DOVER, Del. – Kyle Larson punched his ticket to the third round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a victory Sunday at Dover Int’l Speedway.
Larson, who hadn’t won in NASCAR Cup Series competition since 2017, ran in the top-five for the first portion of the race but didn’t take command of the Drydene 400 until after the completion of the second stage.
Martin Truex Jr., who had battled by polesitter Denny Hamlin to win the second stage, led Larson and the rest of the field down pit road for pit stops after the second stage. Unfortunately for Truex his rear tire changer slipped coming around the car and fell, which also caused the direction of the air gun to change upon impact with the ground.
The delay caused by the falling crew member cost Truex greatly, dropping him from the race lead to sixth while Larson inherited the race lead off pit road.
“The pit crew did a great job to get us out as the leader and we controlled the race from there,” Larson said.
Now the leader, the driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 was in complete control. He rocketed away from Hamlin at the start of the final stage and drove away from the field, at times leading by more than six seconds.
Behind the race leader Truex was on a tear, marching back through the field in an effort to regain his lost track position. On lap 307 Truex dispatched Hamlin to take the second position, but he was still well off the pace being set by Larson.
Following a pit stop cycle around lap 320, Larson continued to lead Truex by about six seconds. Soon Larson found himself in lap traffic, which began to allow Truex to close the gap on him.
By lap 360 Truex had cut nearly four seconds off Larson’s lead, but once Larson pulled clear of the traffic he stretched his lead back out to more than four seconds. In the final laps Truex closed back in on Larson, but he ran out of time as Larson got to the checkered flag 1.5 seconds ahead of Truex.
The victory, Larson’s first since a win at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in 2017, means he no longer has to stress over competing at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway next weekend since he is already locked into the next round of the playoffs.
“Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing next week at Talladega accept for me,” Larson said. “That’s good. Last time I was at Talladega I was on my lid. I may still end up on my lid next week, but it’s not going to matter.
“What a day. This Clover Chevy was really good. After the first stage I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like I made the car better at the same time. It really, really benefited our long run. That’s as good as I’ve ever been cutting the bottom around here.”
Truex was forced to settle for second after the pit stop issue between the second and third stages, but noted he was happy with his run given how difficult it was to pass.
“We got the lead there in stage two and got that stage win, then had a pit stop issue and lost track position and the whole third stage we were behind,” Truex said. “We were catching him there at the end. We got close.
“Yeah, just unfortunate there. We win and lose as a team. The guys will clean it up I’m sure. It’s cool to come home second after that as hard as it was to pass today.”
Alex Bowman finished a strong third after finishing second at Dover in the spring. Kevin Harvick was fourth, followed by Hamlin in fifth.
Kyle Busch was sixth, giving playoff drivers a sweep of the first six positions. Matt DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and playoff driver Clint Bowyer completed the top-10.
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