Larson scores dominating win at Sonoma

On a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon in Sonoma, California, the hometown hero shined brightly at Sonoma Raceway after Kyle Larson held off teammate Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and the field through several late race restarts to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 for his second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and first on a road course.

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Kyle Larson, winner of last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with teammate Chase Elliott.

Prior to the event, rookie Anthony Alfredo started at the rear of the field due to a pre-race inspection violation, a move that resulted with his crew chief Seth Barbour being ejected for the event and Derrick Finley serving as Alfredo’s interim crew chief. Scott Heckert also started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments.

When the green flag waved and the race started, Larson took off with the lead through the first two turns and entering Turn 3A ahead of teammates Elliott and William Byron while the field scattered behind while competing for positions.

Through the 12-turn circuit, Larson led the first lap followed by teammates Elliott and Byron while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were in the top five. By then, Larson was out front by more than a second.

The following lap, Larson extended his advantage to more than two seconds while Byron, Hamlin and Kyle Busch remained in the top 10. 

By the third lap, Christopher Bell coasted to pit road after reporting fuel pump issues to his No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry, an issue that cost him a lap from the leaders despite having the ECU in his car restored.

Through the first five laps of the event, Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was leading by more than four seconds over Elliott’s No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, with Byron’s No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE trailing in third place by nearly five seconds. Teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch continued to run in the top five followed by Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick. Meanwhile, Martin Truex Jr., who started 19th, was in 11th followed by Joey Logano, Chris Buescher, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace.

Two laps later, Hamlin overtook Byron for third place while Bowman overtook Austin Dillon for sixth place. By then, Larson continued to lead by more than four seconds while Truex was scored in the top 10.

Near the Lap 10 competition caution, names like Kyle Busch, Bowman, Ross Chastain, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Erik Jones, Ryan Newman, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and rookie Chase Briscoe pitted for tires under green.

Just as the field was approaching the start/finish line for the 10th lap, Larson pitted approaching Turn 11 along with teammate Elliott, Truex, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and others. Following the sequence of events, Hamlin assumed the lead followed by Brad Keselowski as the competition caution flew on Lap 10.

Under caution, Hamlin pitted along with Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Cole Custer, Logano and others, giving the front row back to Hendrick Motorsports’ Larson and Elliott. 

When the race restarted on Lap 13, Larson retained the lead over teammate Elliott through the first three turns and entering the fourth turn while behind, Kyle Busch challenged Byron for third place through Turns 5 and 6, as Truex was running in the top five.

By Lap 15, Larson was leading by more than a second over teammate Elliott while Kyle Busch was in third place, trailing by less than four seconds. Byron remained in fourth place, though he had Truex challenging him for the spot. 

Not long after, however, Byron dropped from fourth to eighth after being overtaken by Truex, Bowman, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick, starting from Turn 4 through Turn 8. Behind, Hamlin received nose damage to the front of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry while running in the mid-pack.

In the closing laps of the first stage, names like Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman pitted under green. During the stops, Wallace was penalized due to speeding on pit road. Soon after, Michael McDowell pitted along with Byron, Buescher and Daniel Suarez.

Back on the course, Larson continued to lead by more than three seconds over teammate Elliott. With a comfortable advantage and gap over his teammate, Larson was able to navigate his way through the 12-turn road course one final time to win the first stage on Lap 20, thus claiming his 10th stage victory of this season. Elliott followed behind in second place followed by Kyle Busch, teammate Truex, Bowman, Austin Dillon, Reddick, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto and Erik Jones. 

Under the stage break, a majority of names like Larson, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Truex, Bowman and others pitted while the rest led by new leader Kurt Busch remained on the track. In total, 14 competitors remained on the track with Larson back in 15th.

The second stage started on Lap 24 with Kurt Busch and Matt DiBenedetto on the front row. At the start, Busch cleared DiBenedetto and retained the lead through the first two turns, with Keselowski, Blaney and Hamlin in the top five. Meanwhile, Christopher Bell rallied from his early issues to run in sixth place ahead of Cole Custer and Byron. 

