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Larson-Hendrick Pairing Produces First Win

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 8 2021

Kyle Larson got to raise the checkered flag for the first time as a Hendrick Motorsports driver on Sunday. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

A lot of auto racing observers have, for the past several months, wondered how good NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson would be behind the wheel of Hendrick Motorsports equipment.

A partial answer to that was provided on Sunday.

Larson, who lost his job with Chip Ganassi Racing four races into the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season, won for new team Hendrick Motorsports four races into the 2021 season.

Larson dominated Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading a race-best 103 of 267 laps.

In doing so, he beat runner-up Brad Keselowski of Team Penske to the finishing line by 3.15 seconds.

After getting doing a couple of burnouts, he pointed to the Hendrick equipment.
“It was such an awesome race car,” the 28-year-old Californian said. “It was so much fun to drive. I could go wherever I wanted to.”
Keselowski noticed exactly that.
“He was really fast,” Keselowski said. “He was smart. He had a lot of speed in all the lanes which was really impressive. Usually you’ve got to make a compromise.”
“If Kyle Larson wouldn’t have been here, it would have been a dominant day (for Keselowski). He’s got some really good equipment now and he’s going to keep showing it, I’m sure.”

The win was the seventh of Larson’s career but first on a 1.5-mile track. He has nine runner-up finishes on intermediate tracks.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin finished third and fourth respectively.

Busch’s finish on his hometown track was his best of the season. He called it “a building block” show for his team.

Ryan Blaney, Keselowski’s teammate finished fifth, and a third Gibbs driver, Martin Truex Jr., finished sixth.

Larson didn’t lose his job at Ganassi because of a lack of on-track performance. He lost it for insensitive behavior.

He was driving in televised online virtual races with other NASCAR drivers during the pandemic-forced hiatus last year when he used a racial slur. NASCAR indefinitely suspended him, his sponsors dumped him and Ganassi fired him.

He was reinstated in October and the quickly hired by Hendrick – baggage and all.

“I guess I didn’t know if I’d ever have an opportunity to win a NASCAR race again,” Larson said. “To get this awesome opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports and Mr. H (team owner Rick Hendrick) taking a massive chance on me, then going out there and being strong all year, it’s been great.
“Thank you so much Mr. H (team owner Rick Hendrick), Jeff Gordon (the former Hendrick driver), everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for the amazing opportunity I’ve been gifted,” Larson said. “This is definitely special.”
Keselowski, who got his best finish of the year, rushed out to congratulate Larson after the race.
“I was just way happy for him,” Keselowski, a three-time winner at Las Veags, said. “I know he’s been through a lot over the last year. He’s a good kid. I’ve known him for a little while, got a good family. Just happy to see him bounce back.”
Also greeting Larson after the race was Bubba Wallace, the series only black full-time driver.
“Yeah, it meant a lot to have Bubba come to Victory Lane,” Larson said. “He always does a really good job of congratulating the winners. Yeah, I saw him waiting to say hi or whatever to me as I ran over there, and just had a quick moment with him. He said congrats. He’s always believed in me. So that was special.
“Just really cool to have him come by and take time out of his post race where he could be on his way to the airport to go home. For him to come over was really cool.”

Defending series champion Chase Elliott had a tough day. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led three times for 22 laps in the first stage but his car suffered minor damage late in the stage and then more significant when spun on Lap 170.Elliott restarted four laps later in 27th-place and rebounded to finish 13th.

Christopher Bell of the Gibbs team, a winner in the Daytona road race, was seventh.

William Byron of Hendrick, who won last weekend’s race at the 1.5 Homestead-Miami Speedway oval, was eighth.

Keselowski survived a battle with Elliott to win the first stage. It was his first stage win of the season.

Larson was an easy winner in Stage 2.

The series stays in the desert Southwest as it moves to Arizona this week for a 312-miler at the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway oval.


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NASCAR Cup Series Race – 24th Annual Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube

Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Las Vegas, Nevada

Sunday, March 7, 2021

1. (3)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267.

2. (10)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267.

3. (14)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267.

4. (6)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.

5. (26)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267.

6. (4)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267.

7. (16)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 267.

8. (2)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 267.

9. (15)  Joey Logano, Ford, 267.

10. (29)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 267.

11. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 267.

12. (12)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

13. (8)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 267.

14. (18)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 267.

15. (19)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 266.

16. (30)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 266.

17. (5)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 266.

18. (13)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 266.

19. (7)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 266.

20. (1)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 266.

21. (24)  Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 266.

22. (11)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 266.

23. (21)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 266.

24. (27)  Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 266.

25. (20)  Cole Custer, Ford, 266.

26. (22)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 265.

27. (9)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 265.

28. (23)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 262.

29. (25)  Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 262.

30. (34)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 260.

31. (31)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 259.

32. (32)  Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, 259.

33. (36)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 256.

34. (37)  Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 255.

35. (35)  Josh Bilicki, Ford, 252.

36. (38)  Timmy Hill, Toyota, 246.

37. (33)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, Rear End, 188.

38. (28)  Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 178.

 

Average Speed of Race Winner:  139.615 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 7 Secs. Margin of Victory:  3.156 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  6 for 30 laps.

Lead Changes:  27 among 12 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   K. Harvick 0;W. Byron 1-19;C. Elliott 20-26;K. Larson 27-30;D. Hamlin 31-43;K. Larson 44-52;J. Logano 53;B. Keselowski 54-55;J. Logano 56-61;C. Elliott 62-71;B. Keselowski 72-73;C. Elliott 74-78;B. Keselowski 79-82;R. Blaney 83;D. Hamlin 84-87;B. Keselowski 88-106;K. Larson 107-123;W. Byron 124-129;T. Reddick 130-136;M. McDowell 137-145;A. Alfredo # 146;K. Larson 147-169;D. Hamlin 170-185;M. Truex Jr. 186-191;D. Hamlin 192-205;K. Larson 206-225;D. Suarez 226-237;K. Larson 238-267.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Kyle Larson 6 times for 103 laps; Denny Hamlin 4 times for 47 laps; Brad Keselowski 4 times for 27 laps; William Byron 2 times for 25 laps; Chase Elliott 3 times for 22 laps; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 12 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 9 laps; Tyler Reddick 1 time for 7 laps; Joey Logano 2 times for 7 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 6 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; Anthony Alfredo # 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 2,9,12,11,48,20,24,21,22,19

Stage #2 Top Ten: 5,2,11,24,12,48,20,19,18,9

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 8 2021
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