Kyle Larson Earns Chase Berth With First Career Win In Pure Michigan 400by Hunter Thomas August 28, 2016 0 comments
BROOKLYN, Mich. – Kyle Larson held off Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski on Sunday in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, to win his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
With the win, Larson now has a berth in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The victory came during Larson’s 99th series start, and it also ended a 99-race winless streak for Chip Ganassi Racing. On Sunday, Larson became the very first NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next driver to win a race in NASCAR’s top series.
“It makes me extremely proud because we didn’t start off this year good at all,” Larson said. “I was pretty down the first month and a half or so. Once Chad (Johnston, crew chief) got to get to doing what he wanted to do with the racecars, we picked up speed immediately, almost went out and won a couple races, almost won the All‑Star Race. We had a great month of May there, whatever that was. We had some bad luck again recently.
“I knew we had to get a win here in these next three races to be able to make the Chase. Thought Bristol last week was probably going to be my shot to get a win out of these last handful of races. Had bad luck there.”
Throughout the afternoon, Larson led a race high of 42 laps, but although the driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS was out front more than any other driver on Sunday, the 24-year old had to earn the race victory on the event’s last restart. Michael Annett brought out the final caution on lap 188, setting the field up for a nine-lap dash to the finish. On the final restart, Larson lined up on the inside with Chase Elliott to his outside. Both drivers spun their tires trying to get the advantage; however, Larson received a solid push from Brad Keselowski that catapulted him to the race lead.
“We both spun our tires really bad,” Larson said. “And, the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) pushed me really good. He could have probably pulled underneath me and went by. But he stayed with me and got me the lead. So, thanks to him. I had a lot of fun.”
With Larson winning, there is now one less spot available in the Chase for the drivers on the bubble. Chase Elliott is currently the first driver without a win this season that’d fill a spot. He’s currently seeded 14th out of the 16 drivers. Finishing second and missing out on the victory Sunday afternoon may have championship ending implications if Elliott were to fall two spots in the standings. Right now, Elliott is 27 points ahead of Ryan Newman, the first driver out of the Chase.
“Just a better restart again,” Elliott said. “That was what it was all about for sure. Once that guy (Kyle Larson) got out front it was really hard to pass. My guys did such a good job today of making the most of pit road. That was the only place you could make a large sum of ground in a short period of time. They did exactly what I asked them to do. I said ‘you guys are going to have to bail me out here I messed up.’ They did they got us the lead just like I asked and I gave it away again. It’s one of those things where you do or you don’t and I didn’t. You just got to recognize your mistakes, look at the positives I guess and move on down the road.”
Keselowski led 14 laps during the 200-lap event and crossed the finish line in third. He now has 11 top-five finishes in 2016, and Sunday’s finish marked his eighth top-10 at Michigan International Speedway. Following the race, the driver of the Team Penske No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion described his view of the wild finish.
“It was a typical crazy restart at Michigan here at the end,” Keselowski said. “It is about getting a good launch and push. It looked like Kyle (Larson) got a good launch and maybe something happened to the 24 (Chase Elliott). I was able to give him a push, a really hard push, and got sideways there and was able to get the lead. The 42 just drove away. Those two cars, the 42 and 24 were pretty close. They both had a lot of speed. We were right there though, just a notch behind.”
Ryan Blaney, another driver trying to get into the Chase finished fourth in the Pure Michigan 400. The good news for Blaney is that he did gain points on Jamie McMurray, who crossed the line in eighth. McMurray currently holds the final Chase berth. Unfortunately for Blaney though, it appears that a race win at Darlington or Richmond will be his only likely chance to make the Chase.
“We were up towards the front most of the day and some runs were better than others,” Blaney said. “It is kind of a decent day for us. It is nothing to complain about. I thought we were in a decent spot there that last restart and it didn’t work out great.”
Another scenario that may shake up the Chase is if Chris Buescher isn’t sitting within the top-30 in the championship point standings by the end of race at Richmond International Raceway. On Sunday, Buescher battled mechanical issues all afternoon, resulting in a disappointing 35th place finish. As the standings are right now, Buescher is seven points ahead of David Ragan, who sits 31st.
“I know it isn’t fun opening a hood of a race car that is as hot at it is and trying to work on it,” Buescher said. “Kudos to my guys for keeping their heads down and working at it and getting it fixed. Usually when you have engine trouble you are along for the ride. It ended up being something a little bit more simple than I guess we originally figured. We got back up and running and made some laps and made a really terrible day into just an okay day. Now we get to go to Darlington and I am excited for that.”
Rounding out the top-five behind Larson, Elliott, Keselowski and Blaney on Sunday was Kevin Harvick. Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, McMuarry, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano completed the top-10.
The Pure Michigan 400 saw 20 leads changes on Sunday between 13 drivers. There were only four cautions, and the only one the involved an accident was win Kyle Busch spun off Turn 4 to bring out the caution on lap 27.
Kevin Harvick is currently the championship point leader. He’s 25 points up on Brad Keselowski, who sits second. Carl Edwards is third, 75 points back.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will visit Darlington Raceway on Sunday, September 4 for the prestigious, Bojangles’ Southern 500. Live coverage of the throwback-themed race will broadcast on NBC and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 6 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images