By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Back in August 2016, the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Spedway came down to a battle of the young guns, with a first career win on the line for the victor.
After coming up short on victory so many times in his career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kyle Larson finally had everything fall into place for himself and his No. 42 team as he held off a hard charging Chase Elliott for the win.
Not only had Larson finally found his way to victory lane, he did so just days after the tragic loss of friend and fellow racer Bryan Clauson in a sprint car accident in Belleville, Kansas, making the moment even more emotionally charged.
“Parked it!” Larson exclaimed after taking the checkered flag, noting Clauson’s signature victory phrase.
“I was teared-up that whole last few laps because I could just feel it,” he added. “It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We love you guys. We’re going to miss him. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool.
“We had a lot of work to do for that first third of the race, and got it done. Thanks to Target. Thanks to everyone on this team. Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and the pit crew and everybody. We messed up that last stop by we made it back.”
In addition, Larson’s win broke a 99 race winless streak for team owner Chip Ganassi that dated back to Talladega in October 2013.
“Well, he hung in there with our team,” Ganassi said. “We were building. We’ve been building over the years. He came on board and did a great job. The team rallied around him. I can’t say enough about the kid and the job he’s done over the last few years and it’s been a nice gradual coming-up through the pack. And I couldn’t be more happy with Kyle right now.
“It’s really, really big. We’ve been on the cusp for so many years. We got Jamie (McMurray) in there last year and now getting Kyle in, we couldn’t be happier. I’m kind of speechless to tell you the truth.”
Larson took over the race lead for the first time at lap 125, only to lose the lead to Elliott under green flag pit stops later in the race. Elliott looked like he had the win in the bag as the laps wound down, but a caution for debris flew with 14 laps to go, giving Larson and the others one final shot at the race lead. On the restart, Larson got the jump and that was all it took as he pulled away for the win.
With the win, Larson locked himself into the Chase for the first time in his career, which was looking doubtful before Michigan. The win also marked a weekend sweep of first time winners after both the Truck Series and Xfinity Series featured first time winners as well.
“Just a better restart again,” said Elliott. “That was what it was all about for sure. Once that guy (Kyle Larson) got out front it was really hard to pass. My guys did such a good job today of making the most of pit road. That was the only place you could make a large sum of ground in a short period of time. They did exactly what I asked them to do.
“I said ‘you guys are going to have to bail me out here I messed up.’ They did they got us the lead just like I asked and I gave it away again. It’s one of those things where you do or you don’t and I didn’t. You just got to recognize your mistakes, look at the positives I guess and move on down the road.”
Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, and Kevin Harvick followed Larson and Elliott to the finish.
Joey Logano looked to be the car to beat early, but he would have to settle for a 10th place finish, while Jimmie Johnson led 37 laps on the day, but pit road issues took away his chance at a win and he would have to settle for sixth.
Other notable finishes included Martin Truex, Jr., who led seven laps, but finished 20th after damage to his car when his car was dropped off of the jack on pit road. Kyle Busch spun early in the race to finish 19th, one lap down. Alex Bowman and Chris Buescher had engine troubles to finish 30th and 35th, respectively.