For the first time since June 2016, Kyle Larson was not the winner of a Cup race at a 2-mile speedway.
In Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, Larson was knocked down a peg by Martin Truex Jr., finishing second for his best result through five races this season.
It ended a run of four consecutive races the Chip Ganassi Racing driver had won at either Auto Club or Michigan International Speedway.
Despite finishing one spot better than he started, the runner-up result was not a given for Larson.
He kept his No. 42 Chevrolet in one piece after contact with Kevin Harvick on Lap 39 that put Harvick in the wall. The two had been battling for third place when Harvick’s failed attempt to side draft brought the two together.
“It was a pretty tough race from the start,” Larson said. “Obviously, Kevin and I had our issue there down the backstretch, just racing hard, side drafting each other for a few laps. I think he came down to maybe side draft down me, got in my right rear, it spun him pretty quick.”
Larson thought Harvick would be mad at him, even though Larson knew he wasn’t at fault. But Larson “was able to chill out some” after being told Harvick was taking the blame.
Larson went on to finish sixth in the Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2.
But Larson had to pit a second time during the Stage 2 caution for a vibration, giving up eighth place.
“I haven’t exactly seen what broke,” Larson said. “Sounded like brake duct or something fell in between the wheel. Yeah, I don’t know if that was something the pit crew guys hit and broke or whatever. I’m just glad I could feel it under that caution and was able to pit. That would have ruined our day, had I not.”
After fighting back to race among the leaders, Larson passed Kyle Busch for second with 19 laps to go. But Truex was roughly six seconds ahead.
“It was good to get all the way to second,” Larson said. “Would have liked to be one spot better, but we couldn’t even see Martin.”
Larson has finished in the top three in three of his five starts at Auto Club Speedway.
Larson has three top 10s and two top fives through five races. He is seventh in the points heading to Martinsville Speedway.
The No. 42 has been one of the few Chevrolet teams to consistently run up front with the new Camaro body since the Daytona 500. He was one of three Chevy drivers to finish in the top 10. Jimmie Johnson placed ninth and Austin Dillon finished 10th.
“It’s nothing I’ve found,” Larson said of the new body. “Our race team has a lot of smart people within our organization. Any time we had a rules change over the last three or four years, the one‑off weekends like Darlington or Michigan, our team would do a good job, we’d be fast those weekends.
“I think they just did a lot of homework on this new car. For whatever reason, we seem to be a little bit better than the other Chevy teams, which we were kind of last year, too.”
Larson was the only Chevrolet driver to win more than three races last season.
“I’ve been happy to see how we’ve started so far,” Larson said. “But we still have a little ways to go to win.”