Larson reigns supreme in Michigan

Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

Kyle Larson loves the Irish Hills, and he proved once again why on Sunday afternoon.

The Elk Grove, Ca. native led a race-high 96 laps en route to his third career victory, second of the 2017 season and second at Michigan International Speedway in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400.


KA-CHOW

Driving a “Cars 3” inspired Chevrolet SS for Chip Ganassi Racing, Larson delivered a Father’s Day present that his father, Mike, never could have imagined. Plus, Larson’s adorable son, Owen, probably will appreciate it when he’s old enough to understand the magnitude of the victory, too.

Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

He lost a race a couple weeks ago at Dover after seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson bested him on the final restart. But this week, after passing Kyle Busch on a lap 186 restart, he survived a flurry of them and held off the likes of Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and others on his way to the win.

“Ryan Blaney gave me a heck of a push,” Larson said of the third-to-final restart. “So I’ve really got to thank him a ton. I knew the Penske cars took off good, so I was happy to see him behind me. For us to withstand a few restarts there with some tough competitors there was pretty important.”

“What a great Father’s Day present for myself and all the other fathers out there. My dad is here today, too. We’ve been so close to so many other wins. This is our second Cup win of the year, but we’ve had five second-place finishes. All-in-all, it’s a good season so far and we’ll continue to keep building on what we’ve got.”


TWO-MILE KYLE

Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

It must be something about two-mile race tracks for Kyle Larson, because all three of his wins in his four-year Monster Energy Cup Series career have come on them.

He has grabbed the checkered flag once at his home track of Fontana and now twice at Michigan. However, Larson has had plenty of opportunities to win at different sized tracks.

His five second-place finishes have come at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Texas (all 1.5-mile tracks), Phoenix and Dover (one-mile tracks). He also had the lead with under five laps remaining in the Daytona 500 (2.5-mile track) and finished in sixth place at Bristol (half-mile track). Larson has definitely turned a corner when it comes to performance this season. And so has Chip Ganassi Racing as an organization.


Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

THE FIELD

Following Larson across the start/finish line were Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Jamie McMurray. Rounding out the top 10 were Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson when the checkered flag flew from Michigan.

Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman closed out the top 15 finishers. Some other notables included Brad Keselowski in 16th, Kasey Kahne in 21st, Daniel Suarez in 24th, Ryan Blaney in 25th, Clint Bowyer in 26th and Danica Patrick dead last in 37th.


ELLIOTT COMES UP SHORT AGAIN

Another trip to Michigan, another second-place finish for reigning Sunoco Rookie of the Year Chase Elliott. Only this time, he wasn’t abnormally hard on himself for letting his team down.

“From where we started the day to where we ended up, I was really proud of our effort,” Elliott told FS1 post-race. “I really think we overachieved today from what we had on Friday and Saturday, and even last night, I was getting a little nervous about how the day was going to go. So I’m happy that we could have a solid day and put ourselves in position and kind of rely on some late-race restarts. We had a couple of opportunities to get the lead. And, unfortunately, it just didn’t work out. But we’ll move on.”

Elliott has nine top 10 finishes this season and five top fives. Although he’s led 169 laps, his run at Michigan could be a positive sign of things to turn in the right direction for the No. 24 team and Hendrick Motorsports, who have struggled more than normal so far this season.


TRUEX JR. STOCKPILING PLAYOFF POINTS

Nobody has enjoyed stage racing this season more than Martin Truex Jr.

The Mayetta, NJ native won both stages one and two in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 from Michigan, putting his stage wins at a whopping 10 for the season. No other MENCS driver has amassed more than four stage wins in 2017. Each stage win means a playoff point.

Truex Jr. also sits second in the points standings, only five behind Larson. The regular season points leader at the end of the regular season gets 15 playoff points to carry with them throughout the entirety of the playoffs. If Truex Jr. keeps this performance up, he will be looking at an easy road to the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.


TOYOTA’S TURNING THE CORNER

Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Finishes of fourth, sixth, seventh, 11th and 13th weren’t indicative of how the Toyota teams of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing ran throughout the entirety of the afternoon.

The four JGR cars, more specifically Hamlin, Kenseth and Busch, ran inside the top five and 10 all afternoon, with Truex Jr. winning the first two stages. Jones had a top 10 car but experienced a vibration due to a loose wheel in his No. 77. That ensuing unscheduled pit stop forced him to be one lap down for the majority of the race, but he rebounded for a top 15 finish.


THE WINLESS EMERGE WINLESS

Although Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and some other drivers ran well for the entirety of the race, they still left the racetrack without a victory.

For them, though, it might be a good thing that Kyle Larson won, since no new winner was added to the list of 10 drivers that have won so far this season. Only 16 playoff slots are available, and every winner all but clinches a spot in the playoff field.

With a road course and a superspeedway coming up on the schedule, though, more surprise winners could wind up in victory lane. Then again, we have already had some surprise winners, so those surprise winners could wind up being repeat winners.


WHAT’S NEXT

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series travels west to Sonoma Raceway for the first road course race of the season in wine country. The Toyota Save-Mart 350 will take place on Sunday, June 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET. The XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will race at Iowa Speedway as well. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will also race at Sonoma on Saturday.