Larson uses overtime heroics to earn third straight Michigan victory

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Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Michigan International Speedway—Kyle Larson’s house?

That sentence might be a fact after Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, as Larson powered his No. 42 Target Chevrolet to the lead and eventual race victory on an overtime restart. The rest of the field could do nothing but tip their cap to the Elk Grove, Calif. native, who dazzled once again.


LarSON

He started ninth and was a relative non-factor all afternoon long. That was until the final restart, when Larson worked his magic. And boy, was it something fun to watch.

The win was his third of the season, fourth of his career (all on two-mile tracks) and third in a row at Michigan International Speedway. It’s safe to say this kid is pretty good.

Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

“Ohhhhh myyyy Goddddd!” Larson radioed to his team on the backstretch after wheeling his No. 42 to the lead.

“Give me one more in each of these corners bud and then you can celebrate all you want,” crew chief Chad Johnston radioed back to his driver. He did just that, and gave Johnston a big ole “Yeah, woohoo!” as he came to the checkered flag.

“This win feels amazing to steal one in a way,” Larson said in Victory Lane. “And my other three wins I felt like we had the first or second-best car, but today at times I didn’t think we were a top 10 car. But to get the win that way is awesome.”

The win gives Larson the season sweep at MIS and gets him back on the right track after a bit of a bad stretch for Larson and the No. 42 team. The past three finishes were outside the top 20 for Larson, with one DNF. But a win, after leading only two laps, made it all worthwhile.

“It was an awesome finish for us,” Larson said. “Kind of a struggle all day, honestly. I felt like we were—I was good and I could find clean air on my car, but any time I’d get any bit of dirty air or any bit of the wake from the car in front of me, I’d get extremely loose, even when I wasn’t close to anybody. We definitely didn’t have the car that we had here the last two times we won, but we kept fighting, probably even harder than we did in those other two wins.


THE RESTART

He waited until the start/finish line to make a definite move on the No. 78 of Martin Truex Jr.—the race leader at the time—and timed it perfectly. He dove inside of him and was in a Furniture Row Racing sandwich. Truex on his outside, rookie Erik Jones on his inside.

But by the time they got to turn one, it was Larson and Truex. And by the time they got to turn two, it was Larson. And by the time they got to turn three, it was already over.

Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

“I mean, kind of how it played out was my number one option,” Larson said of the race-deciding restart. “I wanted to time it and be able to get to (Truex’s) bumper and act like I was pushing him out to the lead and then duck underneath him and get to his left rear quarter and pull him back. It’s crazy how when you get to somebody’s left rear quarter how much it slows them down, and it did just that, and I wanted to do it at the right time where the (No.) 77 Jones)—I would be kind of clear of him, and I got clear of him, and I looked at my mirror, and Matt (Kenseth) kind of scared me because I didn’t expect him to be under the (No.) 77 […] it honestly worked out exactly how I had hoped it would, so I can’t really believe it.


INTERESTING CELEBRATION

Chip Ganassi, owner of Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray’s entries in the MENCS, loves winners. So much so that he’s well-known for saying a simple line: “I like winners.”

Well, apparently, Ganassi likes boxing, MMA, wrestling, or whatever other activity involves slapping, punching and ringing the neck of your employees. Because he did all of the above when Larson crossed the finish line and grabbed his third checkered flag of the season.

See for yourself what Ganassi did to both crew chief Chad Johnston and another No. 42 race engineer on the pit box, as well as Larson on the frontstretch after his victory burnout.

“(He) just clocked me in the head there,” Larson said with a smile and a bit of disbelief to NBCSN’s Rutledge Wood in his interview. And why wouldn’t he? Ganassi allowed Larson to race in the Knoxville Nationals, a world-renowned sprint car race, on Saturday night before arriving back at MIS in the wee hours on race morning. Larson ultimately finished second to Donny Schatz in the event, but did one better on the NASCAR side—which is pretty sweet for Chip.


THE FIELD

Following Larson across the start/finish line after the 202-lap event in second-place was Martin Truex Jr. The No. 78 won his 15th stage of the season, playing the short-pit game at the end of stage two, and wound up leading 57 laps on his way to the runner-up result.

Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Truex’s Furniture Row Racing teammate and hometown kid Erik Jones came home in third, with Ryan Newman and Trevor Bayne rounding out the top five. Newman and Bayne found themselves in position for a great finish after strategy got them up front towards the end.

Chris Buescher (played the strategy game as well), Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10 finishers, with Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Blaney capping off the top 15 finishers from the 400+ miler.

Some other notable finishers included Denny Hamlin in 16th, Brad Keselowski (led a race-high 105 laps and won stage one) in 17th, Jimmie Johnson in 19th, Matt Kenseth in 24th and Joey Logano in 28th. Accidents left Daniel Suarez and Kasey Kahne in 37th and 38th, respectively.


MICHIGAN MEN

For a few moments on Sunday, it looked like Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) or Erik Jones (Byron) would wind up in Victory Lane and become the first Michigander to win a race at their home track. But the racing gods had other plans for the No. 2 and No. 77.

Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Keselowski led a race-high 105 laps, won stage one and looked like the car to beat for the first half of the Pure Michigan 400. But as the race went on, the Blue Deuce became more ill-handling, and Keselowski wound up falling back slowly. Couple the ill-handling with a poor final restart after being mired back in traffic, and you wind up with a disappointing 17th-place finish.

“It just didn’t come together there at the end, but it was nice to lead a bunch of laps,” Keselowski said post-race to NBCSN. “That was good and something I was really proud of, but I just didn’t have enough to really run with the (No.) 77 (Jones) and the (No.) 78 (Truex).”

Jones led five laps and ran inside the top five for most of the event, settling for a third-place finish, matching the best result of his young Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.

Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

“It’s very rare it actually works out the way you picture in your head,” Jones said of when he thought about what moves to make on the final overtime restart. “But yeah, you definitely ponder what that would be like (to win). You know, seemed like right off the bat on the restart Martin (Truex Jr.) and I would kind of match lap times for a few laps, and Martin would start to inch away after a couple laps. I knew we had a shot right on the restart. We were just as quick I felt like right off the bat, and it would have been nice to be able to seal the deal for sure.”


WHAT’S NEXT

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Thunder Valley, Bristol Motor Speedway, next weekend for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race from the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. The green flag for that event will fly Saturday evening around 7:45 p.m. ET with TV coverage on NBC.

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