DARLINGTON, S.C. – On a day when Martin Truex Jr. driving to victory lane at Darlington Raceway was all but a surefire guarantee, Kyle Larson nearly spoiled the entire narrative and pulled off a stunning upset.
Following the final round of green-flag pit stops in Sunday’s Goodyear 400, Larson closed his deficit to Larson up to mere car lengths, attacking the middle groove of The Track Too Tough To Tame and nearly pulling alongside Truex at one point inside the final 20 laps.
But Truex proved too strong in the end, pulling away during the final five circuits and leaving Larson to finish second, two-and-a-half second adrift in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet that honored Larson’s very first outlaw kart paint scheme from his youth.
Larson admitted after the race that, perhaps, he was “too patient” in his pursuit of Truex through the closing stages of the event Sunday after being coached to conserve his equipment by crew chief Cliff Daniels over the radio several times prior to the final round of pit stops.
“When we closed a bunch throughout the green-flag cycle, that final one, and I could see that I was really close and noticed that I was gaining on him, I definitely had to tell myself to just calm myself,” Larson said. “Even the whole last stage, I felt like I did a good job for where I was at and who I was battling with to take care of my stuff. But yeah, when the leader is in front of you, it is tough to remind yourself (to be patient).
“In a way, I maybe was too patient at one point,” Larson added. “I got to his back bumper in (turns) one and two, and I could see he was struggling in front of me, and I thought, ‘Well, if I’m just patient here and stay behind him and put some pressure on him, maybe he’ll use his stuff up or get into the wall in (turns) three and four,’ because he was running so close to it. I was just hoping he’d make a mistake.
“Looking back, if there was something I could have done differently, I would have taken advantage of that opportunity and tried to get to his inside and maybe clear him off of (turn) two and then kind of block him in my dirty air the rest of the race.”
Despite a runner-up finish to Truex, Larson improved his average finish across seven Cup Series starts at Darlington to 6.0, with four top-three finishes – including back-to-back runner-ups – in his last five races at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.
Larson has led 500 laps at Darlington and Sunday was just the second time he failed to lead at least one lap there since moving up to the Cup Series.
However, it was the first race at the track with the 750-horsepower, low-downforce aerodynamic package in three years and Larson couldn’t help but grin when describing his day as a whole.
“That was a lot of fun,” tipped Larson. “I don’t remember honestly how the high downforce was because I didn’t get to run here last year, but it was fun to be here during the day. [This was] my first daytime Cup race here, so it was cool to do that.
“I had a lot of fun slipping and sliding.”
It was an enjoyable Darlington day for Larson, even if his finish as the bridesmaid was bittersweet.