When the field returned to the start/finish line to complete Lap 25, Kurt Busch continued to lead followed by DiBenedetto, Keselowski, Blaney and Hamlin while Bell, Byron, Custer, Buescher and Chastain were in the top 10. Elliott, meanwhile, was in 11th followed by Larson while Truex was in 14th and Kyle Busch was in 16th.

As the laps progressed, teammates Elliott and Larson continued to battle intensely over one another as they were stuck behind Bell, with the latter prevailing over both through Turn 6A. Meanwhile, Reddick made an unscheduled pit stop following contact with Bowman.

On Lap 28, Byron emerged as the new leader after he overtook Kurt Busch in Turn 11. With Busch back in second, DiBenedetto was in fourth in between Team Penske’s Keselowski and Blaney.

By Lap 30, Byron was out in front by more than three seconds over teammate Kyle Larson, who managed to carve his way near the front, while Kurt Busch was back in third. Behind, Keselowski was in fourth followed by Truex, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Blaney, Hamlin and Chris Buescher while DiBenedetto was back in 11th

A lap later, the caution flew when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made hard right-side contact against the wall entering Turn 1 and went off course in the dirt as a result of a flat right-front tire.

Under caution, some of the competitors in the field led by Byron pitted while the rest led by Larson remained on the track.

With six laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted under green as Larson and Truex started on the front row. At the start, Larson retained the lead through the first two turns over Truex and the field fanning out to two lanes.

In the closing laps of the second stage, Larson continued to lead followed by Truex, Logano, Bowman and Chastain. Meanwhile, Corey LaJoie and Erik Jones, both of whom made on-track contact that resulted with Jones nearly going off the course, were in sixth and 23rd. 

Soon after, Chase Briscoe, Wallace, Suarez, Jones and Reddick pitted. In addition, Truex pitted along with Chastain. During the pit stops, Wallace made a full cycle around the track with a left tire before returning to pit road for a second stop, though he lost a lap to the leaders.

Back on the course, Larson continued to lead with a healthy margin over Joey Logano. Continuing to flex his muscles, Larson was able to come back around and claim the second stage on Lap 40, thus claim his 11th stage victory of the season. Logano trailed behind by more than six seconds followed by Bowman, Kurt Busch and Elliott. Teammate Byron, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin and Bell were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, some like Larson, Logano, Bowman, Preece, Aric Almirola pitted while the rest led by Kurt Busch, Elliott, Byron, Kyle Busch and Keselowski remained on the track.

With 46 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Kurt Busch took off with the lead through the first two turns followed by Elliott, Byron, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Bell and a steaming pack of cars.

At the halfway mark on Lap 45, Elliott moved into the lead for the first time after overtaking Kurt Busch through Turns 11 and 12. Truex, who restarted 15th, was in 13th in between Buescher and Chastain while Larson, who restarted 21st, was in 16th in between Alfredo and Suarez.

With 40 laps remaining, Elliott continued to lead by nearly four seconds over Kyle Busch, who moved his No. 18 Sport Clips Toyota Camry in front of brother Kurt’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Truex and Larson worked their way up to fourth and fifth while Keselowski, Byron, Chastain, Bell and Blaney were in the top 10.

During the next few laps, Truex and Larson navigated their way around Kurt Busch to move into third and fourth. Afterwards, Larson overtook Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry for third place as he had Kyle Busch next on his sights. Meanwhile, Elliott continued to lead by more than four seconds.

Nearing the final 35 laps of the event, the Busch brothers along with Blaney, Byron and others pitted under green. By then, Elliott was leading by three seconds over teammate Larson.

Back on the track, the battle for the lead intensified between teammates Elliott and Larson, with the former fending off the latter through every turns and corner while Truex trailed by two seconds.

With 33 laps remaining, Larson prevailed over his intense battle with Elliott after overtaking him in Turn 7 to reassume the lead, with Truex narrowing the gap to more than a second. Meanwhile, Jones was in fourth followed by Logano, Bowman, Reddick, Briscoe, Hamlin and Almirola.

 A few laps later, Truex overtook Elliott for the runner-up spot. By then, names like Hamlin, Chastain pitted under green.

