At the end of the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Kyle Larson found himself in a very familiar position.
For the seventh time this year Larson was the runner-up in a NASCAR Cup Series race. That’s the fourth most ever through 19 races.
But this time was a bit of déjà vu for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.
For the second straight race Larson finished second after starting the day in last in his No. 42 Chevrolet.
Last week at Kentucky it was because Larson’s car didn’t get through qualifying inspection in time to make a lap. This weekend, the No. 42 failed post-qualifying inspection after it had won the pole.
Larson also finished second at Texas Motor Speedway after failure to get through pre-qualifying inspection resulted in him starting 32nd.
Larson was unable to track down race-winner Denny Hamlin in the last 25 laps of the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as Hamlin went on to claim his first win of the season.
“Another hard‑fought race,” Larson said. “You know, this is the third time we’ve had to start last and drove up to second. I wish we could have been a spot better again, but really proud of my team and proud of the cars that they’re bringing for me to drive each and every week. It’s been a tough couple weeks through the tech line, so if we make it through here and then have a good Tuesday at NASCAR (Research and Development Center), we’ll see.”
To make it worse, Hamlin outpaced Larson in a backup car after crashing his primary in practice on Friday.
After starting 39th, Larson was in the top 10 by Lap 30. He finished Stage 1 in third and Stage 2 in ninth.
“In the beginning of the race when the (PJ1 traction compound) was down pretty heavy there, I thought I could get underneath people fairly easy and quickly, and at that point of the race there was a lot of give and take, so most everybody I got to just kind of let me by.
“Then towards the end, kind of moved down out of the (PJ1) and was able to run like your normal Loudon line and find a lot of grip and speed there. Seemed like nobody else could really run there like I could. They were all pretty loose doing that, where I could roll the middle and have good drive on exit
After passing Martin Truex Jr. for second with 25 to go, Larson was just over two seconds back from Hamlin. He got as close as half a second before the checkered flag waved.
“I was catching him a couple tenths of a lap there, and then it seemed like when I got kind of close there, I don’t know, within four or five car lengths at the end, my lap times kind of evened off a little bit with him,” Larson said. “I started getting too tight on exit, and I couldn’t carry the speed on exit like I needed to. I’d gain a lot on him on entry, but I couldn’t keep the power down and keep the front turning on exit there that last run.”
The impressive performance capped off a long week for the No. 42 team. Following the second-place run at Kentucky, Larson’s car failed inspection for an illegal rear brake cooling assembly. It cost Larson 35 driver points, the points lead and his crew chief Chad Johnston to a three-race suspension.
Then on Friday, Larson earned the pole for Sunday’s race but his run was quickly disallowed for an illegal rear deck fin.
While Larson drives a car with a literal target on its hood, the Ganassi driver thinks his success this year – including two wins – has put a figurative one on his team.
“It seems like we have a target on our back,” Larson said. “But that’s a good thing, too. It means everybody is paying attention to us. This is my fourth year, and I’ve never been in the position to where NASCAR and other teams are paying so much attention to our race car. That’s a compliment to everybody at our race shop.”