Kyle Larson falls one restart short of twin wins in Dover heartbreaker

Nigel Kinrade/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

It was a tale of twos for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson at Dover International Speedway, and none of the ones he got were good.

Following his triumph in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, Larson entered Sunday eying both his second win of the weekend, and his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series triumph of 2017.

Instead, he was left with a second-straight runner-up finish in the spring Dover race, and his second loss to Jimmie Johnson on a late restart.

Larson was the dominant driver on the day in Delaware, leading a race-high 241 of 406 laps after rolling off of the grid in fifth. The Californian appeared poised for his first multi-win season when a late caution bunched the Cup series field up for NASCAR Overtime.

That allowed another Californian – Johnson – back into the picture. Restarting alongside Larson, Johnson managed to do the same thing he managed in the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway: beat Larson to Turn 1 and steal the race.

This time, Johnson wouldn’t even need to do much defending. A caution for a multi-car crash flew just as the Hendrick Motorsports ace crossed the overtime line on the first lap of the restart, sealing Larson’s fate as a runner-up for the second-straight year at Dover.

The 24-year-old voiced frustration with what he perceived as Johnson laying back before the restart over his team radio, but later chalked his loss to Johnson up to the veteran’s experience.

“He’s a seven-time champion for a reason,” Larson said. “He’s got a golden horseshoe somewhere; and he’s really good at executing. So, I’ve just got to get better at that.”

In truth, Larson was as much to blame for his loss as Johnson. The Elk Grove, California native admitted to making a mistake on the pivotal restart.

“I just spun my tires pretty bad,” Larson said. “I tried taking off not using a lot of throttle and still spun my tires pretty bad.  I knew we were both probably going to spin pretty bad, but I wasn’t getting great launches all day.  I was always having to fight people off into Turn 1 when I was the leader.”

In the end a dejected Larson looked for positives, while acknowledging his need to continue improving.

“My team gave me a great Target Chevy again,” Larson said. “I thought we were the best car today, me and the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.)  I thought we were really good.

“I definitely didn’t need that last caution there.  I was just cruising trying to log some laps, get to the end.  I saw the lapper in front of me blow a right-front and wasn’t too worried.  I thought maybe the outside lane would take off good. I just didn’t do a great job.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *