By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Kyle Larson’s season has included six top-five finishes, four of which have resulted in runner-up efforts, including Saturday night at Bristol, as he came up short of passing Kurt Busch to score his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race.
His result also clinched him a spot in the playoffs via points. Also clinching playoff berths Saturday were Busch, who snapped a 58-race winless streak, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski. He currently holds the 12th seed and is 236 points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who is currently the first man out of the playoffs.
Larson described that restarting in fourth on the final restart helped him be in a proper position to battle Busch for the win, but he had to stick on the treacherous bottom lane as Busch held the favorable top lane and dealt with a ill-balanced car.
“I was very happy to have that second to the last restart work out where everybody was slamming into each other,” Larson said. “I was able to sneak into fourth right before that caution came out. Fourth is the second-best place to start besides the leader. I knew I would get out to second. I hadn’t been around Kurt on the short runs there to see what he was doing. Was hoping maybe he would run the bottom for a couple laps.
“He went straight away to the top. I knew it was going to be tough to pass him. I knew if I got close to him, I’d have to use the bumper a little bit. I never even got close enough to get to him there. I was loose in, tight off. Just fought the balance all night.”
After winning the pole and won the Xfinity Series race Friday, Larson didn’t have the car to amount a legitimate charge on the Ford parade of Stewart-Haas Racing (Busch and Clint Bowyer) and Team Penske (Blaney and Joey Logano), who won the opening stages respectively.
Larson said tires contributed a lot to his performance, which proved to be mostly frustrating.
“I think if I had a better car, tires probably would have showed what they are really capable of. This was just a really frustrating day. Our DC Solar Chevy was not very good from lap 1 to lap 500 there, but we fought and got a second place finish out of it.
“So, I was happy about running second, but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good. But, we were probably a 12th to 15th-place car, I thought. Just lined up in the right restarts just about every time and was able to gain some spots on every re-start and maintain. And then would be terrible there towards the end of the run.
“Frustrating, but we were able to fight; so that’s good for our team to be able to do that. Our pit stops, aside from the first one, were really good. So, I’m happy about that that. So, we’ll just continue to fight to get our cars a lot better.”
Larson added that the track conditions crucially impacted his No. 42 DC Solar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, putting an emphasis on car balance that prevented him from scoring his first Cup win since Richmond last September.
“The track seemed to change a little bit. My car was bad, like I said, so maybe it was my balance I was changing, but it seemed like the top would be good in a run and then the bottom would be good in another run. I don’t know. A lot of guys seemed really fast, but had a lot of troubles. But, I was falling back wherever I ran.”
The Cup Series will have their final off week, and then grind it out for the final 12 races of the season, beginning Sept. 2 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina for the Bojangles Southern 500. In four previous starts, “The Lady in Black” has treated Larson nicely, scoring three top-10 finishes with a third-place result in 2016 being his personal best.