With 29 laps remaining, Elliott surrendered his track position to pit under green along with Erik Jones while Larson continued to run on the circuit with a two-second advantage over Truex. Not long after, Truex pitted. By then, Bowman, who went off the course through Turns 5 and 6, also pitted along with Aric Almirola and Briscoe.

Soon after, Larson pitted and surrendered the lead to Logano. By the time Larson exited pit road, Truex was able to cycle in front of Larson on fresh tires. 

Not long after, Larson was able to navigate his way around Truex through Turn 7 and move within striking distance of reassuming the lead with the finish in sight. By then, Logano pitted under green. 

With 21 laps remaining, Larson returned to the lead after he overtook Kyle Busch. Truex, meanwhile, was still in third while Elliott was battling Keselowski for fifth. Soon after, Truex moved into the runner-up spot over Kyle Busch as he was trailing Larson by more than two seconds. 

Then, the caution flew due to Quin Houff coming to a stop in Turn 6. By then, Keselowski pitted, though he was later penalized due to equipment coming over his pit stall too soon.

Under caution, a majority of the leaders returned to pit road and Larson exited pit road in front of Truex, Elliott and others. Back on course, Logano remained on course along with Reddick, LaJoie and Alfredo, where they were followed by Larson, Truex and Elliott. 

With 16 laps remaining, the race restarted. At the start, Logano maintained the lead through the first two turns and heading into Turn 3A while Larson quickly moved up to fourth place followed by teammate Elliott. 

Through Turn 7 and the Esses, Larson moved up into third place followed by Elliott while Truex was stuck in seventh. 

By the time the field returned to the start/finish line under the final 15 laps, Larson was up into second place behind Logano while Elliott and Truex were in fourth and sixth. Then, approaching Turn 8, Larson, racing on fresh tires, reassumed the lead over Logano.

Then, the caution returned when Chastain and LaJoie made contact in Turn 11, sending both cars spinning and in front of incoming traffic. In the ensuing chaos, Kevin Harvick, Byron, Bell, Bowman and Erik Jones sustained damage.

Under caution, nearly the entire field remained on the track while Harvick pitted to have the damage on his car addressed. 

With 11 laps remaining, the race restarted with Larson and Logano comprising the front row. At the start, Larson and Logano battled dead even through the first two turns before Larson cleared Logano’s No. 22 AutoTrader Ford Mustang entering Turn 3A. 

Through the Esses and Turns 10, 11 and 12 with 10 laps remaining, Larson continued to lead while teammate Elliott overtook Logano for the runner-up spot. Truex moved up into fourth place followed by Kyle Busch and Chastain.

With eight laps remaining, Larson was leading by nearly three seconds over teammate Elliott with Truex, Logano and Kyle Busch running in the top five. 

Three laps later, the caution flew when Ryan Preece spun in the Esses. While Preece was trying to recover, he was hit and turned by an oncoming Cody Ware in a heavy dust cloud, with Ware coming to a rest near the tire barriers as both competitors sustained damage to their respective machines.

Under caution, nearly the entire field led by Larson, Elliott and Truex remained on the track while few like Keselowski and Reddick pitted.

With three laps remaining, the race restarted with teammates Larson and Elliott comprising the front row. At the start, Larson managed to clear teammate Elliott to remain as the leader through the first two turns and heading into the third turn. Elliott retained the runner-up spot followed by Truex and the field.

The caution, however, returned quickly when Alfredo, who was primed for a top-10 result, and Bell spun following contact with Bowman in Turn 4. The incident was enough to send the race into overtime.

In overtime, Larson and Elliott engaged in a side-by-side battle for the lead through the first turn before the former emerged on top in Turn 2. Through the first four turns and the following three turns, Larson continued to lead despite being pressured by Elliott as Truex settled himself in third place. 

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Larson was leading by nearly six-tenths of a second over teammate Elliott with Truex trailing by one-and-a-half seconds. 

Elliott gained ground briefly on Larson entering Turn 8 before Larson was able to retain his steady advantage through the Esses and Turn 10. After calmly navigating his way through Turns 11 and 12, Larson was able to come back around and take the checkered flag to win by six-tenths of a second over Elliott.

