Krupa: Larson's daring move leads to enthralling MIS finish
Brooklyn, Mich. — You should try to go three-wide after the restart, team owner Chip Ganassi told his young driver, Kyle Larson.
A bold suggestion, from the boss, with three laps left in the Pure Michigan 400.
A lot of other folks on the team at Chip Ganassi Racing thought that might not be such a good idea, especially if the leaders got to Turn 1 three-wide at Michigan International Speedway.
Besides, the current generation of NASCAR race cars is often unstable side-by-side, especially racing at 212 miles per hour at the fastest track in NASCAR.
Why risk wrecking it and ending up with a DNF? Sitting fourth on the final restart of the race would yield a good result.
He did not need a win to get into the playoffs.
But Larson is a racer.
And so, he ended up going four-wide, on the way to joining two NASCAR legends as the only drivers to win three-in-a-row at MIS. David Pearson won both races in 1972 and the next one in 1973, and Bill Elliott won two in 1985 and the next one in 1986.
“Yeah, that’s some kind of awesome company, for sure,” Larson said. “It was an awesome finish for us.”
With Cup series leader Martin Truex Jr. starting first, his teammate on the same row in second and Larson starting next to third place Matt Kenseth, and just a three-lap sprint to the checkered flag, Larson took the boss’ advice.
When the green flag fell, he accelerated like a lightning bolt and split Truex and Jones.
There you go, boss. There is your three-wide, sir.
But when Kenseth hit the skirt, way down low, with any speed he could bring, three-wide became four-wide.
From where did his race-winning move come?
“I have no idea,” Larson said. “He said something about going three wide on the restart, and I was, `Oh, yeah. That’s one of my options, for sure.
“I was running a few through my head, and that was one of them, to try to get a good run and get to his inside and slow (Truex) down and clear him between (turns) one and two.”
That is how it evolved.
He split the teammates with a bull rush to the front, and three demonstrably faster cars could not catch Larson with all of that clean air ahead of him.
In the middle of Larson’s explanation on his way to victory lane, Ganassi, a formidable fireplug of a man, who had just exchanged high-fives so vigorously with his team members that he almost knocked a couple of them off the crew chief’s stand, came charging in.
Bear-hugging and kissing Larson effusively, he nearly knocked his considerably smaller driver to the pavement of pit row.
“That was the most perfect restart of my life,” said Larson, after Ganassi regained control of his celebratory affection.
He had complained to his crew early on that the first restart in the race might have been the worst of his career.
“I’ve lost a lot of races on the restart,” he said. “But to get one from the second row makes up for a few of them
“I can’t believe it happened. We were struggling all day. Definitely not as good as the last two times we were here. But we persevered.”
When the situation evolved, with four cars in a horizontal line up the banking of the track, how did they not crash?
“Everyone stayed off of each other,” said a downcast Truex. “I don’t know.”
“For me, it was an easy choice,” said Jones, of Byron, Michigan, who provides growing evidence with each race that his time in NASCAR may shimmer all through the 21-year-old's career.
“It really didn’t matter if we crashed,” he said, referring to the standings, which has him on the bubble for the playoffs. “The only thing that was going to benefit us was if we were going to win. So, we were in the middle and I just kept going and hoped that I would get enough air to keep moving along.
“So, I think everybody was kind of on the same page, and it worked out.”
So, let us take inventory, shall we?
Four guys going appreciably over 200 miles per hour, side-by-side, all four want to win, and Jones and Kenseth, driving like an unchained tiger on the bottom of the track are in the same circumstances.
They pretty much do not care if they wreck. They want to win to automatically make the playoffs.
So boss, you really think Larson should try to go three-wide?
How about four?
“Kyle just hung in there all day,” Ganassi said. “We didn’t have the best car today by a long shot, and were just lucky to put four (tires) on there with not too far to go.
“I appreciate when Kyle steps up and does what he did here today. It makes it all worthwhile, obviously.
After he loosened his embrace and got his lips off the cheek of his winning driver, Ganassi stepped back a bit and told him, “They were all giving me a hard time for telling you that.”
When racers race, it is usually good racing.
There is a lot that NASCAR and other forms of racing need to do to counteract the perception that the best racing, racing in its truest form belongs to a bygone era.
Well, they raced the daylights out it for those last three laps at MIS this season.
Here is hoping for more!