CONCORD, N.C. – A loud roar went out over Charlotte Motor Speedway on the final lap of the Monster Energy All-Star Race.
It was the kind of roar one would expect when a driver makes a bold, edge-of-your-seat maneuver in hopes of winning $1 million.
Even though it wasn’t, Kyle Larson treated it like it was.
Larson was running right on Jimmie Johnson‘s bumper when he dove low on the No. 48 Chevrolet as they neared Turn 3. No part of Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet touched Johnson’s car as he cleared him … for second place.
Just over a second ahead of Larson, Kyle Busch was preparing to take the checkered flag to win the race and the money after his own bold move 10 laps earlier on a restart.
It was the fact that Busch hadn’t crossed the finish line yet that inspired Larson to give Johnson all he had.
“You never know,” Larson said afterward. “You never know what’s going to happen. I just want to be running second if something was to happen.”
Nothing happened. No miracle part failure, tire blow out or empty gas tank improved or worsened Larson’s position.
Which is a positive for Larson after last years’ All-Star Race, where a power move by Joey Logano with two laps to go put Logano in victory lane and Larson in the wall.
“Probably a little more heartbroken last year than this year,” Larson said. “But this year it was nice to be able to watch the (Monster Energy) Open … in my motorhome, then dominate the first two stages. The third one, we were really good. Then our issues kind of evolved right there.”
A year after getting into the All-Star Race by winning the Open in a dramatic drag race with Chase Elliott, Larson qualified on the pole for Saturday’s main event. From there, he led every lap in the first two stages for 40 laps total.
The actual unexpected occurrences that shaped Larson’s night happened on pit road.
After the second round, Larson put on his four option tires and would have been first off pit road had it not been for Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer taking two tires each. In the general chaos of the restart, Larson wasn’t able to get back to the point position and he finished the stage in third.
On the final visit to pit road, a slow pit stop resulted in Larson being the fifth car to exit.
“I thought initially our pit crew struggled that last stop,” Larson said. “Our jack post on the right side broke off at some point throughout the race. So the jackman had to make a couple more pumps to get the car up. It slowed the stop down enough that we got beat off pit road by three cars.”
Nine green flag laps later, the driver who believes he’s the “last true racer” found a way to be put the pressure on a seven-time champion.
Just in case.
“Ten laps is fun and exciting,” Larson said. “It’s just not enough time to make any ground. I was able to start making ground there the last couple laps. Yeah, I slid Jimmie into three there on the last lap. He was a little upset with me after the race.”
On the cool down lap, Johnson stuck a hand out his window, his way of asking Larson “what are you doing?”
It’s only second place.
“No big deal, really,” Larson said. “I always race hard with Jimmie and I expect the same from him. To me, Jimmie is the greatest driver of all time. So anytime I can race hard with him and pass him, even without getting into him, I’m proud of that.”