By David Morgan, Associate Editor
In the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series doubleheader at Pocono Raceway, it looked to be business as usual for Kyle Larson and the No. 5 team, until a flat tire on the last lap sent Larson into the wall and denied him a fourth straight victory.
Prior to Saturday’s Pocono Organics CBD 325, Larson had claimed victories at Charlotte, Sonoma, and Nashville, along with the non-points paying NASCAR All-Star Race, and if he would have won at Pocono, the Hendrick Motorsports star would have joined some of the elites in Cup Series history to have won four races in a row, including Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
After starting on the pole, Larson led the first four laps of the race before giving up the lead to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron and another eight laps later in the race, but when the final caution set up a restart on lap 112, Larson was in position to challenge for the win yet again.
Though Alex Bowman got the jump on the restart over then leader Kyle Busch, Larson quickly found his way to second place and set his sights on chasing down the No. 48 Chevrolet. Despite Bowman putting up a fight for the next 15 laps, Larson was able to pull alongside him and power by in the Tunnel Turn with four laps to go, claiming the lead once again.
As the finish drew nearer, Larson pulled out to a solid lead of more than 20 car lengths, but as the old saying goes, ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.’
On the final lap with the checkered flag in sight, smoke began emanating from the front end of Larson’s car as he headed into Turn 3, with the obvious flat tire sending him straight into the outside wall, allowing Bowman to blast by for the win, while Larson limped across the line in ninth-place.
“I guess disbelief still,” Larson said of the events that had transpired on the last lap. “I don’t know, a little bit laughable just because I can’t believe it.
“Hate that we didn’t get another win. Would have been cool to win five in a row. Just wasn’t meant to be I guess today. Yeah, I felt something like right in the middle of the tunnel. Wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. It finally kind of shredded halfway through the short chute there. Couldn’t turn.
“I don’t think there were any tire issues all day. I must have just ran something over, I guess. I was having to work really hard to get by him. I was honestly happy to see him get to the lead because I had pulled away from him so much, that run up before the caution. But then he was really fast out front. Just fast enough I could never get to his inside. He was running low enough, I was a little bit choked down.
“He was starting to get really tight through one. I was able to kind of use that to my advantage, fake him low a little bit, mess his angle up, get him tighter off of one. Was finally able to get by him. Thought we were going to get the win, but we didn’t.”
Given the damage to Larson’s car, the team will have to go to a backup car for the second half of the Pocono doubleheader, meaning he will have his work cut out for him if he wants to redeem himself starting at the back of the pack.
Despite the setback, Larson remains confident that he and his team can put themselves in position to challenge for the win on Sunday.
“That’s one thing that’s probably keeping me excited and not depressed, is that we get to go back again tomorrow. I’m sure our backup car will be just as good as that one. Feel like we learned a lot about our car today. The track came to us a lot. I think we should be good tomorrow.”