SONOMA, Calif. – For 65 laps of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway, Kyle Larson had a No. 17 Chevrolet that looked unbeatable.
Until he didn’t.
Saturday (June 10) was shaping up to be all Larson, as he was a second faster than everyone else in practice and nearly a second faster than everyone else in qualifying. And with a 35-lap green flag run at his disposal, Larson had a 13-second lead over AJ Allmendinger by the time the caution came out with 19 laps to go.
Both Aric Almirola and Allmendinger leapfrogged Larson on the restart as the trio moved past cars that stayed out with older tires. Now down to third with his biggest deficit of the evening, Larson eventually cleared Allmendinger after a long, grueling battle for second. The No. 17 car began creeping up on Almirola for the lead after a few laps, but Larson was no longer passing people at will as he was in the first half of the race.
Following in Almirola’s tire tracks, it was just one mistake in turn 11 that cost Larson the win with seven laps to go.
While using every inch of the hairpin turn, Larson hit a tire barrier hard enough that it knocked the steering wheel out of his hand. Allmendinger got by him for second in the aftermath, and Larson took the lap 79 checkered flag in third after leading 53 of the first 64 laps.
“Still had a great shot to win, I just got a little too greedy there,” Larson said. “Trying to get low though [turn] 11, if you can get your right side underneath the rumble strips, it’s worth a lot of speed and grip. Just got a little too greedy.”
The three-second hiccup was enough to take him out of the battle, and damage from the hit torpedoed the handling of his car.
“Yeah, it yanked the wheel out of my hand, and even after that the toe was bent,” Larson said. “Was just tight to the left [turns] after that and really loose in the rights, which really hurt my shot of having any more chance to win.”
Was Larson forcing the issue with the turn 11 entry? He admitted just as much, as there were several sections of the track where Almirola was outrunning him in the closing laps.
“When I was behind [Almirola], he was better than me off a couple important corners, and I just couldn’t get close enough to him. [Turn] 11 was really the best chance for me to build a run throughout a whole lap. That’s why I was getting really greedy over there, and it just ended up biting me.”
After Larson’s mistake, Almirola slowed down the pace and nursed his car home to claim a 1.8-second victory over Allmendinger for his fourth Xfinity win, his first since 2017 and the first for RSS Racing.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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