Saturday's roundup: Larson holds off Logano, wins Xfinity race

Greg Beacham
Associated Press

Fontana, Calif. — Kyle Larson hopes his NASCAR Xfinity race victory will catapult him to a weekend sweep at Fontana.

The way this season is going for the overall Cup series points leader, it’s tough to argue against it.

Larson held off Joey Logano on the final lap to win another Xfinity race dominated by Cup drivers on Saturday.

Larson thrived out of a late restart with smart moves and a clever lane choice on Fontana’s five-wide asphalt. The native Californian won the Xfinity race at Fontana for the second time in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“It was a lot of fun with Joey there late,” Larson said. “I hope it gives us some good momentum. We’ll start from the pole and hopefully be here again (Sunday).”

Kyle Busch finished third. Erik Jones was fourth, and rookie William Byron came in fifth.

Larson earned his sixth career Xfinity victory when he kept Logano behind him off a late restart, winning by just over a car length.

Larson is also on the pole for Sunday’s race. He has finished second in three consecutive Cup races, propelling him into the overall lead without a victory.

Cup regulars Larson, Busch and Logano dominated on a cloudy day at Fontana. Busch led after each of the first two stages, but he brushed the wall in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with 28 laps to go.

Larson overcame a speeding penalty on pit road that sent him to the back of the field midway through the race.

Logano twice rallied back from far behind and led five times for 70 laps.

He got an early speeding penalty on pit road. His car later fell off the jack during a long pit stop, but he passed 20 cars in less than two laps to get right back in it.

Despite the technical glitches, Logano had a blast.

“I vote for two races at Auto Club Speedway, I’ll be the first to say that,” Logano said. “What an awesome race track. It’s so much fun. You can run anywhere you want. The racing is great. There is tire falloff. There are bumps. There’s everything here. It’s the perfect race track. I wish we came here more often, because it’s the best race track we go to.”

Paul Menard’s car caught fire after hitting the wall with about 55 laps to go, slowing the race. About 12 laps later, Cole Custer ended up with a wrecked car for the second straight week when he hit the wall on Turn 1.

Custer blamed his wreck on “a clown move” by Ryan Sieg, who apparently got clipped by Custer on a side draft earlier. Custer and Austin Dillon got into a prolonged scrape last week at Phoenix, with Dillon running Custer into a wall under caution to retaliate.

“Last week it was all my fault, and I’ll take that all on me,” Custer said. “Today it was just a clown. I don’t understand what his reasoning was to pay us back that much, but that’s just a joke.”

Hamilton takes pole at Aussie GP

Something that surprised Lewis Hamilton after he posted the fastest lap ever at the Albert Park circuit and equaled Ayrton Senna’s record of six pole positions at the Australian Grand Prix was that his time wasn’t even quicker.

New technical and tire regulations for the 2017 season were designed to make the F1 cars faster and maybe reduce Mercedes’ dominance. Hamilton maintained Mercedes’ status quo at the front of the grid, although Ferrari is showing signs of competing for the top of the podium. Sebastian Vettel split the Mercedes drivers with the second-fastest time in qualifying, and Kimi Raikkonen was fourth.

The times kept improving during the three practice sessions and the Mercedes driver’s last flying lap in qualifying was 1 minute, 22.188 seconds. It gave his 62nd pole position overall in F1, behind only Michael Schumacher (68) and Senna (65), and lowered the lap record Vettel set in the third practice session.

Hamilton went more than a second under last year’s qualifying time, but said “we thought it would be more than that.”

“Maybe it’s the track — It’s cool today. I’m sure during the year it’s going to ramp up much quicker.”

The big disappointment for the 80,000 spectators came in the last stage of qualifying when local hope Daniel Ricciardo slid his Red Bull rear first into the gravel and stopped at turn 14, and walked off the track as the red flag came out.

“I’m fine physically but emotionally it’s tough,” said Ricciardo, who was third in the driver standings last year.

Ricciardo slipped to 10th among the 10 fastest qualifiers, but his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen held on for fifth. Roman Grosjean was sixth for Haas, Felipe Massa was seventh for Williams and Toro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat were eighth and ninth.