MADISON, Ill. – Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson started off terribly in the Enjoy Illinois 300 presented by TicketSmarter Sunday (June 4). A mediocre qualifying run put him 22nd on the grid. Then, handling problems dropped him out of the top 30. However, he was able to recover from nearly getting lapped in stage one to finish fourth.
“I just had no grip,” Larson said after the race. “I was loose in, tight in the center and really loose off [the corner],” Larson stated. “I just could not trust the car. Felt like I was going to back it in the fence the whole first stage, and even halfway through [stage two].”
“In the last run of the second stage, I felt that we finally got to a point where I could feel some grip,” Larson continued. “A lot of that was the changes we made, but the track was finally coming to us some. The last stage, I felt great. I could roll a lot of speed through [turns 3 and 4]. I felt like I could commit to my line in [turns 1 and 2].”
One of the ways he was able to help his track position was to take two tires in the pits during the second stage. World Wide Technology Raceway is not the easiest track on the circuit to pass on. Taking the risk with two tires gave the team a double-digit position gain.
From there, Larson spent much of the rest of stage two slowly moving up the order, despite his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet still being far from perfect. Passing Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps of the stage moved him into 10th, enough to grab one stage point.
The final stage had a litany of yellows, including three different crashes caused by brake rotor failures. That made Larson a bit nervous.
“When you see other [drivers] having rotors explode, you get nervous since you’re standing on the brakes really hard,” Larson explained. “I don’t know what they look like, so you keep going until you feel something funny, then try to tell yourself to turn right when they explode.”
After Tyler Reddick‘s brake rotor explosion/crash, Larson managed to win the race off pit road to take the lead. Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 121 laps, managed to get past him for what turned out to be the win on the restart.
Larson was able to stick with him on the restarts for a couple of laps before Busch would sweep back past. On the final restart, Larson was second and took the inside line for the restart.
The final restart did not go well. Larson appeared to be a little late on the accelerator, giving Busch all he needed to get the win. Denny Hamlin got past in turn 1 for second, then Joey Logano got him as well.
Regardless, finishing fourth after spending nearly the entirety of stage one outside of the top 25 on a flat track is quite the accomplishment. Larson is acutely aware of that.
“I’m proud of my team for sure,” Larson said. “One of the most proud top five [finishes] of my career.”
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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