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Race report

NASCAR Cup Sonoma: Pit strategy propels Kyle Larson to win

Kyle Larson navigated a rash of early cautions and used a late pit strategy to come away with the win in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

Many of the planned strategies in Sunday’s race went awry with seven cautions in the first 41 laps and that prompted Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels to run Larson as long as possible in the final stage before making his final stop.

Once Larson finally stopped, he cycled into eighth in the lineup but with much fresher tires he sliced through the field to take the lead with eight of 110 laps to go.

From there, Larson ended up taking the checkered flag by 4.258 seconds over Michael McDowell when last year’s race winner Martin Truex Jr. ran out of fuel on the final lap while running second.

 
"I didn't know what we were doing as far as strategy," Larson said after the race. "I was just out there banging laps away. I don't know, we study all the strategy, but it's like doing homework. I don't really know what I'm looking at.
"I was like, 'Well, man, these guys are going to have to pit another time maybe.' Then we said we had to go race and pass these guys, I got a bit nervous. I knew I'd be quick from the get-go but I thought once the tires would come up to temp it would even off too much."
Larson said he was aided by Truex's efforts to run down Buescher for the lead.
"Thankful that we had enough grip. Thankful, too, that those guys got racing and Martin never got clear really to where I could get stuck in third and that really saved the race. I thought, too, once he got the lead, I'm like, 'Man, I hope he doesn't have somebody to judge off of here into (Turn) 4 and he misses the apex', and sure enough, he did, and I had a big run.
"Just an awesome, awesome race car. Just cool to win at home, drink some wine here in a little bit and go celebrate."

It’s the third win of the 2024 season for Larson and 26th of his career and second at his home track. Larson now has 20 wins since joining Hendrick Motorsports in the 2021 season.

Truex was the first to catch leader Chris Buescher with nine laps to go and moved into the lead exiting Turn 11, but the much quicker Larson easily navigated around Truex to reclaim the top spot on lap 102.

Buescher ended up third, Chase Elliott fourth and Ross Chastain rounded out the top five.

Completing the top 10 were A.J. Allmendinger, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell land Todd Gilliland.

Truex ended up 27, the last car on the lead lap.

Supercars stars Cam Waters and Will Brown – both making their Cup Series debut in the race – struggled through difficult days. Brown finished 31st, three laps down, while Waters retired from the race after 66 laps with suspension damage.

Stage 1

Reddick elected not to pit and held off Blaney by 0.451 seconds to take the Stage 1 win. Larson was third, Elliott fourth and Alex Bowman was fifth.

A top contender was knocked out of the race early when the engine expired on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota on lap 3 and he dropped fluid down the frontstretch to bring out the first caution.

 

Stage 2

With several drivers pitting before the break, Buescher held off Ryan Preece by 1.224 seconds to claim the Stage 2 win, his second stage victory of the 2024 season. Truex was third, Kyle Busch fourth and Allmendinger fifth.

On lap 35, Josh Berry cut across the nose of Jones and hit the inside wall in Turn 11, then turned back onto the track and slammed into Truex in an incident that collected seven cars and caused a brief logjam.

 

Stage 3

Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, several drivers elected to pit, but Buescher stayed out and inherited the lead when the race resumed with 51 laps remaining.

With 45 laps to go, Waters and Austin Cindric were among the first drivers to hit pit road under green for new tires and fuel to make it to the end of the race. Buescher and Truex – running first and second at the time – followed down on lap 68.

With 30 laps to go, four cars – led by Larson – were running as long as possible and still had to make a final stop for fuel. Buescher was fifth, highest among those who had already stopped.

After all the stops were completed, Buescher returned to the lead with 27 laps to go and a 1.8-second lead over Truex.

Truex cut Buescher’s lead to under a second with 15 laps to go while Larson – on newer tires – moved into third.

With 10 laps remaining, Buescher, Truex and Larson were all within a second of each other. One lap later, Truex got inside of Buescher in Turn 11 and moved into the lead.

But on the next lap, Larson got inside of Truex and easily got around him on his fresher tires to return to the top spot.

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