KANSAS CITY, Kan. – For the first half of Sunday’s (Sept. 10) Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Kyle Larson and the No. 5 team were on cruise control.
Larson started the day in second, won the first stage and led 98 of the first 114 laps in an impressive display of power. But after losing the lead to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott on lap 115, Larson’s time out front began to unravel.
Elliott and Larson shared the front row for a restart on lap 132, but Larson nearly took himself out of the running as the field hit the first two turns.
“We stayed out on tires, we had like 10 laps on them,” Larson said. “There was a lot of people that pitted for four. I had a bad restart and almost spun in [turns] 1 and 2 and lost all my track position and abused my right rear tire on that first corner. Just had to nurse it to the next pit stop and then fight from there.”
As Larson tried to keep control of his car, the field sailed by on that first lap. The No. 5 car then proceeded to sink like a stone by virtue of the worn-out tire, and by the time stage two ended 34 laps later, Larson had fallen all the way back to 20th.
The team was able to get back on track under the stage caution, and Larson’s rocket ship of a car quickly zoomed from outside the top 25 to inside the top 10.
As Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick pulled away from the field with just under 10 laps remaining, it looked like Larson would only be able to muster fifth. A caution for Chris Buescher, however, led the split decisions down pit road and brought the No. 5 car back into the mix, but now with a close call on pit road that angered Elliott.
The two made contact after a tight squeeze on pit exit, and Elliott showed his displeasure by ramming Larson’s car on the apron.
Larson chalked up the encounter with Elliott as heat in the moment.
“I’m sure [Chase] was upset with me in the moment,” Larson said. “I haven’t seen the replay, either. I would imagine after we both see the replay, we’ll have a little bit better of an understanding about what actually happened.
“If I did do something wrong and I could’ve left more space, I would’ve. In the moment I was thinking I didn’t have enough space to give without clobbering the No. 6 who was going slower than we were on pit road. …
“It’s just the product of being 3-wide on pit road.”
For the final two-lap shootout, Larson restarted seventh with four tires after a handful of drivers either stayed out or took two. He ultimately ended the race in fourth after leading a race-high 99 laps, but Larson might’ve had a chance for more if the car in front of him hadn’t failed to launch.
“I’m not sure, I haven’t seen the replay,” Larson said. “I’m not sure if [Hamlin] was trying to time it or was sleeping a little bit. But yeah, we just didn’t get a good launch on the top lane. Then I tried to poke to his outside and he blocked, and then I had a good enough run to clear him through the middle.”
He may have cleared Hamlin through the middle, but it was Reddick who cut through the field to take the win.
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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