Kyle Larson vaults to points lead with MIS victory
Brooklyn, Mich. — Kyle Larson won the FireKeepers 400 Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway in a Father’s Day race that had three cautions in the final 15 laps, leading to a 5-lap shootout.
Larson, the pole sitter, was running first heading into the final restart, followed by Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.
Larson, 24, jumped out to the lead on the restart and held off the rest of the field to take over the Monster Energy Cup points lead in his No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Larson, who earned his first career win last August at MIS, ran strong all day, leading for the first 27 laps before the competition caution. It was his second win of the season, going along with six runner-up finishes to take the points lead from Martin Truex Jr. who won both stages — leading on laps 60 and 120 — before finishing sixth.
Larson celebrated with his 2-year-old son Owen in Victory Lane following the race, giving praise to Ryan Blaney for pushing him past Kyle Busch on the restart with 15 laps left.
“Ryan Blaney gave me a heck of a push to shove me out in front of Kyle so I really have to thank him a ton,” said Larson in Victory Lane, talking on how he slipped past Busch from the inside, giving him the option to run from the outside on the final restart. “For us to withstand a few re-starts there against some tough competitors was pretty important.
“The Cars 3 Chevy was really, really fast. Cool to win it, great Father’s Day present for myself. My dad’s here today too so I’m looking forward to celebrating with them.
“We’ve been so close to so many other wins. This is our second Cup win of the year, but we’ve had six second-place finishes. All in all, it’s a good season so far and we’ll continue to build off of what we got.”
Larson became the fourth multi-race winner of the season, also winning at the two-mile superspeedway at Fontana, Calif.
“Michigan and Fontana are very, very similar in shape and size, but the racing surface is way different,” said Larson, who led 96 of the 200 laps. “Fontana is rough and bumpy and it’s a worn out surface and you really have to take care of your tires and move around, find different lanes that work. Here at Michigan your tires don’t wear out nearly as bad, and your line doesn’t move around a ton, but it’s really fast and has a lot of grip. It seems like since my rookie season we’ve had fast cars here at Michigan.”
So, while Larson was celebrating, the same can’t be said for Busch who was trying to end his 30-race winless streak, only to fade away to seventh.
Busch, the 2015 series champion, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had combined for seven victories at this point last year, but they are winless through the first 15 races this season.
It looked like Busch, who led for 40 laps, was in good position heading into the final quarter of the race.
Busch, who held the lead, took just two tires with 46 laps remaining and it was doubtful if he would have had enough fuel to finish.
However, Busch was aided with a caution with 20 laps left, giving him the opportunity to conserve fuel during the caution, but couldn’t hold off Larson when racing resumed with 15 laps left.
Elliott, whose father Bill won seven times at MIS, is still searching for his first career win. He was happy with his finish and so was Logano, who has struggled for the past month and a half.
“I felt like we overachieved today from what we thought we were going to have kind of coming into the race,” said Elliott, who started 10th and now sits fifth in points. “Our pit stops were incredible, which was a huge help. I can’t express how nice that was to come in and gain two or three spots. It was unreal.”
Logano, who sits 10th in points, said his finish felt like a win, especially since he was running 19th with 50 laps left.
“It feels great, you have no idea how good this feels,” Logano said. “It feels like a win, just to stop the bleeding. The last month, month and a half has been a struggle for us with just a lot of things going wrong during the races. This was an uneventful race for us.
“Finally, I got a restart out the outside. I actually had three in a row at the end and every other restart was on the bottom and I was just getting eaten up so having good restarts, pass a whole bunch of cars, get a restart and pass a couple of more was a good thing for us and eventually put ourselves in position to almost win the race.”
Truex held the lead with 50 laps left, then had a tense moment when Ryan Sieg’s Toyota spun in front of him coming out of Turn 4.
On the restart after the caution from Sieg’s accident, Truex slipped to sixth in his No. 78 Toyota, causing him to fall nearly seven seconds behind Busch with 33 to go. He never recovered.
"We had the best car out there without a doubt," Truex said. "The inside lane restarts at the end killed us, so it just stinks when you have to race like that. You just get in a bad spot and there's nothing you can do about it."
Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson started from near the back of the field after having an accident during practice Saturday. He made his way up to 10th place at the end of Stage 1 and finished 10th.
Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr, who announced he will retire at the end of the season, was running as high as third with less than 50 laps left before finishing ninth.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, who became the first black driver to race in the premier series since Bill Lester in 2006 when he placed 26th last Sunday at Pocono, finished 19th.
Rookie Erik Jones, who graduated from Swartz Creek near Flint, finished 13th and Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, 16th. Blaney, who earned his first career victory last week at Pocono, finished 25th after being involved in a late accident.
Pos., Driver, Car
1., Kyle Larson, Chevrolet
2., Chase Elliot, Chevrolet
3., Joey Logano, Ford
4., Denny Hamlin, Toyota
5., Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet
Pos., Driver, Points
1., Kyle Larson, 640
2., Martin Truex Jr., -5
3., Kyle Busch, -130
4., Kevin Harvick, -132
5., Chase Elliott, -162
6., Brad Keselowski, -164
7., Jamie McMurray, -190
8., Jimmie Johnson, -191
9., Denny Hamlin, -210
10., Joey Logano, -242