Saturday’s motors: Larson rolls to Xfinity Series win

Greg Beacham
Associated Press

Las Vegas — Kyle Larson looks ready to make another memorable West Coast swing after kicking it off with another NASCAR Xfinity Series win.

Larson overcame strong wind and two late restarts Saturday to earn his ninth career Xfinity victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 25-year-old Californian earned his first win on the 1 1/2-mile track in Vegas, where he finished second in both the Xfinity and Cup series races last year.

Larson claimed the lead on the opening lap and eventually led 142 of the 200 laps in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. He avoided any late-race fuel trouble when Ryan Reed blew a tire with 16 laps to go, allowing him to gas up for the final push.

Rookie Christopher Bell finished second in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and Justin Allgaier was third. Ryan Blaney, the pole-sitter for Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup series race, came in fourth ahead of Elliott Sadler in fifth.

Larson is the 10th consecutive different winner in the Xfinity race in Vegas, and the Cup star was clearly the class of the field. He capably navigated wind gusts topping 25 mph on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip to earn his fifth consecutive top-three finish in Xfinity races.

“This race car is so fast,” Larson said after his second Xfinity start of the season. “It was really fast last year, but you never really know. This was my first time with this body, and it performed well.”

Yet Larson was uncertain whether his fuel would last until the finish, but the caution for Reed allowed Larson to pit. Larson quickly reclaimed the top spot despite falling behind Tyler Reddick out of the pits with 11 laps to go, and Larson coolly stayed in front after the final restart with seven laps left.

Larson was phenomenal during NASCAR’s three-race trip out West last season. The Sacramento-area product finished second in the 2017 Cup series races in Las Vegas and Phoenix before winning at Fontana to complete a double with his Xfinity win at Auto Club Speedway.

Bell followed up his third-place finish in Atlanta with another impressive performance by last season’s Truck Series champion. He had never made an Xfinity start in Vegas.

“If I have to run second to anyone, running second to him is pretty cool,” Bell said of Larson, his good friend. “Plus, I got him in the Chili Bowl.”

Kyle Busch surged back into 14th, but lost his hopes of a three-victory weekend. The Las Vegas native won the Truck race from the pole on Friday night.

Busch lost any chance at contention late in the race when he was hit with a drive-through penalty because the crew member in charge of fueling caught a loose tire during a pit stop.

Larson passed Blaney on a slick move with 73 laps to go, but lost his top spot with a slow pit stop under caution moments later after Austin Cindric wrecked. Larson swiftly surged from seventh into second, and he rolled back in front with 48 laps left.

The Xfinity race should benefit the drivers competing in Sunday’s race, and it will provide valuable information for the teams returning to Vegas in September for the track’s second race of the season.

Allgaier posted his seventh top-10 finish in eight career races in Vegas.