Kyle Larson continued his winning ways at Michigan International Speedway, leading only two laps after a four-wide pass for the lead in overtime.
Michigan International Speedway continues to be Kyle Larson’s yard after leading the most important two laps of his career in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 for his third straight victory at the two-mile speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
After a late red flag on lap 197 to clean up the oil spilled on the track set by Michael McDowell and Paul Menard, Larson restarted in the second row behind Furniture Row Racing teammates Martin Truex, Jr. and Erik Jones.
Larson pushed race leader Truex, Jr. ahead of teammate Jones and left a gap for Larson to peak his nose in between the Furniture Row teammates. Matt Kenseth then ducked down to the bottom and created a four-wide battle for the lead.
In the middle of the four-wide pass, Larson’s car wobbled but kept it under control and with an assist by Trevor Bayne, Larson cleared Truex, Jr. for the lead in turn one.
Larson’s excitement was heard over the radio, shouting “oh my god” on the final lap as he beat Truex, Jr. for his third win of the season.
It’s Larson’s fourth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win and became the third driver to win three or more consecutive races at Michigan. Bill Elliott has the record with four from 1985-86 and David Pearson previously won three straight races from 1972-73.
After the race, Larson said he had scenarios on executing the winning pass.
“I was running a few options through my head of what to do if I got a good jump, and that was one of them and it worked out perfect,” Larson said. “I can’t believe that happened. We were struggling all day. We were definitely not as good as the last two times we won here, but we preserved and had a great restart at the end.”
Larson was then congratulated by car owner Chip Ganassi with a hug and being clocked in the head as he described.
Larson thanked Ganassi for giving him the opportunity to run in NASCAR and permitting him to compete in Saturday’s Knoxville Nationals in Knoxville, Tennessee after winning his feature race Wednesday.
“I want to thank Chip, for one, for finding me in 2011 and bringing me up from USAC to race for him. I want to thank all my fans as well,” Larson said. “This has been an incredible week for me. To be able to run the Knoxville Nationals and ran second to Donny Schatz, and then to come here and win and beat Martin, who is the Donny Schatz right now, is definitely a week I’ll never forget.”
Ganassi said the win re-boosted the team’s momentum after three straight finishes of 23rd or worse.
“We’ve been in the doldrums the last few races and it’s nice to break out of that,” Ganassi said. “It got ourselves a little bit deeper with playoff points going into the playoffs. My hats off is to Kyle, he’s an incredible talent.”
Larson’s win gained him one spot in the standings and now trails points leader Truex, Jr. by 129 points.
For the 15th time this season, Truex, Jr. captured a stage win in stage two and led 57 laps.
Truex, Jr. said he struggled to get heat on his tires during short runs and the push from Larson caused his tires to spin.
“I just tried to do something a little different there with Larson behind me, but when he hit me I went and I spun the tires. They just got too cold under that red flag and not enough time to get them warmed up,” Truex, Jr. said. “Our car generally took a few laps all day to get warm, but while we had enough caution laps I could kind of keep heat in the tires. Just spun them a bit and he got a run and there was no way he was going to go around me on the bottom with all that speedy dry down there and I just went into one and spun the tires because they were so cold.”
Jones crossed the line in third, equaling his career-best from Pocono June 11.
Jones is 130 points behind Kenseth for the 16th and final playoff spot with a win becoming necessary to qualify for the championship playoffs.
His rookie rival Daniel Suarez wasn’t as fortunate after his bid for five straight top 10 finishes were dashed on lap 140 after he and Kasey Kahne crashed in turn two.
Kahne with the momentum of the bottom lane, attempted to pass Suarez but unable to clear him in turn two, sending Kahne into the outside retaining wall.
Kahne’s car snapped right and Suarez’s right front lifted his car, causing significant damage to Suarez’s car and hit the inside wall.
It’s Suarez’s first DNF since the Daytona 500 Feb. 26 and his 37th place finish was a career-worst after 23 starts.
Suarez also took a hit in the points, falling from 15th to 17th in the overall standings and is now 139 points behind Kenseth with only three regular season races remaining.
Kahne’s crash marked the sixth DNF of the season, the first since Kentucky July 8.
The accident came days removed after William Byron was announced to replace Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports next season.
Kahne said he was attempting to pass Suarez but was concerned he wasn’t going to have enough room to clear Suarez in turn two.
“We had to fight from the back and had a good Liftmaster Chevrolet. We kept working to get up there. Daniel was going backwards and I was going by and I ran the bottom. I expected we could be close off the corner, and I was just coming off and then we hit,” Kahne said. “I expected to run side-by-side down the backstretch, but not give a lot of room, because you don’t. Nobody does. But I was making the pass and I don’t know how we hit. Ruined it. It’s over.”
Kahne’s teammate Chase Elliott was Hendrick Motorsports’ highest finisher in eighth after finishing second the last two trips at Michigan.
Rounding out the top five were Ryan Newman in fourth and Bayne with his best finish of the season, his first top 5 since last July at Daytona.
Bayne said on MRN Radio his first top five of the season was refreshing after failing to finish inside the top 10 the past 11 races with 17th at Michigan June 18 being his best in that span.
“It’s refreshing. We’ve had a tough couple of months not getting the results we thought that we deserved. Today, to get a result feels really good,” Bayne said. “We had fast car early on. We had fuel strategy at the end. Probably gonna have a shot to beat Martin if it stayed green. Got a caution and I was like, ‘Oh man, here goes Indy again.’”
Bayne said his overtime restart allowed him to push Larson to the race lead.
“We had a good first restart. The second restart was even better,” Bayne said. “We were able to push the Kyle up to the lead and getting into (turn) three I tried to go for it from the top and hit the speedy dry, got loose, and came home fifth. Cost us a couple spots. Man, when you’re in that position you have to go for it. I wouldn’t have slept good at night if I didn’t stuff it in there and try something. It just didn’t stick. It feels really good for our team.”
Chris Buescher also captured a season-best sixth for his third top 10 of the season.
Drivers who are currently in the playoffs covered positions 7-10 with Austin Dillon leading the way, followed by Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.
Pole sitter and Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski won stage one and led a race-high 105 of 202 laps but finished 17th after late cautions hurt his pit strategy and the chance of winning at his home track.
The importance of winning has heated up just in time for the rough and tough half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee Aug. 19.
Chevrolet has the last two races with Kevin Harvick last August and Jimmie Johnson April 24 going to victory lane.