Kyle Larson entered Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway riding a three race streak of runner-up finishes, but after 400 miles of racing, he’s finally able to take off the bridesmaids dress.
Larson led the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Auto Club 400, and it didn’t take long for the action to start heating up. Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin made contact as the race initially got going, and Keselowski started dropping back through the field. With a damaged car, Keselowski became a sitting duck. Most of the cars were able to make it by clean, except for Jimmie Johnson, who got into the back of Keselowski and sent him spinning into the infield grass. The No.2 Ford came down pit road to repair the damages, and Keselowski spent a majority of the rest of the race trying to play catchup.
Despite the early drama, the majority of the race was ran under clean and green conditions. Larson and Martin Truex Jr. swapped the lead back and forth numerous times throughout the middle stages of the race. As the race began to wind down, it appeared that whichever one of the two got out front was going to have the advantage. Nobody else was able to consistently run with the front two, and the race appeared to be shaping up for a calm ending.
But in typical California fashion, it was anything but.
With 20 laps to go, Gray Gaulding brought out the caution after he pounded the outside wall in Turn 2. During the caution flag pit stop sequence, Larson was able to maintain his lead but his closest competitor faltered. Truex lost numerous spots on pit road after his team suffered a slow pit stop, all-but giving the win to the No.42 team.
The race got restarted with 16 laps to go, but it didn’t stay green for long. Coming off Turn 2 on the restart lap, Matt Kenseth got loose and lost control of his No.20 PEAK machine. The Cambridge, WI native slid down the backstretch and hit the inside wall hard – his second severe impact in the last two races.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Kenseth after the wreck. “I just didn’t do the best job getting through the gears and I think the 1 (Jamie McMurray) got snuck outside of me, so I was trying to leave room for him on the top and then I just got hit in the left rear quarter panel off of Turn 2 and got spun out and I was just kind of along for the ride.”
Larson was able to maintain the lead on that ensuing restart and the rest that followed. A late race spin by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought out the final caution flag, pushing the race into Overtime for the fourth straight year at Fontana. The two-lap shootout showcased four and five wide action throughout the entire field as the drivers were trying to get every position they could. The one position that wasn’t up for grabs though was the lead – as Larson set sail and easily captured the checkered flag.
“I was staying as calm as I could be, but also frustrated at the same time,” said Larson after the race. “It seems like every time I get to the lead at the end of one of these things a caution comes out and I gotta fight people off on restarts. But our Target Chevy was amazing all day. We were able to lead a lot of laps today.”
Sunday’s victory was the first of the 2017 season for Larson and his second overall in his career. Larson was able to maintain his points lead and is one of only three drivers who’ve started off this year with four top-10 finishes. The victory was also the second of the weekend for Larson, who had also won Saturday’s XFINITY race at Fontana.
“Lots of fun to be Kyle Larson right now,” he stated in the media center. “Our race cars are really fast in XFINITY and Cup, so it’s a blast to show up at the racetrack every week.”
The comeback story of the day belonged to Keselowski, who after bringing out the first caution of the day was able to rebound to a impressive second-place finish.
“Great perseverance by the team here at the Wurth Ford Fusion,” said Keselowski post-race. “Wanted to win, but I got out of the car and looked at the damage and this thing is torn to pieces. I feel lucky to get second.”
Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Daniel Suarez, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Elliott rounded out the rest of the top-1o finisher on Sunday.
With five races down in the 2017 season, Larson continues to rack off impressive finishes. If there’s any early championship betting going on in Las Vegas, the No.42 Target Chevrolet would be a pretty stout selection. And if you ever want to bet on whether or not there will be an exciting finish at Auto Club Speedway, take the safe route and say yes.