Larson’s 2021 Season Picks Up More Steam

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, June 7 2021

Kyle Larson crosses the finish line in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Sonoma. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

It’s impossible to say if Kyle Larson returned from a racing season in exile as a better person. But its big time apparent that he has returned a better driver.

Larson, who was fired by team owner Chip Ganassi four races into 2020’s pandemic marred season after uttering a racial slur into an hot microphone during an iRacing event, won for the second straight week on Sunday when he got an overtime victory in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 NASCAR Cup Series race at the Sonoma Raceway road course in Northern California.

And for the second week in a row, Larson’s win came in dominating fashion as he led a race-best 57 of 92 laps. It was his third victory of the season..

“It was an awesome race car,” Larson said. “I was a little bit nervous to start the race just having Chase Elliott, who is probably the best road racer right now, lined up next to me. When I was able to kind of stretch out from him, then kind of slow myself down, I was able to learn some things about the track, kind of get into a rhythm. From then on, we were really good. Even passing cars was easier than I’ve ever had here before.”

He added two more stage wins to give him a series-best —  by far — 11 on the season.

The victory was the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s third of the season, tying him with Martin Truex, Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing.

That victory for the native of nearby Elk Grove comes a week after he won the Coca-Cola 600 — a race in which he led 327 of 400 laps.

“Just really shows how good my race car was today,” he said. “Worked out great to win both stages and the race. Just an unbelievable race car, which it has been all year long. We just now finally have been able to get some wins to show for it.

Larson’s win was his first on a road course during his career.

Of winning in front of home folk, he said, “Even though I didn’t grow up coming here a bunch, it’s still my home track. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Napa Valley when Rico and I used to hang out a bunch. Actually got to have lunch with David Abreu and his winemaker Brad Grimes yesterday, he cooked for a lot of my friends, we got to have some of his awesome wine.”

Chase Elliott, Larson’s teammate, who won at the Circuit of the Americas road course two weeks ago and was second at the 600, finished second. The margin of victory was .614 seconds.

“I would have tried to give him a little better run,” Elliott said of his teammate. “But congratulations to Kyle (Larson) and Cliff (Daniels, crew chief), and everybody on the No. 5 team. They’ve been doing an amazing job. I’m really proud of our NAPA group, though. I feel like we were a lot better there at the end than we were at the beginning; and definitely the best I’ve ever been here, I feel like, at Sonoma, in particular. I’m pleased with that. I wish we could have gotten another spot, but we’ll try again.”

While Elliott has become a bona fide road racing ace, he has not yet won at the 12-turn Sonoma circuit.

“I feel we were a lot better there at the end than at the beginning and definitely the best I’ve ever been here at Sonoma in particular so pleased with that,” he said.

Martin Truex, Jr., looking to win his third straight at Sonoma, finished third despite having to start the race in the 19th position.

“I didn’t have the shorter-run speed,” Truex said. “The really long runs was really our only chance. All those cautions at the end just killed any chance we had.”

Joey Logano of Team Penske was fourth, with Kyle Busch of the Gibbs team rounding out the top five.

It looked like taking the checkers would be easy for Larson but a couple of wrecks way back in the field with five and three laps to go brought out yellow flags. The first abrogated his three-second lead and set up a restart with three laps to go.

On that restart, Larson easily pulled away — until a second wreck quickly occurred to set up overtime. After the final restart, Elliott, who has won six road races in his career, stayed close but could not pass.

A wreck with less than 20 laps to go cost a number of fast cars, including those of William Byron and Kevin Harvick, chances to win.


NASCAR Cup Series Race – 32nd Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350
Sonoma Raceway
Sonoma, California
Sunday, June 6, 2021

1. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 92.
2. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 92.
3. (19) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 92.
4. (13) Joey Logano, Ford, 92.
5. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 92.
6. (30) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 92.
7. (29) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 92.
8. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 92.
9. (7) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 92.
10. (11) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 92.
11. (18) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 92.
12. (16) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 92.
13. (6) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 92.
14. (15) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 92.
15. (9) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 92.
16. (12) Chris Buescher, Ford, 92.
17. (25) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 92.
18. (22) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 92.
19. (10) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 92.
20. (23) Cole Custer, Ford, 92.
21. (27) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 92.
22. (8) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 92.
23. (17) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 92.
24. (20) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 92.
25. (32) James Davison, Chevrolet, 92.
26. (35) Scott Heckert, Ford, 92.
27. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 92.
28. (21) Michael McDowell, Ford, 92.
29. (36) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 92.
30. (31) Ben Rhodes(i), Chevrolet, 92.
31. (28) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 92.
32. (34) Garrett Smithley(i), Ford, 92.
33. (24) Ryan Newman, Ford, 92.
34. (37) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 84.
35. (3) William Byron, Chevrolet, Accident, 76.
36. (33) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 69.
37. (14) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Engine, 40.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 71.445 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 14 Mins, 42 Secs. Margin of Victory: .614 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 18 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson 1-9;D. Hamlin 10-11;K. Larson 12-21;K. Busch 22-27;W. Byron 28-32;K.
Larson 33-42;K. Busch 43-44;C. Elliott 45-57;K. Larson 58-64;J. Logano 65-66;K. Busch 67-68;K.
Larson 69-72;J. Logano 73-75;K. Larson 76-92.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Larson 6 times for 57 laps; Chase Elliott 1
time for 13 laps; Kurt Busch 2 times for 8 laps; Joey Logano 2 times for 5 laps; William Byron 1
time for 5 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 2 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 2 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 5,9,18,19,48,3,8,1,21,43
Stage #2 Top Ten: 5,22,48,1,9,24,18,2,11,20

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, June 7 2021
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