In addition to claiming his second consecutive victory of this season and first on a road course, Larson recorded his ninth NASCAR Cup Series career victory, third of the season and the 270th win for Hendrick Motorsports. He also became the 20th different competitor to win a Cup race at Sonoma Raceway and the first competitor to sweep the day at Sonoma after he claimed the first two stages en route to his dominating victory.

“It was not easy,” Larson said on FS1. “Any road course isn’t easy. Just trying to keep it on track is tough, especially when you got two of the best behind you on that last restart. I felt like I did a good job the one [restart] before and stretch it out a little bit and then, [I] didn’t want to give it another try at it, but [Elliott] kept the pressure on. Martin was strong, too, but what a car. This is unbelievable. I thought I would be okay today, but I just didn’t know how I would race. Our car was really good there and I can’t say enough about it. Northern California, this will always be home to me, even if I live out on the East Coast now…Look forward to just keeping this streak going.”

Elliott, who led 13 laps, claimed the runner-up spot for a second consecutive week, fourth overall this season, while Truex, winner of the previous two Sonoma races, rallied from a three-race stretch of finishing outside the top 15 to finish in third place.

“I wish I knew [where Larson was better],” Elliott said. “I would’ve tried to give him a little better run, but congrats to Kyle, [crew chief] and Cliff [Daniels], everybody on the No. 5 team. They’ve been doing an amazing job. Really proud of our NAPA group, though. I felt 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. Pleased with that. I wished we could’ve gotten another spot, but we’ll try again.”

“[We were beaten] Just a little bit everywhere, I felt like,” Truex added. “Right handers, I couldn’t quite lean on the left rear like I needed to and didn’t quite have the drive off. More so than that, I didn’t have the short-run speed. I think the really long runs was our only chance there. All those cautions at the end, they killed any chance we had. Proud of the guys on the Bass Pro Toyota. Just not quite good enough. The Hendrick cars are really strong right now, they’re really fast, making a lot of grip, making our job tough, but like I said, we needed long runs at the end, not all those cautions.”

Logano finished fourth while Kyle Busch, a two-time winner at Sonoma, completed the top five on the track. 

Kurt Busch, a former winner at Sonoma, claimed his first top-10 result since Homestead-Miami Speedway in February by finishing sixth while teammate Chastain, Hamlin, Bowman and Blaney finished in the top 10.

Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Brad Keselowski finished in the top 15 while Chase Briscoe was the highest-finishing rookie competitor in 17th. Harvick came home in 21st, Bell fell back to 24th and Ben Rhodes finished 30th in his Cup debut. Michael McDowell and Ryan Newman finished 28th and 33rd after both were turned and spun in Turn 11 on the final lap.

There were 13 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 18 laps. In total, 33 of the 37 starters finished on the lead lap.

Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by 47 points over Larson with Elliott trailing by 73 points.

Results.

1. Kyle Larson, 57 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

2. Chase Elliott, 13 laps led

3. Martin Truex Jr.

4. Joey Logano, five laps led

5. Kyle Busch, two laps led

6. Kurt Busch, eight laps led

7. Ross Chastain

8. Denny Hamlin, two laps led

9. Alex Bowman

10. Ryan Blaney

11. Erik Jones

12. Daniel Suarez

13. Austin Dillon

14. Bubba Wallace

15. Brad Keselowski

16. Chris Buescher

17. Chase Briscoe

18. Corey LaJoie

19. Tyler Reddick

20. Cole Custer

21. Ryan Preece

22. Kevin Harvick

23. Matt DiBenedetto

24. Christopher Bell

25. James Davison

26. Scott Heckert

27. Aric Almirola

28. Michael McDowell

29. Josh Bilicki

30. Ben Rhodes

31. Anthony Alfredo

32. Garrett Smithley

33. Ryan Newman

34. Cody Ware – OUT, Accident

35. William Byron – OUT, Accident, five laps led

36. Quin Houff – OUT, Rear gear

37. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Engine

Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ annual All-Star Open and Race events at Texas Motor Speedway, both scheduled to occur on Sunday, June 13. The NASCAR All-Star Open will air at 6 p.m. ET on FS1 while the All-Star Race will commence at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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