Kyle Larson drives his backup car to a fifth-place finish

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JULY 28: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway on July 28, 2019 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For the second straight week, Kyle Larson started a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race from the rear of the field in a backup car, but his run in Sunday’s Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway was considerably more satisfying than the day he had last weekend at New Hampshire.

Larson crashed 10 minutes into opening practice on Saturday morning and had very few laps on his backup No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet before qualifying. He was 29th fastest in time trials but, under NASCAR rules, had to drop to the back of the field for the start.

At times during Sunday’s race, Larson had the fastest car on the track. By the end of the first stage, he was sixth and he remained in contention throughout the balance of the race, though his running position varied according to divergent strategies and pit stop cycles.

When the race went to overtime, Larson lined up fourth and pushed race winner Denny Hamlin out front on the final restart. Larson had a close call with the wall in overtime and lost a position when he slowed to avoid contact with the barrier.

“I didn’t hit the wall, but I got close,” said Larson, who finished fifth. “I knew I was going to be close to the wall, so I bailed out of the throttle to keep myself from hitting the wall and lost momentum. I felt bad, but it was better than ending up torn up like the last time I was aggressive on a restart.

“It was a good day. It was a lot better car than I thought I was going to have, so it just goes to show how good our team is right now and how good our cars are. Last week, I felt like we had one of the fastest cars and we didn’t get to show it (because of two wrecks during the race). Today, I felt like we were one of the fastest cars. If I could just race a primary car, who knows what we could do? I just have to clean up a little bit of what I’m doing in practice and the races, and hopefully we can get a win.”

Greg Engle