SONOMA, Calif. – Racing less than two hours from the town he grew up in, Kyle Larson put on a road racing clinic on his way to a dominant victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway Sunday afternoon.
Larson, who started from the pole, was in his own for most of the afternoon at the 2.52-mile road course. He swept the first two stages and survived multiple late-race restarts to claim his ninth NASCAR Cup Series victory, his third victory of the season and his first on a road course. It was also his second-straight victory following a commanding performance last week in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It was an awesome race car,” Larson said. “I was a little bit nervous to start the race just having Chase Elliott, who is probably the best road course racer right now lined up next to me. I was kind of able to stretch out from him and then kind of slow myself down. I was able to learn some things about the track and kind of get into a rhythm. From then on we were really good. Even passing cars was easier than I’ve ever had here before.”
After sweeping the first two stages, Larson lined up 21st for the start of the third stage after half the field opted to make their pit stops prior to the end of stage two. Despite having more than half of the field in front of him, Larson roared right back to the front.
Racing resumed on lap 45 and within one lap he was up to 15th. With 39 laps left in the race Larson made it to third before taking second three laps later. With 33 laps left Larson ran down and passed his teammate, Chase Elliott, to take the lead again.
A cycle of green flag pit stops soon followed. Martin Truex Jr., who had just taken second from Elliott, pitted one lap before Larson and was able to cycle back out in front of him when both drivers completed their respective stops.
Larson was unfazed and with 24 laps left he drove back around Truex to regain his track position. Larson cycled back into the lead two laps later only for the caution flag to wave for the stalled car of Quin Houff with 19 laps left.
All of the leaders pitted during the caution, with Larson coming off pit road first. However, four cars led by Joey Logano opted not to pit. That put Larson fifth for the restart with 16 laps left. Yet again Larson went right to work, getting back to the lead in turn seven with 15 laps left.
Multiple caution flags would soon wave, with the first coming one lap later when multiple cars collided in turn 11. Larson lined up with Logano alongside him for the restart, but Logano had nothing for the Elk Grove, Calif., native and Larson drove away.
Larson maintained his lead until another caution with five laps left waved for an incident between Ryan Preece and Cody Ware in the esses. By then Elliott had gotten around Logano for second, setting up a Hendrick Motorsports teammate duel for the victory.
Larson held his ground on the next restart with three laps left, but before they could complete a lap the caution waved again for an incident involving Alex Bowman, Anthony Alfredo and Christopher Bell.
Elliott got one last shot at Larson during the overtime restart that followed and even got to Larson’s bumper a few times in the final laps, but Larson was simply too strong as he held on to earn his first victory on a road course.
“Chase was actually able to stay closer to me than I wanted him to by the time we got to (turn) seven,” Larson said. “He’s really good at outbraking people and I didn’t want to go in there and make a mistake. I could get good drive off to kind of stretch out from him. I just had to make sure I hit my marks and didn’t enter into the fast corners too fast and slide out and loose speed.
“My car was really good where I didn’t really have to run 100 percent, I could run 95 (percent) and just limit my mistakes a little bit better.
Elliott, the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, acknowledged that Larson had the better car when it counted.
“We were solid today, just not good enough at the right time,” Elliott said. “I feel good about our group. We have a solid group, we’ve just got to put it all together and execute when it counts most.”
The one-two finish for Hendrick Motorsports was the team’s fourth in a row, which matched a record set by Carl Kiekhafer Racing in 1956.
Truex finished third, with Logano finishing fourth ahead of Kyle Busch in fifth. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch and Ross Chastain were next in sixth and seventh, followed by Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney.