Kyle Larson finally did it. After a couple of tough weeks the 24 year old scored his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win in his 99th career start Sunday. Larson took the lead for the final time with 9 circuits to go from leader Chase Elliott and executed perfect laps to win by 12 seconds.
“We had a lot of work to do for that first third of the race, and got it done,” Larson said.”Thanks to everyone on this team. Chad (Johnson, crew chief) and the pit crew and everybody.”
Elliott held on for second, the second consecutive race at Michigan that he has finished runner-up. Ironically, Elliott also led the Michigan race in June but lost on a final restart. Brad Keselowski was third, followed by Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick.
“Once that guy (Kyle Larson) got out front it was really hard to pass” a subdued Elliott said. “My guys did such a good job today of making the most of pit road. That was the only place you could make a large sum of ground in a short period of time. They did exactly what I asked them to do. I said ‘you guys are going to have to bail me out here I messed up.’ They did they got us the lead just like I asked and I gave it away again. It’s one of those things where you do or you don’t and I didn’t. You just got to recognize your mistakes, look at the positives I guess and move on down the road.”
Larson took the lead for the first time on lap 125. From there he would lead a race high 41 laps with his nearest competition coming from Elliott who led 31.
It was the final restart that came after the races fourth caution however that decided the finish. On the restart both leader Elliott and Larson spun their tires stacking up the field behind. Larson was able to get out first however with Keselowski pushing him and taking second. Elliott got by Keselowski a lap later but had nothing for Larson who was flawless in the in the final laps for the win. Larson became the second driver to get his first career Cup win at Michigan the first being Dale Jarrett in August of 1991.
“We both spun our tires really bad,” Larson said. “And, the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) pushed me really good. He could have probably pulled underneath me and went by. But he stayed with me and got me the lead. So, thanks to him. I had a lot of fun.”
The win was also the first for Chip Ganassi Racing in 99 races since Jamie McMurray won for the team at Talladega in October of 2013.
“It was a big one. It was a big one,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “I hate to put the onus on somebody else, but boy I’m sure glad to. It’s one big team…all the engineers and all these people work so damn hard. And to go winless for so long is really difficult. Only one person wins in this sport. It’s like golf. There’s only one winner. And we’re just proud to be here right now.”
Pole sitter Joey Logano led 24 laps early but lost the lead to Kevin Harvick on a lap 26 restart. Harvick would go on to lead 33 laps until Johnson, who had started second, took the lead after a round of green flag stops on lap 68 and went on to lead 37 laps. Johnson would lose the lead due to a pit stop miscue during green flag stops on lap 107 and Elliott took the lead for the first time.
Elliott would stretch out a comfortable lead until Michael Annett lost a tire with 14 laps to go, setting up the final restart which won Larson his first race. Larson’s first time win came on a weekend that saw first time wins in all three of NSACAR’s top touring series for the first time in NASCAR history. It was also the first for a Driver for Diversity graduate.
Alex Bowman subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran inside the top five early on but mechanical issues sent him to the garage and left him with a 30th place finish five laps down.
For Larson the win was emotional coming after poor finishes due to crashes at Watkins Glen and Bristol and only a few weeks after his friend and former NASCAR driver Bryan Clauson lost his life during a sprint car race.
“I was teared-up that whole last few laps because I could just feel it,” Larson said. “It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We love you guys. We’re going to miss him. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool.”
Johnson held on for sixth, Carl Edwards was seventh, Larson’s teammate Jamie McMurray was eight, Denny Hamlin ninth with polesitter Logano 10th. The full results can be found here.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500 next Sunday night. Live coverage will be on NBC starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.