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.