NASCAR Cup

California Kid is the man at Fontana: Kyle Larson wins to break runner-up streak

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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.

MORE: Results, stats for Auto Club 400 at Fontana; Kyle Larson scores second career Cup win

MORE: Kyle Larson extends points lead after California 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.

MORE: Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 of Auto Club 400 at Fontana

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. has commanding performance in Stage 2 win at Fontana

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.

Hamlin took the lead on the restart but faced a furious battle with Truex, Larson, Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. Then, on Lap 196, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun, bringing out the caution yet again.

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.

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Martin Truex Jr. has commanding performance in Stage 2 win at Fontana

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Martin Truex Jr. has taken over as the most dominating driver in today’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

After pole-sitter Kyle Larson won the first 60-lap stage, Truex won Stage 2. During the session, Truex’s car showed supremacy with nearly a seven-second lead in the closing laps of the stage.

Truex has now won three of the last six stages, having captured both stages two weeks ago en route to his overall race win at Las Vegas.

Larson is in second place, followed by Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

There has been just two cautions in the race – both coming in Stage 1.

We now move to the final stage, an 80-lap shootout to determine the race winner.

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Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 of Auto Club 400 at Fontana

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Pole-sitter Kyle Larson is almost one-third of the way to winning Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The California native won Stage 1 of the race at his home-state Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Larson (43 laps) and Martin Truex Jr. (12 laps) have led the majority of the laps during the opening 60-lap segment. That segment will be followed by another 60-lap segment, and then an 80-lap final section for 200 laps (400 miles) around the 2-mile low-banked track.

It was Larson’s first stage win of the 2017 season under the new enhanced scoring format in the NASCAR Cup Series. Larson has finished runner-up in each of the last three races and four of the last five (dating back to the 2016 season finale). He has just one career Cup win, last year at Michigan.

Truex is running second, followed by Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Sixth through 10th are Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.

Each of the top 10 finishers in Stage 1 will earn stage points in the NASCAR Cup standings.

Two incidents of note occurred early in the race, both involving Brad Keselowski:

* On the first lap, Keselowski’s car suffered left rear damage when several cars were involved in an accordion-like wreck. Others involved included Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, but there was no caution called.

* Keselowski continued on without repairing the damage and spun on Lap 3 when he was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson, causing further damage to Keselowski’s Ford Fusion. The caution came out for Laps 5 through 7. Johnson claimed there was little or no damage over his team radio, but he has continued to have struggles this weekend. He’s running 32nd, one lap down.

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Chase Elliott fastest in final Cup practice at Fontana, then hits wall

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It was a good news/bad news situation for Chase Elliott in Saturday’s final NASCAR Cup practice session at Auto Club Speedway.

The good news for the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was he was fastest in the final practice with a speed of 187.480 mph.

The bad news, though, was after his fast lap, Elliott hit the wall and damaged the right side of his car, cutting his practice session short by about 25 minutes.

“We had a bar come unattached on the left,” Elliott told Fox Sports 1. “We don’t really know why it did. It was nothing fancy that we were doing. I don’t know if the roughness of the racetrack bounced it loose or something like that.”

Still, it gave Elliott a good baseline for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at the 2-mile, mostly flat oval. Elliott will start the Cup race from the 13th position.

Second fastest was Martin Truex Jr. (187.378 mph), followed by Ryan Blaney (187.066), Erik Jones (186.994) and Cup pole-sitter Kyle Larson (186.814).

Sixth through 10th were Joey Logano (186.770), Matt Kenseth (185.955), Kevin Harvick (185.706), Kurt Busch (185.524) and Kyle Busch (185.519).

Both Busch brothers were involved in incidents of note during the session:

* With about 16 minutes left, Kyle Busch spun and appeared to flatten all four tires on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry.

“I spun it out on the exit there and unfortunately, it just didn’t keep all the air in the tires in order to drive it back and not damage the car a little bit more than what we already did,” Busch told FS1. “We’re just missing it a little bit. There’s just something we can’t get right on entry here this weekend, and we’ve been trying to work on that.”

Busch, who has struggled for speed all weekend, ended his session early.

* Older brother Kurt Busch also hit the wall in the closing minutes, suffering moderate damage to the right side of his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Click here for the results of the final Cup practice.

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Erik Jones fastest in 1st of 2 Cup practices at Fontana; Harvick hits wall, Ragan to backup

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NASCAR Cup rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the first of two practice sessions Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in preparation for Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Jones drove his No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota to the top of the speed charts at the Fontana, California track with a best lap of 187.251, the only driver to exceed 187 mph.

Jones was followed by Chase Elliott (186.843), Ryan Newman (186.732), Jimmie Johnson (186.384) and Brad Keselowski (186.292).

There were two incidents of note during the session:

* With just over nine minutes remaining in the practice session, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet hit hard into the outside retaining wall, sustaining damage on the right side.

However, the team chose to repair the damage rather than go to a backup car.

Prior to the incident, Harvick’s car was sixth-fastest (186.128 mph).

* In the final two minutes, David Ragan spun and impacted the Turn 3 wall. It appeared something came loose from under Ragan’s car before impact. The damage sent Ragan to a backup car.

“We just cut a left-rear tire going down the back straightaway, and I tried to start slowing it down as quick as I could, and just couldn’t slow it down fast enough,” he said. “By the time I got to Turn 3, I was wrecking before I even got to the corner.  It’s certainly unfortunate.  I felt like our Camping World Ford was pretty decent.  We made a few adjustments and hadn’t put new tires on yet, and I felt like our speeds hadn’t fallen off a lot, so it’s unfortunate.  Hopefully, we can get our backup out in time to make a few laps in the second practice.”

Click here for how Saturday’s first of two practice sessions played out:

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