By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Kyle Larson has put a stranglehold on his competitors at the two-mile circuits, winning the last four races, but his bid for a fifth victory (Larson’s second at Fontana) came to an end in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway after finishing second behind race winner Martin Truex, Jr.
Despite being his best finish of the season and only his second top-five, Larson failed to put his No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet on top of the leaderboard.
“We had a lot of weird issues like vibrations and stuff that made us have to restart in the back and we would have to go back forward,” said Larson. “It always seemed like we would get to third or fourth and kind of stall out there. But it was still a very good day.”
It wasn’t his runner-up performance people were talking about. Instead, it was his Lap 38 incident with Kevin Harvick, who was going for his fourth straight victory of the season.
Battling for third, both entered Turn 2 door-to-door and Harvick’s No. 4 Busch Beer Ford had a slight advantage until the side-draft got Larson loose, and collided with Harvick.
Larson solidered on as Harvick’s car slammed the outside wall and ricocheted across the track, correcting his car from hitting the inside barriers. Harvick wound up in 35th out of the 37-car field. Harvick held himself accountable for the incident.
“We were racing really hard and I was better than him in three and four and he was better than me in one and two,” said Larson about the battle with Harvick. “I would side draft him down the front stretch and he would side draft me down the back stretch and I don’t know if he was just coming down to side draft me or what but we made contact and it spun his car to the right.”
During pit stops, Larson came in to repair his right fender. He restarted 23rd and from there, it became a rally to keep his dominance at 2-mile ovals alive.
The defending race winner reported his car was running good after the repairs and crawled his way back inside the top-10 before stage one concluded. Larson rallied up to sixth after 60 laps and earned five stage points.
In stage two, Larson had to give up a top-five run on Lap 87 to make another stop, he reported having a vibration. His Chip Ganassi Racing crew prevailed and Larson moved up to second at halfway.
Eventually, Larson had to settle for eighth in stage two, scoring an additional three stage points. Under caution, Larson had another scare on Lap 123, pitting twice after a broken duct got stuck between a tire and sustained loose lug nut.
Larson restarted 28th on the final stage, and again wasted no time working his way up back to the top-10.
With 50 laps to go, he had passed Joey Logano for fourth and ran faster laps than then-race leader Kyle Busch before ptting for the final time on Lap 163. The No. 42 team made no adjustments and after the cycle of stops, Larson was running in third.
Larson kept eating up the defict between he and now second-place Busch, making his final overtake of the day with 20 to go.
Once Larson gained second from Busch, his eyes were on Truex, who was five seconds ahead. But Truex was tough to handle and annihilated Larson, winning by 11.685 seconds for his first win of the season.
“The 78 was really good and I think the 4 was probably the best car again although he didn’t get to race a whole lot,” Larson added. “We are right there and we just have to continue to work hard. Hats off to everybody at our race shop because they have done a great job of getting our Camaros up to speed quickly. So I am having fun, but I would like to be one spot better though.”
The Elk Grove, California native’s adventurous afternoon moved him up to seventh in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, trailing Truex by 42 points after five races.
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