Race Weekend Central

Kyle Larson Leads 57 Laps, Survives Late-Race Carnage to Win at Sonoma

With 30 laps to go at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday (June 6), the trio of Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott had gapped the rest of the field by at least 10 seconds, and Larson led fourth-place Joey Logano by almost 18.

Then the cautions started flying.

A mostly tame return to Northern California turned chaotic as the NASCAR Cup Series tried to wind its way through wine country. At the forefront for most of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 was Larson, who led 57 laps and dominated en route to his third victory of the season, but four cautions waved within the final 20 laps to push the race length well beyond three hours.

“It was not easy,” Larson said after the race. “Any road course isn’t easy – just trying to keep it on track is tough, especially when you got two of the best behind you on the last restart. Chase [Elliott] – I felt like I did a good job on the one before, stretched it out a little bit, but didn’t want to give [Elliott] another try at it. He kept the pressure on, Martin [Truex Jr.] was strong too.

“What a car […] this is unbelievable. I thought I would be okay today, but I just didn’t know how I would race, I don’t think any of us really knew with no practice. But our car was really good there and I can’t say enough about it.”

Larson and Elliott finished first and second to record Hendrick Motorsports’ fourth straight 1-2 finish, something that hadn’t been done since 1956 when Carl Kiekhafer’s team accomplished the feat. The driver of the No. 5 also became the first back-to-back winner of the 2021 season.

The Cup Series utilized the track’s carousel for just the second time in recent years, having returned to the main layout of the track for the 2019 race. The 2020 race was dropped from the schedule due to travel concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Larson rolled off from the pole and jumped out to the lead, passing the 1000-laps-led mark on the season, as Hendrick and Joe Gibbs Racing made up the top spots early. Truex, meanwhile, started 19th but quickly began slicing his way toward the front.

After the lap 10 competition caution, Larson claimed the opening stage win: he followed that up with a stage two victory as well, marking his 11th of the season and fifth straight.

The No. 5 cruised out front while issues plagued drivers throughout the field: Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace suffered flat tires, Austin Dillon underwent a battery change and Kyle Busch pitted late after reporting a vibration, later determined to be due to a tire coming apart.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had the biggest incident of all in the opening stages and caused the only unscheduled caution, taking an off-road excursion in turn 1 on lap 31.

Larson and Elliott waged a laps-long, contact-filled battle during the final stage, with the former bumping his HMS teammate several times before finally passing him in the carousel. Elliott fought back on the crossover, but Larson secured the lead and set sail.

The only other caution for incident up to that point waved with 19 laps remaining when Quin Houff had an issue and pulled off the track and to a standstill. Larson and Truex retained the top two positions after a cycle of pit stops.

Logano held the lead on the restart as Larson and Truex battled through traffic, but Larson slipped by the No. 22 before another caution flew. That yellow waved when Corey LaJoie and Ross Chastain made contact in turn 11, also causing major damage to Kevin Harvick‘s car while collecting Alex Bowman and William Byron in the process. LaJoie and Chastain had both been running in the top 10.

Larson cut back to the lead and scooted away leading, Elliott by almost three seconds with less than 10 laps to go. Truex ended up mired in third after getting past Logano.

Yet another caution waved in the waning laps when a Ryan Preece spin caused a stack-up: Preece tried to rejoin and continue on, but Cody Ware‘s No. 51 hit the No. 37 and then piled into him again, destroying Ware’s car.

Larson again retained the lead on the restart, but a spin by Anthony Alfredo — another driver running inside the top 10 — sent the race into overtime.

It didn’t change a whole lot as Larson again sped away from Elliott, who never got quite close enough to attempt a pass.

“It means a lot,” Larson said about winning in front of his home crowd. “Northern California, this will always be home to me, even if I live way out on the East Coast now. so thank all you fans for coming out […] just unbelievable. And to get back-to-back wins in the Cup Series is something I’ve always dreamed of doing, and to get it done feels great.

“So to win last week on Memorial Day weekend, four in a row now if you count my dirt racing too, and got a big week of racing coming up, so I look forward to all of that and look forward to just keeping the streak going.”

Elliott, Truex, Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Kurt Busch, Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10.

Further down the running order, Erik Jones and Daniel Suárez finished 11th and 12th, respectively, while Austin Dillon came home 13th and Wallace ended up 14th. Chris Buescher and LaJoie recorded top-20 efforts, while Michael McDowell saw a top-10 run slip away after a spin on the final lap.

The Cup Series takes a break from points racing, but not from competition, this week, heading to Texas Motor Speedway for All-Star weekend. The All-Star Open is scheduled for next Sunday (June 13) at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the All-Star Race at 8 p.m. It’s the third different track for the event in the past three years; Larson won the 2019 edition at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and Elliott took last year’s running at Bristol Motor Speedway.

About the author

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he covered sports there and later spent a year and a half as a sports host on 910 the Fan in Richmond, VA. He's freelanced for Richmond Magazine and the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and also hosts the "Adam Cheek's Sports Week" podcast. Adam has followed racing since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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Kyle is enjoying HMS. Nice driving today. 11 stage wins, 3 race wins. I don’t remember how many laps in first or second. Some sponsor is going to pay dearly lol


Kyle Larson, last 5 races.
3 seconds and 2 wins.

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