By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
In a back-up car, Kyle Larson climbed from the back to a top-five finish in the Gander RV 400 at Pocono Raceway.
In Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series overtime, Larson’s No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was one of several cars in the top-10 not questioning the fuel mileage. On the restart, he was stuck behind Erik Jones. Larson cleared Martin Truex, Jr. as he battled Jones into turn one.
However, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had to back out of the throttle to keep his car out of the outside wall. Jones, Truex, and William Byron took advantage of Larson. He fell into the clutches of Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric, holding them off for a fifth-place finish at ‘The Tricky Triangle.’
“I didn’t hit the wall, but I got close,” Larson explained. “I knew I was going to be close to the wall, so I bailed out of the throttle to keep myself from hitting the wall and lost momentum. I felt bad, but it was better than ending up torn up like the last time I was aggressive on a restart. It was a good day.”
While the speed in Larson’s car was evident in stage one after he climbed from rear of the field to end the stage in sixth, it wasn’t a guarantee. In the first practice session, the car broke loose, clipped the outside wall before it spun and clobbered the inside wall.
With the enhanced weekend at Pocono, Larson’s team had limited time to prepare the back-up car. When the green flag waved on Sunday, the 23rd-place starter had just 11 laps in the back-up car.
Larson admitted that he didn’t expect to have that good of a car on race day.
“It was a lot better car than I thought I was going to have, so it just goes to show how good our team is right now and how good our cars are. Last week, I felt like we had one of the fastest cars and we didn’t get to show it. Today, I felt like we were one of the fastest cars. If I could just race a primary car, who knows what we could do.
“I just have to clean up a little bit of what I’m doing in practice and the races, and hopefully we can get a win. Any time you have a good run in a backup car, it’s satisfying.”
Pocono marked the second week in a row in which an accident in practice forced Larson to a back-up car. The 26-year-old went to a back-up after a crash in the second practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last weekend. Larson showed speed in that back-up car before two in-race incidents ended his day early.
“The past two weeks in a row I feel like we’ve had good speed in our backup cars, so I’ve been really happy with that,” Larson stated. “I don’t want to race backup cars, so I just have to stop crashing.”
The fifth-place finish is just the fourth top-five finish for Larson this season. It is the 51st top-five in his 204-race career.
Despite the top-five finish, Larson slipped from 13th to 14th in the championship points standings. He is 267-points behind points leader Joey Logano. Larson is 25-points ahead of the playoff cutoff, held by Ryan Newman. He is 37-points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, the first driver currently outside of the playoffs.