By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Martin Truex, Jr. was in a league of his own during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington, but in the closing laps of the Goodyear 400, Kyle Larson did his best to give the 2017 series champion a run for his money, eventually coming home with a runner-up result.
Starting the day in 14th place, Larson worked his way up to fourth by the end of the first stage, but following a pit road speeding penalty, he would be back at square one for the start of the second stage.
Despite the setback, Larson was able to climb back into the top-five by the end of the second stage, setting himself up to be a contender down the stretch.
After the final set of green flag pit stops put Larson within striking distance of Truex, Larson set his sights on stealing the lead and the win from the dominant driver of the day, but despite his best efforts, his No. 5 Chevrolet didn’t have enough in the arsenal to take down Truex, who pulled away over the final handful of laps to score his third win of the season.
“I was surprised that I was able to get to him,” Larson said. “I caught him really; like, I closed on pit road and then I caught him pretty quickly once we were on track. I closed right in, and actually had an opportunity to get by him in the middle of (Turns) 1 and 2, but I thought I’d stay patient and maybe get him to use his stuff up. He was just a little bit better than I was in the long runs. So, just wish maybe I could have taken advantage of that opportunity, but thought it was going to play out a little differently.
“But it was a great day for our HendrickCars.com Chevy. It was fun to come here to Darlington with low downforce. During the day we were sliding around. I felt like we were not very good all day, but I passed a lot of cars and found myself towards the front. I was like well, I feel like I’m struggling but I’m fast. So, it was fun. Hats off to Martin Truex (Jr.) and his team.”
As he was running down Truex late in the race, Larson certainly made things exciting, especially when he had to pass the lapped cars of Tyler Reddick and Ryan Newman to keep up the pressure on Truex. In true Kyle Larson fashion, he went right through the middle, passing them both in one fell swoop in a daring three-wide pass.
“I knew if I didn’t get by them then, when I was surprised that I got by them both in the same corner, but Newman obviously is really hard to pass. He races really hard, and so does Tyler, and he was kind of running where I wanted to be, so I knew I had to make quick work of them if I wanted to have an opportunity to get to Martin,” Larson explained of the move.
“So, the 6 kind of pulled lower than I thought he would, and I saw a door open and poked my nose through it and came out the other side.
“Still after I cleared, I wasn’t good enough to get to Martin, but had I not got by them, I definitely would not have had a shot to get to Martin, so just glad I didn’t wreck there.”
Sunday’s finish was the best finish for Larson since a top-five at Martinsville a month ago, with the No. 5 team failing to finish any higher than 18th over the past three weeks. With that in mind, Larson noted his runner-up result at Darlington was crucial to get his team back on track heading to one of his best tracks, Dover, next weekend.
“We definitely needed to get a good finish,” said Larson. “I thought we were going to get one last week and I messed that up. Three bad weeks in a row, and to come back and contend for a win and finish second and get good stage points after speeding at the end of the first stage, too, yeah, it was a good day.
“Now we go to Dover, which is one of if not my best tracks. Excited about that, and Hendrick Motorsports has been pretty good at Dover from what I remember, too, so looking forward to getting there.”
The boost in momentum from Sunday’s finish also gives Larson additional confidence heading into the summer and the second half of the regular season, with him giving his new team a stellar grade through the first 12 races of the season.
“I think we’re top three,” Larson said. “We’re one of the top three teams out there, so I’m happy with that. We’ve been really good to start the year and meshing very well as a team. Really enjoy working with cliff and everybody on the 5 car, and I think we’re just going to continue to grow. Our pit crew has been doing an awesome job. Everybody at the shop has been doing great. You look at all four of our teammates, with myself included, and we’ve been really good.
“Happy about it, and looking forward to building from where we’re at.”