The Monster Energy Cup Series finished its three-race NASCAR Goes West portion of the schedule on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., and for California native Kyle Larson it was the homecoming that every driver dreams about. The three-day weekend of racing was dominated by the Chip Ganassi Racing driver as he also competed in the Xfinity race on Saturday.
The dominance that Larson displayed over the weekend should come as no surprise as he came into the Auto Club 400 as maybe the hottest driver in the series after posting three consecutive secondplaces finishes. This time around there was no second-place finish as he not only took one checkered flag but left with two as he also won the Xfinity race on Saturday to go with his first win of the season on Sunday in the Cup series and the second of his young career.
Larson had said after each of his previous three runner-up finishes that his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet had the kind of speed that he needed this season to break through at any stop on the schedule and make a trip to victory lane. He wasted very little time following up on that statement as he once again unloaded fast off the hauler and won the pole, which set the stage for his win on Sunday.
Sunday’s race started with Larson on the point and he quickly got into a battle with Martin Truex Jr. as the two drivers led 55 of the 60 laps in the first stage with Larson ultimately winning the stage after leading 43 laps. The second stage was dominated by Truex as he led all but five laps on his way to the win with Larson finishing second.
Once the final stage got underway, Larson showed that he was going to be the car to beat as he led a total of 110 laps. The win did not come easy as he had to survive four cautions over the last 21 laps of the race. The last caution extended the race into overtime, but Larson, who had pitted to take on four new Goodyear tires on lap 193 of the scheduled 200 laps, was clearly the class of the field once the green flag waved for the extended laps.
The consistency that Larson has shown during the start of the young season has really shown up in the point standings where he sits on top by 29 points over second-place Chase Elliott and 38 points over Truex in third. Larson’s and Truex’s point totals were bolstered by their first- and second-stage finishes on Sunday as both drivers added 19 points to their race totals.
Truex earlier in the season became the first driver to ever sweep all three stages in a race and earn the maximum of 70 points that a driver can earn for a race. Larson’s runner-up finish in the second stage on Sunday was the only point that he didn’t earn on the day as he posted 69 points. Larson and his team have quickly adapted to the stage racing that NASCAR has introduced this season as he is the only driver to earn points in every stage this season.
Both drivers also earned a valuable playoff point for their stage win that will carry over into the Chase. Truex leads all drivers on the season with eight playoff points followed by Larson who now has six playoff points.
PIT NOTES: The Monster Energy Cup Series will be making its first stop of the season this weekend at a short track as the series will roll into Martinsville Speedway for the running of the STP 500. It will be the first of two races at the Virginia track as it also hosts one of the 10 Chase races in October. The track has installed lights since the 2016 October race, but both races will be held during the daylight hours this season.
Event: STP 500.
Track: Martinsville Speedway
(.526-mile paperclip oval, 12o of
banking in the turns)
Date: April 2, 2 p.m.
Defending Champion: Kyle