BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Kyle Larson’s ambitious weekend ended in triumph.
Larson slipped between cars on an overtime restart and won Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway. The victory capped a busy stretch for Larson after team owner Chip Ganassi allowed him to go to Iowa to compete in the Knoxville Nationals on Saturday.
He finished second at that sprint car event before returning to Michigan and earning his fourth career Cup victory.
“This win feels amazing to steal one in a way,” Larson said. “My other three wins I felt like we had the first- or second-best car, but today at times I didn’t think we were a top-10 car. But to get the win that way is awesome.”
Martin Truex Jr. was in the lead, about a second ahead of teammate Erik Jones, before a late caution came out because of a spin by Michael McDowell. That forced overtime.
A red flag for oil on the track only added to the drama, and when the race restarted for the final time, Larson — who hadn’t led at all to that point — drove to the right of Jones and passed to the inside of Truex.
“We got beat fair and square,” said Truex, the series points leader. “The double-file restarts are tricky, and sometimes you do them right, sometimes you screw them up, and unfortunately I screwed the one up that mattered the most today.”
Larson has won the last three Cup races at MIS, the first driver to do that since Bill Elliott, who won four straight from 1985-86. This was Larson’s third win of the season and ended a mini-slump in which he had finished out of the top 20 in three straight races.
Truex and Jones finished second and third for Furniture Row Racing.
Larson won by 0.31 seconds in his No. 42 Chevrolet. Brad Keselowski and Truex won the first two stages.
There was a lot of hoopla Friday when Ganassi announced he was letting Larson go to Iowa. Both driver and owner were going to be in the spotlight no matter what happened in Sunday’s race.
“When you’re in my position of this past week’s activities with all the talk about Knoxville and going to Knoxville last night and not getting back here until two in the morning, I’m out on the end of the diving board there a lot of times,” Ganassi said. “So I appreciate when Kyle steps up and does what he did today. It makes it all worthwhile, obviously.”
Keselowski, the pole winner, led for 105 laps, but finished 17th. He is now winless in 17 Cup races at his home state’s track.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has two wins at Michigan, finished 14th in his final race at MIS before he retires at the end of this season.
The race was originally scheduled for 200 laps and 400 miles. It ended up being 202 laps. Keselowski led almost the entire way through the 60-lap first stage, only giving up the top spot briefly during a pit cycle. Keselowski was second to Truex in the second stage.
Aside from the end of the first two stages, there were no yellow flags until lap 140, after Kasey Kahne slid in front of Daniel Suarez and slammed into the wall , taking them both out.
Keselowski ended Toyota’s streak of five straight poles and offered a theory as to why after qualifying Friday.
“About this time every year NASCAR takes all the cars to kind of check to make sure that the competitive balance is where they want it to be,” Keselowski said then. “We had a strong suspicion that those guys would kind of tune it down this weekend, so not to post a pretty big number in inspection that maybe balanced back out the competition.”
On race day, Truex and Jones finished second and third in their Toyotas, but the win went to a Chevy. Keselowski drives a Ford.
“I think that for Brad and those guys that think that maybe we’re sandbagging, I think it’s a glimpse of, if they get their stuff right, maybe they can beat us,” Truex said. “It’s not all just that we have better race cars. … I feel good about our race cars and what we’ve been doing all year. We brought some new stuff here this weekend to try to get better, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Matt Kenseth plummeted at the end and finished 24th, missing a chance to open some distance between himself and Clint Bowyer in the playoff race. If the playoffs began now, Kenseth would be the last driver in. He is 31 points ahead of Bowyer in the standings, but he could have had a bigger advantage.
Bowyer finished 23rd on a problem-filled day that included multiple penalties for pit road speeding.
The Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for a race Saturday night.
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