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Larson wins 1st Sprint Cup race at Pure Michigan 400

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Brooklyn, Mich. — Kyle Larson felt Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 was the best chance for him to win his first race to earn a spot into The Chase for an opportunity to run for the Sprint Cup championship later this fall.

Larson said prior to the race he just wanted to put himself into position to win since “restarts are going to be crazy like they were” in the June race at Michigan International Speedway.

Well, the 24-year-old Larson was running second heading into the final restart with nine laps remaining, then overtook the race leader, 20-year-old rookie Chase Elliott and led the rest of the way in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Elliott finished second, followed by Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski.

Drivers with at least one win and finishing in the top 30 in points earn one of the 16 spots for The Chase, giving them the opportunity to battle for the series championships during the final 10 races. There are two races left before The Chase gets underway Sept. 18 at Chicago Speedway.

Larson, now in his third full season, became the 13th different driver to win at least one race this season. He will now be competing in his first Chase.

PURE MICHIGAN 400 RESULTS

“We’ve been close a few times throughout my Sprint Cup career and to finally put it all together and get a win is awesome,” said Larson, who earned Ganassi his first victory since Jamie McMurray won at Talladega Oct. of 2013, 100 races ago.

It’s not like Larson didn’t have his moments during the race, barely avoiding Kyle Busch who spun early in the race. Then having a slow pit stop during his final stop which allowed Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Keselowski to get back on the track before him.

“Chase was going to win had that last caution not come out,” Larson said. “I was hoping that Brad would stay with me (on final restart) and he did. Chase and I both spun our tires really badly (on restart) and I just got a better push than he did.

“The 2 car (Keselowski) pushed me really good and he could have probably pulled underneath me and went by, but he gave me the lead, and thanks to him, I had a lot of fun. I was pretty choked up the last couple of laps, feeling we’re finally going to get that first win. I’m super, super happy. It’s awesome to be a Cup winner, glad we’re in The Chase.”

Krupa: Racing remains a thrill, especially at MIS

Elliott and Larson finished second and third, respectively, in the June race at MIS behind the 26-year-old race winner Joey Logano. It was the youngest podium finish in Sprint Cup history.

Elliott let the chance slip out of his grasp in the June race on a late restart and obviously wasn’t pleased with it happening once again.

“Just a bummer again here, for the second time this has happened,” said Elliott who sits 14th in points, but still without a win. “I made a mistake earlier in the race and asked my guys to bail me out and they did, and unfortunately I didn’t do my part again.

“I had a really good car and had an opportunity and that’s the one thing I just try really hard to do, is to make the most of opportunities when they are presented and obviously I didn’t do a very good job of that both trips.”

On the double file restart, it was Keselowski who pushed Larson past Elliott, who was trying to help the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports team end its 18-race winless skid, not reaching Victory Lane since six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson won at California back in March. Elliott's father, Bill Elliott, was a seven-time winner at MIS.

“You could see these restarts here at Michigan just get really crazy towards the end,” Keselowski said. “The 42 (Larson) had a good run. The 24 (Elliott) was really good. We were a third-place car most of the day. On long runs, we were maybe the best car.

"At the end I gave Kyle a really good push. Looked like Chase spun his tires a little bit. Next thing you know we were off to the races. I got up to second, but I wasn’t as fast as Chase, wasn’t able to get by him. Kyle was able to drive away, which was kind of the tale of the tape there on the short run.”

Team Penske drivers Logano and Keselowski won the two previous low downforce aero package races with Logano winning the June race at MIS and Keselowski at Kentucky Speedway July 9.

Logano again showed he would be a force in the low downforce package, earning the pole Friday, then leading the first 22 laps before Harvick took the lead on a restart following the completion yellow.

The Chase tightens with two races left

It was Harvick who finished second in five of the previous seven races at MIS, including a runner-up finish last August and fifth-place showing in June. He finished fifth again Sunday.

Logano finished 10th.

Keselowski said NASCAR was headed in the right direction with the rules package.

“I think this package is pretty strong and I like it a lot,” Keselowski said. “It’s not perfect, that’s for sure, but it’s a small improvement in showcasing driver talent to be able to win races and I think the guys that ran up front today absolutely drove their butt off. I saw Kyle and I saw Chase and everybody and their cars were sideways, sometimes smoking their tires through the corners and I think that’s what this race is built on and I think this is a good direction to go towards. I’ve been a big fan of this package all along.”

Three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart was making his final run at MIS, retiring at the end of the season. Stewart, who has a win in Sonoma, finished 21st and clinched a top-30 spot to punch his ticket to Chase.

But, in the end it was Larson’s day, getting that win in his third full season, and 99th start. And, he paid tribute to his friend Bryan Clauson, who was killed due to injuries in a midget car accident earlier this month.

“This one is for the Clauson family,” Larson said. “We’re really missing Bryan. We parked it for him which is really cool.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @DavidGoricki