Brooklyn, Mich. — Kyle Larson made the move of the race off a final restart with two laps remaining in the overtime session and went on to win the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway.
It was Larson’s third straight win at MIS, earning his first career victory at the two-mile superspeedway last August, then getting the clean sweep of the two races this summer in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet.
Points leader Martin Truex was going after his series-high fifth win of the season in his No. 78 Denver Mattress Toyota and his Furniture Row teammate, Michigan native Erik Jones trying to earn his first career win.
Truex, who had led 57 laps, came away with the lead off a restart with 10 laps remaining, but still needing the perfect restart a second time after Michael McDowell crashed, leading to a red flag to clean oil off the track with four laps left.
When the race resumed with an overtime format, drivers went four wide with Larson, who started in the second row right behind Truex, making his way between Truex and Jones to take the lead and went on to win his third race of the season.
Truex finished second, followed by Jones.
“I can’t believe it happened,” said Larson, who led just two laps, obviously the most important ones of the race. “We were struggling all day, wasn’t as good as we had been (in other wins at MIS), but persevered. He (car owner Chip Ganassi) said something about going three-wide on the restart and I said, ‘Yes, that’s one of my options, for sure.’
“I was running a few through my head (possible restart scenarios during red flag scene) and that was one of them, to try and get a good run and get into his inside to slow him down and clear him between 1 and 2. That was one of the most perfect restarts of my life. I lost a lot on late restarts, but to get one from the second row makes up for a few of them.”
It was a huge win for Larson since he struggled during the previous three races, finishing 28th in the Brickyard 400, 33rd at Pocono and 23rd in the road course race at Watkins Glen.
And, Larson had a busy weekend to get the job done, qualifying ninth Friday, then traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday to compete in the Knoxville Nationals winged, 410-cubic inch engine sprint car race where he placed second, returning to Brooklyn just before 3 a.m.
“What a kid, the way he’s driving right now,” said Ganassi of Larson. “He was in Knoxville last night, got here in the middle of the night and got some rest. I said, 'Are you sure you can do this?' and he said yes. He’s just an incredible driver. We didn’t have the best car, but he just hung in there."
The driver agreed.
“It’s been an incredible week, definitely a week I’ll never forget," Larson said.
It’ll be a race Truex will try to forget. He felt he gave the race away on the final restart.
“We got beat fair and square,” Truex said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. Double-file restarts are tricky and I had good restarts all day I felt like, and we had that red flag for the first time and really just sat there while I got the tires cold and then only had one lap to come to the green and get some heat back in them, and I just struggled getting going, just spun the tires. I didn’t really expect it because I hadn’t had any trouble with that all day.
“It’s just one of them things that happens. Like I said again, the double-file restarts are tricky, and sometimes you do them right, sometimes you screw them up, and unfortunately, I screwed the one up that mattered the most today. I did everything right, it just caught me by surprise, because like I said I hadn’t spun the tires all day long, did not expect to have an issue with it and when I did there was nothing I could do. It’s just my screw up gave him the win basically.”
Jones, Truex’s teammate, visualized a Furniture Row 1-2 finish with the only question of who the winner would be … before Larson spoiled the party.
“It was looking like a Furniture Row one-two, kind of either way it was going to play out, so just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” said Jones, who then talked about the final restart. “I just couldn’t get going. I was spinning my tires. The 20 (Matt Kenseth) got to the bottom of me and the 42 (Larson) was to the right of me. I saw them both getting runs and kind of had to pick one or the other and picked wrong, and the 42 went up the middle and was able to go by both of us.”
Larson became just the third driver to win three straight races at MIS, joining Hall of Famers David Pearson (1972-73) and Bill Elliott (1985-86).
Ryan Newman finished fourth, followed by Trevor Bayne.
Pole sitter Brad Keselowski, a native of Rochester Hills, finished 17th despite leading a race-high 105 laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 14th in his final race at MIS, announcing his retirement earlier this year.
"The team did a good job," Keselowski said. "We executed in qualifying and all of those things, and we really made the most out of everything we had today. It just didn't come out our way.
"It just didn't come together there at the end, but it was nice to lead a bunch of laps, but the way it played out I ended up getting the bottom lane on the restarts and getting absolutely swallowed. We tried."
Keselowski is locked into the playoffs, owning two wins, but is still winless at MIS in 17 Monster Cup starts.