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How a 'B' strategy still gave Kyle Larson an All-Star win

Kyle Larson earned his second NASCAR All-Star Race victory last weekend – and another $1 million paycheck – but for a while in the race his crew chief, Cliff Daniels, wasn’t certain Larson would be in the mix.

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com celebrates his win

Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

Larson started on the pole and won the first of six rounds in the 100-lap event, but an inversion set him back in the field in Round 2 and suddenly Larson’s chances at contending for the win looked dire.

His No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet didn’t handle near as well in traffic and Larson struggled to keep what track position he had.

Daniels said a strategy decision before the race got Larson into that predicament.

“Honestly the grade I would give myself on the execution of the strategy would be probably a ‘B’ because at the beginning of the race, our car was too built for trying to have clean air and we didn’t do a good job getting the balance right for what he needed in traffic early,” he said.

“We had to work on the balance to get it closer so he could run in traffic better, and the second round did not go very well for us. We threw a lot of changes at it, got the car a lot closer where he could be aggressive and try to set himself up for passes, which was cool to see.

“Then, the way the points and everything worked out for us to start in the top 3 or 4 going into the fifth round worked out pretty well. Executing the pit stop was okay.”

Making gains

By Round 4, Larson’s car was working far better in traffic and he made his way up to second at the conclusion of that 15-lap segment.

His finishes in the first four rounds were good enough to gain him the second starting position in Round 5 and after the mandatory four-time pit stop, he finished third, which is also how he restarted the final 10-lap segment.

From there, it was a daring three-wide move by Brad Keselowski that sent Larson high up the track and briefly gave Keselowski the lead with eight laps remaining, only to see Larson power around him on the outside for the lead the next lap and eventually claim the win.

“We knew the way kind of the re-rack of the lineup was going to work out, you had to be able to pass, so it took us a little while to get our car where it could do that,” Daniels said.

“The one invert did help us out (after Round 2) when we just weren’t as good as we needed to be, and that was certainly no intention on our part to try to lag back to get the invert. It just kind of played out that way.”

Thinking he was out of the fight

Larson said he, too, believed in Rounds 2 and 3, his chances at victory had probably escaped him.

“I think through the second and third rounds there, I was like, you know what, I’m just out here logging laps; I’m not going to be able to win,” he said. “My car is not driving nearly as good.

I’m getting passed by people. I can’t pass cars that we lapped typically. I was like, ‘There’s no way.’ ”

But as the rounds went by and Larson found his way back to the front of the field, he discovered his car had gotten far better.

“I was like, you know what, we have a 10-lap run (at the end) and there’s no points on the line, I’m going to go for it if I get the chance, and if I wreck, I wreck,” he said.

There was no wreck, just another win and a $1 million payday.

Not bad for a ‘B’ strategy.

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