seems like every time I get to the lead at the end of one of these things, the caution comes out and I’ve got to fight people off on restarts.”

Brad Keselowski overcame a great deal of adversity to finish second. Keselowski was spun on the races first lap and spent the rest of the race fighting his way forward with a damaged Ford.

“We’re tore all to hell,” Keselowski said.  “Gosh, that’s unfortunate.  Got tore up there really early in the race.  Went all the way to back, just clawed all the way up to second.

“I don’t know if we had anything for Kyle and those guys.  Car was tore up pretty bad.  To get that kind of finish is respectable.  Certainly we want to win.  Felt like we had a shot to do just that.  Didn’t come together, so…

“That’s the way it goes sometimes when you have a 36‑race season.  You’re going to have some adversity and days that don’t go your way.  That’s the way it was for us today.  But we made the most of it, so I’m proud of my guys.”

Clint Bowyer was third, Truex fourth.

“We were right there all day long,” Truex said. “I felt like the 42 (Kyle Larson) had everybody covered. It was just a matter of who got out front and got clean air. Towards the end we had a little trouble in the pits. We didn’t take tires, everybody else did and we were at a big disadvantage those last couple restarts. Definitely happy to come out of here with a fourth with the tires we had on the car at the end. It was a good day and we have fast cars and we’ll continue to work on them.”

Joey Logano who started in the back of the field after missing Friday’s qualifying was fifth. Jamie McMurray was sixth, Daniel Suarez was seventh followed by Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott.

The win for Larson marked only the second time in the 20-year history of Auto Club Speedway that a driver had won from the pole. Jimmie Johnson first did it in 2008. Johnson struggled all afternoon with damage from the opening lap crash and finished 21st.

“We were able to lead a lot of laps today,” Larson said.  “(Martin) Truex was better than us that second stage by quite a bit.  We were able to get the jump on him the following restart and led pretty much the rest of the distance.  I had to fight them off there after the green flag stops and that was a lot of fun.”

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads back east to the shortest track on the circuit, Martinsville Speedway in Virginia for next Sunday’s STP 500. Live coverage will be on Fox at 2:00 p.m. ET.

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.