KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kyle Larson led the most laps in the Hollywood Casino 400.
A miscalculation during the pit stop going into Stage 2 set them behind.
But as is traditional with the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team, they don’t go down without a fight.
Crew chief Cliff Daniels rallied his troops and got his driver in a prime position to climb back through the field. A late caution blessed them with a chance at the win.
While a fourth-place result wasn’t the win they were shooting for, it was a different kind of win they were hoping for.
“We had a great car,” Larson said. “Really good on the short run and really good on the long run compared to everybody else. I was struggling as well, but you know, I felt really good about my car. Just a a bummer. But you know, sometimes it goes that way. So all in all, we were able to recover. Two great cars to start the playoffs. I think you gotta look at the positives. Got a stage point for some playoff points.”
Larson won the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway last weekend, so he was locked into the next round of the Playoffs, no matter what happens to him over the next two races. But he is already showing early signs of a similar pace when he won his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. To get his second, he knows he needs to fight for every spot he can and pounce upon every opportunity that leans his way.
“(Daniel Suarez) stayed out. You Just don’t know what his grip level is going to be, so I chose the top,” he explained, walking through the final restart. “I just didn’t want to be in the same lane as him. Looking back, if I had chosen the bottom, that’s where (Tyler Reddick) ended up and he came out the winner. I thought I could get maybe to Denny’s outside. He blocked me. I went to the middle, got clear of him. And then he just had a good run off of (Turn) 2 and was able to get to the bottom and get in front of my lane. Maybe if I went to the bottom or protected a little bit, I could have been beating that, but I still don’t think I would have got to the lead anyways. Maybe I could have finished second like he did.”
Part of pursuing and winning a championship includes avoiding mistakes, chaos and drama through the 10-race stretch.
Even when it could be your own teammates.
On the final pit stop that led to the two-lap shootout, teammate Chase Elliott exited pit road with Reddick to his outside. Larson left his pit stall and was wheel-to-wheel with Elliott. That three-wide battle quickly became four-wide as Brad Keselowski squealed away, squeezing his Ford off pit road. Larson and Elliott made contact. Elliott swerved his car toward Larson on the apron of Turns 1 and 2, but nothing else was done or said about it.
“We were three wide. I left my pit stall, Chase in the middle lane, and I believe (Reddick) must have been on the outside lane. And then (Keselowski) pulled up in front of me and I was just trying to leave as much space as I could. I had to avoid (Keselowski) and got into Chase a little bit there. No damage was done, I don’t believe, but you know I’m sure he was upset at me at the time. I haven’t seen the replay either, but I would imagine after we both see the replay, we’ll have a little bit better understanding of what actually happened. In the moment I just didn’t think I had much space to give without clobbering (Keselowski).”
And from Elliott’s viewpoint, he simply shrugged.
“There was no message,” Elliott told the NBC broadcast.
Either way, the series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the cutoff for the Round of 12 where four Playoff drivers will be eliminated. Larson won’t have to worry about any chaos with his automatic bid into the next round.