Larson put on a show at Bristol, but victory eluded him

Jimmie Johnson won the Food City 500, but no one put on a show at Bristol Motor Speedway with the same flair as Kyle Larson.

Larson put on a show at Bristol, but victory eluded him
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Start: Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet leads
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pace laps
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

Larson led the first 202 laps — the most circuits ever led by a Chip Ganassi Racing team at Thunder Valley — or at any other track on the NASCAR circuit. 

Even though he finished sixth after a two-tire pit stop at the end, watching Larson’s fearless execution of pushing, prodding and passing was certainly worth the price of admission on Monday.

“Yeah, we had a really good car, really good in that first stage and then to start that second stage, and then once the track got rubbered in, I had to search around a lot,” Larson said. “I couldn't run the bottom as good as the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) and the 22 (Joey Logano), and the 77 (Erik Jones) was really good down there. 

“And then late in the race there, once the top got rubbered in, I could get up there really early in a run and go fast, and still not be quite as fast as those guys at the end of the runs, but I was really good the first two-thirds of a run.”

On rails

Larson dominated Stage 1. He attacked the high lane and began lapping his opponents 12 laps in. After 32 circuits, Larson had knocked 10 cars off the lead lap. By the time he collected his second stage win of the season — on Lap 125 — only 22 drivers remained on Larson’s lap. 

He led the first 202 laps of the 500-circuit race. Although he dropped to seventh at the end of Stage 2, it marked the 15th time in 16 stages that Larson has finished in the top 10. 

With fresh tires for the final segment, Larson was magic. After Johnson passed Joey Logano for the lead on Lap 394, Larson went to work on Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. He took the cars three-wide to seize fourth-place then went to work on Denny Hamlin for third.  

By Lap 405, Larson had passed Hamlin and set his sights on Logano. As Logano moved to the inside of Johnson on Lap 411, Larson tagged the No. 48 Chevy’s bumper. Although he couldn’t move Johnson, Larson was able to pass Logano for second-place prior to the eighth caution on Lap 421.

Speeding penalty

With less than 80 laps remaining, Larson was the first car out of the pits on four tires. However, NASCAR busted the No. 42 for speeding entering his pits and he was forced to drop back 17th when the race restarted on Lap 428. 

If not for the penalty, who knows what the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy might have accomplished.

“I knew I was pushing it because ‑‑ so to start the race, I was the leader, I would run all my greens down pit road, and then once I fell back, he was behind the 22 down pit road, he would pull me, so I started running an extra light into one red,” Larson said. “He was running a lot more miles per hour around the corner over here. So yeah, down the straightaway I was running one red and flashed the second red real quick, and I guess that was all she wrote. 

“I knew I gave the race away there. I was surprised that I was able to line up with an opportunity there at the end. We lucked out taking two, and then the 78 sped (Lap 465) and it lined up us fourth.”

Truex speeding penalty during the final pit stop knocked the No. 78 from sixth to 16th. But on  two tires, Larson wasn’t able to hold on to his position in the end. 

“Thought maybe if I could get the top going quick and get by Kevin, I could get the win,” Larson said. “But I think even if I was able to get to the lead, I don't think I would have won because Jimmie and Clint (Bowyer, second) were way faster than I was.  

“They were over a straightaway ahead of us, I think, at the checkered flag. Yeah, disappointed in myself.  I think I speed on pit road every single time I come to Bristol. So got to clean that up.”

Still a race to proud of

Still, Larson picked up a career-best sixth-place finish at Bristol — his third top 10 finish in seven starts at the half-mile track. He remains first in the standings with a 27-point advantage over Chase Elliott. 

“I thought the race was great,” Larson said. “The track changed a lot throughout the race and was extremely exciting. I don't know what more you could ask out of this place. This is the best track we go to, most exciting place, and I love coming here.”

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