Any NASCAR fan will tell you, it was more of ‘when’ than’ if’ Kyle Larson would ever win in stock car’s premier series. On Sunday afternoon after 99 tries, with tears welling up in his eyes finally broke through with his first victory in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway vaulting him right into the Sprint Cup Chase and the post-season playoffs.
Larson burned down his No. 42 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet doing celebratory donuts blowing out both rears tires in a jubilant party of tire smoke bringing the crowd to their feet to greet NASCAR’s newest first-time Sprint Cup winner with a well-deserved roar of approval upon him exiting his red ride in victory lane.
He immediately gave a shout in the winner’s circle saying, “Parked it!” as his beloved Sprint Car teammate, Bryan Clauson would say after a win before his untimely passing just weeks ago.
“I was teared-up that whole last few laps, because I could just feel it,” Larson said. “It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool.”
It took a late race caution to bunch up the field when it looked like another potential first-time winner in the form of rookie candidate, Chase Elliott was holding on to a commanding lead before the yellow. Staying out for track position, it brought Larson alongside Elliott on the restart.
On older tires, both front row cars spun their tires on the green with Brad Keselowski pushing Larson out front with Ryan Blaney nearly spinning out Elliott attempting to shove him to the lead having only nine laps to decide it all. Larson slowly pulled away from a disappointed Elliott as he was stretching his lead further.
“Bummer again here,” said Elliott, who also finished second in the spring Michigan race. “I hate to let my guys down is the biggest thing. For the second time, this has happened. I made a mistake early on in the race. I asked my guys to bail me out (on the final pit stop), and they did. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my part again.
“That’s a couple races in a row in just a few short months here at this place we had a really good car, had an opportunity. That’s one thing I try really hard to do is make the most of opportunities when they’re presented. Obviously, I didn’t do a very good job of that here both trips. Need to do my restarts a little better. That’s obviously not a strong point, at least here at Michigan.”
After NASCAR’s youth movement of 24 and 20-year old, Larson and Elliott, respectively, heading the field, the remaining top 10 were Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin along with Joey Logano.
Now Jamie McMurray finds his Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet on the hot seat only 15 points to the good over Ryan Newman in the Sprint Cup Chase standings with only Darlington and Richmond remaining in the regular season.
Larson was the 13th different winner of 2016 leaving only three spots open for point contention. Elliott is 14th +27, Austin Dillon, 15th + 21 and McMurray, 16th +15. Chris Buescher still holds onto his 30th spot in the driver standings only seven points over David Ragan despite suffering from engine woes in the race finishing 35th.
The Sprint Cup series goes retro next week over the Labor Day weekend at the Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington (SC) Raceway with many of the teams carrying the liveries of past noted NASCAR champions and Southern 500 winners derived from the history of this stoic 1.366-mile track. NBC Network will air the 367-lap race starting at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 4.
With Brett Moffitt winning in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Michigan and Michael McDowell prevailing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.—both on Saturday—Larson’s triumph capped the first weekend in NASCAR history that produced first-time winners in all three national series.