By Michael Guzman, Contributing Writer
Hampton, GA – Kyle Larson said he was gifted a “Christmas present” when he inherited the lead late in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. But despite the good fortune, the 24-year-old California native was unable to come home with his second win at NASCAR’s highest level.
After battling with eventual race winner Brad Keselowski throughout Sunday’s race, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver felt he was in a good situation. Larson said Keselowski was better on the short runs, but Larson said he nonetheless felt confident he could hold off the Team Penske driver.
“I had spent a lot of time around (Keselowski) and he would always pass me up top in (turns) 1 and 2,” Larson explained after the race. “I believe he maybe attempted it a couple laps before he passed me, so I knew I was going to try and get the momentum rolling up there.”
The second place run marks the latest in a string of good outings for Larson that have ended without a win, dating back to a third place run at Phoenix last November that was followed by a second place finish in last year’s season finale.
A low downforce package coupled an old, abrasive racing surface made the margin for error at Atlanta slim. It also made the difference between what car ended up in victory lane, according to the eventual race winner himself.
“If this track was repaved I wouldn’t have passed Kyle Larson for the win,” Keselowski admitted. “The groove would have been too small and it would have been too easy for him to block my air. I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”
Regardless, Larson posted his first top 10 of the 2017 season and snapped a skid of two straight 26th place finishes at Atlanta. Larson did not get his first top five of last year until Martinsville, the sixth race of his campaign. That reason alone has him optimistic, even if he remains mere laps away from driving into victory lane.
“Disappointed we didn’t get the win, but we typically struggle really bad in the early races of the season, so to finish second this early in the year is awesome. We had a shot to win the 500 last week and a shot again today, so that’s all you can ask for.”