Kyle Larson won Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, picking up where he left off in 2021.
The reigning series champion, who won four of the final five races last season, held off late charges by Austin Dillon and Daniel Suarez to claim his first victory in Fontana, California, since 2017 after a chaotic restart with four laps to go.
“It’s always fun to win in the home state,” Larson, an Elk Grove, California native, told Fox. “Hard work all weekend there. Didn’t feel great in practice yesterday. (Crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) and everybody made some good adjustments overnight and the car handled a lot better.”
MORE: Auto Club Results
MORE: What drivers said
Suarez, in search of his first Cup victory, powered up to pinch Larson high at the exit of Turn 2 with three laps remaining to reclaim the lead. But by the time they circled back to the start/finish line, Larson was back to his inside and cleared Suarez’s No. 99 car for the lead in Turn 1.
“We’re going to win a few races very soon here,” Suarez told Fox. “I just can’t thank everyone enough in my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. We had a few issues. We hit the wall once. We had an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends; it’s unbelievable.”
The final restart was set up by Chase Elliott‘s spin off Turn 2 with eight laps to go. Elliott was on the outside of a three-wide battle for the lead down the frontstretch with Joey Logano and teammate Larson with 21 laps remaining. Larson dove high to block the run, but Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet was already there and instead pounded the outside wall.
Elliott had rebounded from a two-lap deficit following a lap 38 spin, seven laps after contacting the wall as the race leader. Elliott finished 26th, two laps down.
Dillon finished second while Erik Jones, Suarez and Logano completed the top five.
The caution flag waved 12 times Sunday, tying the track record set in 2008. Ten of those 12 yellows were for on-track incidents, an unsurprising result following a combined 10 incidents in Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions.
Tyler Reddick, Dillon’s teammate at Richard Childress Racing, won each of the opening two stages and led a race-high and career-best 90 laps Sunday. But the Richard Childress Racing driver suffered a flat left-rear tire while leading with 49 laps to go. William Byron swerved to avoid Reddick exiting Turn 2 but lost control and collided with Reddick, ending Byron’s day prematurely and significantly damaging Reddick’s No. 8 car. Reddick finished 24th.
So frustrated I made that mistake for our team today. What a fast car and we were making our way back to the front. I got loose getting under the 8 who had a flat. Thankful for such a fast car and I know we’ll be back stronger next week. 👊🏼
— William Byron (@WilliamByron) February 28, 2022
Stage 1 winner: Tyler Reddick
Stage 2 winner: Tyler Reddick
Who had a good race: Erik Jones led 18 laps, doubling in one race his laps-led total from one year ago (nine). The third-place finish is Jones’ first top five since October 2020 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, where he finished third for Joe Gibbs Racing. … Daniel Hemric recovered from a broken shifter and trailing by six laps to finish ninth for his third Cup top 10.
Who had a bad race: Brad Keselowski spun twice on Sunday — once on his own in Turn 4 and once from contact with Bubba Wallace in Turn 2. While he was able to continue, Keselowski finished 27th, two laps down. … Just seven laps prior, his RFK Racing teammate Chris Buescher spun in Turn 2 after cutting a left-rear tire and was unable to continue, finishing 35th.
Notable: Nine of the top 10 finishers came from different teams: Hendrick Motorsports (Larson), Richard Childress Racing (Dillon), Petty GMS Racing (Jones), Trackhouse Racing (Suarez), Team Penske (Logano), Stewart-Haas Racing (Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick), 23XI Racing (Kurt Busch), Kaulig Racing (Daniel Hemric) and JTG-Daugherty Racing (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.). … Nine different drivers led laps throughout 32 lead changes.
Next race: The series competes March 6 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox)