After three consecutive runner-up finishes, Kyle Larson finally broke through to win his first NASCAR Cup race of the season, capturing Sunday’s Auto Club 400.
Larson, who started from the pole and won Stage 1 of the event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, held off a number of drivers including Brad Keselowski (finished second), Clint Bowyer (third), Martin Truex Jr. (fourth) and Joey Logano (fifth) to earn his second career Cup Series win.
Larson winds up sweeping the weekend, having won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Fontana, as well.
“I was staying as calm as I could be, but also frustrated at the same time because it seemed like every time I get to the lead at the end of one of these things, the caution comes out and I have to fight people off on restarts,” Larson told Fox Sports.
Larson, nicknamed The California Kid because he hails from the northern part of the Golden State, had a nearly two-second lead when Gray Gaulding hit the wall with 21 laps left in regulation. While the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet came back out on-track in the lead, Truex had a slow stop and fellow Toyota driver Denny Hamlin became the next to challenge Larson.
On the restart on Lap 184, Truex tapped the rear of Matt Kenseth, spinning the latter hard into the inside SAFER barrier, bringing out yet another caution.
The race restarted on Lap 189 — 11 laps shy of the scheduled 200-lap event. But that lasted just three laps as Corey LaJoie spun on Lap 192. Three drivers stayed out on the ensuing pit stops — Hamlin, Truex and Jamie McMurray.
The race resumed on Lap 200 and Larson roared back to the lead for the two overtime laps, which he’d never relinquish.
“We had a good last restart, had some good clean air and came home with the win,” Larson told Fox.
There were 17 lead changes and seven cautions in the extended 404-mile event.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Brad Keselowski came back after two early race incidents – being involved in an accordion-like crunch on the first lap and then being spun by Jimmie Johnson on lap three – to finish second. … Third-place finisher Clint Bowyer earned his best Cup showing since finishing fifth at Bristol in August 2015 (his last third-place was at Sonoma, two months earlier).
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: In finishing 36th, Kenseth suffered his third DNF of the season (in just five races) after wrecking on Lap 184. He also had DNFs at Daytona and last week at Phoenix. Kenseth had a total of four DNFs in the entire 2016 season.
NOTABLE: Today’s race marked the fourth straight time that a Cup race at Fontana has gone into overtime. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th in his 600th career NASCAR Cup start.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is just amazing. We’ve been so good all year long. Three seconds in a row and I’ve been watching all the TV that ‘he doesn’t know how to win.’ But, we knew how to win today.” – Race winner Kyle Larson to Fox Sports.
WHAT’S NEXT: After three weeks on the west coast, the series moves to the half-mile paperclip at Martinsville Speedway for Sunday’s (April 2) STP 500.