Kyle Larson loses late lead for third straight race, finishes second at Atlanta

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After spending much of his day around him, Kyle Larson thought he knew how to handle a fast approaching Brad Keselowski.

With less than 10 laps to go in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Larson changed the strategy he had executed through most of the 325-lap race.

“Anytime I was in front of him on short runs, he’s driven around me up top,” Larson said after finishing second in the Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500.

Larson is known for racing along the high line at most tracks, but he’d been glued to the yellow line along the bottom all day.

“I can make the high line work at most tracks,” Larson said. “Here at Atlanta, I don’t do a good enough job up top. That’s why I try to commit myself to the bottom throughout the race.”

With eight laps to go, Larson began taking his No. 42 car through the middle of Turns 3 and 4 in an attempt to take away Keselowski’s line.

It didn’t work.

With seven to go, Keselowski went low and around Larson and streaked away for the win.

“I just didn’t have enough grip or not as much as I’d hoped,” said Larson, who earned his first top five and second top 10 in four NASCAR Cup starts at Atlanta. “(Keselowski) did a good job being a lane lower than me and getting to my inside.”

While Larson earned the 21st top five of his Cup career, it was the third time in as many races he has been passed while leading with 10 to go. In the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami, he lost the lead with three to go. In last weekend’s Daytona 500, Larson led at the white flag before running out of gas in Turn 2.

Larson was in a position to win after the “Christmas gift” of Kevin Harvick being caught speeding on pit road under caution with 15 to go. Harvick had led 292 laps until then.

“Brad lined up behind me, I knew he was going to be the one to beat,” Larson said.

Larson led seven laps before Keselowski overtook him.

“I was just trying to take his line, take his air away,” Larson said. “(With) less downforce now, I guess maybe the aerodynamics don’t bother it as much. But he had a fast car throughout (Turns) 1 and 2. He showed it yesterday in the Xfinity race and then today in the Cup race. Like I said, just had to kind of guess and try and hold him off as best I could, but he did a better job than me.”

Larson and the rest of the series now head to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Larson has just one top 10 in three starts.

Starting grid for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400

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With the second pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kyle Larson will lead the field to green Sunday in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Joining Larson the front row is Denny Hamlin.

Filling out the top five is Brad Keselowski, Martin Treux Jr. and Ryan Newman.

Click here for the starting grid.

Kyle Larson wins pole for Auto Club 400, second Cup pole of career

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Kyle Larson ended a three-year drought by winning the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400.

Larson won his second Cup Series pole with a speed of 187.047 mph around Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. His first pole came in the August 2013 race at Pocono Raceway.

The pole continues Larson’s impressive start to 2017. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver leads the point standings after earning three consecutive second-place finishes.

“I felt like messed up there in Turn 1 and 2 and I got a little bit loose off the wall on the entry and it got me to split the seam in (Turn) 1 and 2,” Larson told Fox Sports. “I was able to commit to (being) wide open off (Turn) 1 and 2. I hadn’t ran up high in (Turn) 3 and 4 at all in practice or qualifying here. Didn’t really know what I would have out there but ran a good ways and it stuck. … Our Target team has been really amazing to start the season and to get a pole is great. … Got a little team dinner tonight, so this will be a good thing to celebrate.”

Larson’s run knocked Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin from the top spot. As Larson drove down pit road, a Fox Sports camera caught Hamlin playfully showing his dissatisfaction by emptying a cup of ice in the direction of the No. 42.

“This is No. 1 on my list of track I want to win,” Hamlin told Fox Sports. “It’s bitten me mentally and physically … definitely one I want to check off.”

Filling out the top five is Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Newman.

Daniel Suarez qualified 10th for his best career Cup start.

No Hendrick Motorsports entries will start in the top 10. Kasey Kahne was the top qualifier in 12th, followed by Chase Elliott.

Five cars did not make qualifying attempts, with one of them being by choice. Jimmie Johnson’s team elected not to make an attempt following his accident in practice. He will start 37th.

Joining Johnson at the back of the field will be Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto and Gray Gaulding. All of their cars did not make it through inspection in time to qualifying.

Click here for qualifying results.

Jimmie Johnson’s team elects not to make qualifying run after accident in practice

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Following Jimmie Johnson’s accident in practice early Friday, Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 team chose not to qualify with a backup car at Auto Club Speedway.

Johnson, a six-time winner at Auto Club Speedway, will start 37th in Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Four other cars, including those of Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne, will start in the back after they did not make qualifying attempts. Their cars failed to get through inspection in time. Rookie Gray Gaulding and Matt DiBenedetto also did not qualify because their cars failed to get through inspection.

Johnson explained his team’s decision.

“We had a tough practice session and mid-pack was probably going to be our goal anyway,” he said. “So, to take our lumps here, at a track that’s really wide with a lot of lanes, a long race; we’ll just take our lumps and get the car right where we can take advantage of the precious minutes that we have in Saturday’s practice session and go from there. Pit road is going to be a problem. We’re not going to have a great pick there. We’re definitely not in a position we want to be in, so we’d rather take the time now and make sure we get everything right and get this car right; and also kind of control our risk factor.”

With ACS being such a wide race track with plenty of passing opportunities, Johnson is not in as bad a position to start Sunday’s race as he would be at more narrow track.

Crew chief Chad Knaus told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Claire B. Lang he wasn’t comfortable forcing Johnson to “hustle” to qualify a car he hadn’t practiced in.

Joey Logano completes sweep of Xfinity practices at Auto Club Speedway

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Joey Logano was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session at Auto Club Speedway for the Service King 300.

Driving Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford, Logano put up a speed of 176.804 mph on his 19th of 35 laps in the session

The top five as made up of Erik Jones (176.744), Paul Menard (176.587), Brandon Jones (176.475) and Kyle Larson (176.039).

William Byron and Brennan Poole recorded the most laps in the session with 37 each.

Logan also had the best 10-lap average at 174.889 mph.

Click here for the full practice report.