By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Kyle Larson was once again the center of attention at Chicagoland Speedway as the near six-hour Camping World 400 showcased tremendous racing action from start to finish.
Last year it was the “Slide Job” heard around the world, where he came up short of beating Kyle Busch. This time around, Larson’s opponent for the race win was Alex Bowman, putting on a heck of a show in the closing laps. Even trading paint a couple of occasions as they gave it their all, looking for a breakthrough victory to lock themselves into the playoffs.
In the end, it was Bowman who came out victorious for the first time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, while Larson had to settle for second once again. Therefore, his winless streak dating back to Richmond in September 2017 has extended to 63 races.
Despite coming up 0.546 seconds shy of winning, Sunday’s runner-up result marked his best finish of the season and only his second top-five after 17 races.
“If I was out in clean air, I think we just had a lot of downforce and drag in our car,” Larson on his battle with Bowman. “I just felt slow in clean air, but when I could get behind people I was okay and could just wait until we got laps on tires, then I could start making ground. Was actually surprised I even got to him. I thought when he came out about the same distance off pit road in front of me, I thought he was just going to check out.
“He was struggling, and we were able to get to him and get by him, but he did a good job. He did a good job regrouping and figuring out how to make his car drive better and got the win. Cool to see him get the win there. Would have liked for him to have to wait another week or so, but happy for him. He’s an open‑wheel guy, so cool to see.”
Before catching Bowman, Larson had a consistently strong car as he ran inside the top-five throughout the race, plagued with a three-hour red flag due to weather.
Once the race began to wind down, Larson brought the No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on pit road with 49 laps remaining. From there, Larson moved up to second and even if he pitted a lap before Bowman, he was charging towards the front as he trailed the leader by 2.83 seconds.
Larson wasn’t the only driver who was on the move as Logano was all over him for several laps, but wasn’t able to get by the Elk Grove, California native for second.
Logano described the battle between Larson as a situation where he simply couldn’t get to Larson in both lanes to get the run he would’ve like and once his car got tight, it was game over.
“I just couldn’t get to his inside or outside and get a run,” said Logano. “I would get right to him but not enough of a run to make a move. I just got tight at the end and he drove away at the end. We were pushing really hard on the front tires and eventually they are going to give out.”
With Logano eliminated from the race-winning battle, Larson’s eyes was now on the race leader.
Bowman dealt with lap traffic, including an encounter with Paul Menard which left him furious with 22 to go. It gave Larson an opportunity of cutting the lead down by using both the trademark top and bottom groove.
Then with eight laps remaining, Larson made his move by going to the bottom and battled door-to-door on the backstretch. Once they hit Turn 3, it was Larson with the advantage and cleared Bowman for the race lead.
Two laps later, rolls were reverse as Bowman fought back and snatched the lead away from Larson in Turn 3. Only this time, it was for good as Larson was instructed multiple times over the radio to turn the regulator switch off which he did and unable to catch the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Larson said he noticed him struggling at that point of the race, but the disadvantage he had against Bowman was big runs on the straightaways.
“He could get big runs on me down the straightaways, and I think that allowed him to get that run into 1 and he got to the main side and I got tight,” said Larson. “I don’t know if him getting air on my spoiler or something got him tight, but I had to kind of breathe it a little bit, and then we side drafted on the backstretch.”
“I wish I would have maybe done some things different into 3 instead of going all the way to wall, maybe chase him to bottom, just try to hang on his quarter, but he might have cleared me anyways down there.”
Disappointed was Larson for being denied another win at Chicagoland, but he found a nice outlook as he was satisfied how the Chevrolet camp ran well all day, halting the dominance of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
“I wish I could have got a win for McDonald’s and got them to Victory Lane. But still a great day for Chevy and Hendrick engines,” said Larson. “That was really cool to see a lot of us Hendrick engine guys up front and kind of drafting and breaking away from the groups behind us on the short runs. I felt good about my car on the long runs.”
Larson gained two spots in the championship standings as he’ll head to Daytona International Speedway 13th in points, 35 points above the playoff cutoff. Last July, Larson finished 29th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400, but will head to July 6 with a shot of scoring two straight top-10s at Daytona after finishing seventh in the Daytona 500 in February.