Coming off his first win with Hendrick Motorsports last week in Las Vegas, Kyle Larson had to give up his front row starting position for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway when his car failed pre-race inspection twice.
It would not be the first time Larson rallied from the back. He also had to recover from two speeding penalties on pit road during the race before finishing seventh.
“Tough day at times, but we learned a lot,” crew chief Cliff Daniels said over the No. 5 team’s radio at day’s end. “We proved that we had a fast car. We’ve got a good notebook coming here in the fall. We can improve from here and keep going.”
Larson apologized for “all the mistakes today.” Daniels replied: “No worries, man. We’re gonna keep growing together.”
After going to the rear at the start, Larson made his way to 14th place by the Lap 30 competition caution. He drew his first speeding penalty during subsequent pit stops.
An incident involving Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman brought out another caution at Lap 47 and Larson took advantage to pit for tires. With fresh rubber and a solid car, Larson was back inside the top 10 by Lap 66 before finishing the opening stage in ninth.
Larson was one of three Hendrick drivers, including Chase Elliott and William Byron, who started from the rear due to various infractions. All three finished the stage in the top 10 to earn stage points.
While green flag stops took place in the second stage, Larson briefly inherited the point before pitting at Lap 142. There, he was caught speeding again – but crucially, he was able to keep on the lead lap. Larson methodically pulled himself from outside the top 25 to 13th at the end of the second stage.
During the final stage, he worked his way to fifth and then reached second following another green flag pit cycle just after Lap 250.
But instead of challenging eventual winner Martin Truex Jr., Larson was on defense in the closing laps as his car developed handling issues. He eventually fell out of the top five, unable to hold off Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick as the laps ticked down.
“I hadn’t felt loose in all day and that last run, I got loose in and just couldn’t get in the corners as aggressive as I needed to,” Larson said. “I ended up guarding my entry zones; my angles for exit aren’t great. It just kind of made everything harder.”
“It was weird that I hadn’t had it all day, but all-in-all, I had a really fast car again. That’s very promising and just have to clean up mistakes on my end and have a smoother race.”
Despite those mistakes, Larson still claimed his fourth top 10 finish in the season’s first five races. It was also his fifth consecutive top 10 finish at Phoenix dating back to November 2018.