Statement Victory for Larson at Las Vegas

On an overcast Sunday afternoon, Kevin Harvick led the 38-car field to the green flag at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images).

Kyle Larson is back and better than ever. The new Hendrick Motorsports racer took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

On a day where we saw ferocious action, Larson led a race-high 103 of 267 laps, beating Brad Keselowski by 3.156 seconds. Perhaps more important, showcasing NASCAR fans that he’s always been a fierce competitor.

After doing some burnouts on both ends of the track, the Californian had a huge sigh of relief. Knowing that he finally won at a 1.5-mile circuit and brought HMS its 265th Cup win.

“It was such an awesome race car. Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) and everybody did a great job preparing this piece. It was so much fun to drive. I could go wherever I wanted to,” said Larson.

“I knew we had a really good car once we would kind of get single-filed out; but just drafting early in the run was tough.”

Larson thanked the organization for giving him an opportunity when it felt like his chapter with NASCAR was done after last year’s suspension.

“Thank you so much Mr. Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for the amazing opportunity I’ve been gifted,” said Larson. “Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, everybody at the engine shop, thank you so much for all the hard work. This is definitely special.”

Larson’s victory at Las Vegas was his first at a 1.5-mile circuit and snapped a 13-race drought dating back to 2019 (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Podium Reflections:

Daniels

All the talk will be about Larson’s redemption arc. However, crew chief Cliff Daniels also got his long-awaited maiden Cup win.

After not winning a race with Jimmie Johnson, Sunday’s win with Larson was bittersweet because several members were a part of Johnson’s glory days.

“God is so good,” Daniels said. “It’s been quite a journey for this team and Kyle. I am so grateful to Jimmie and Chad Knaus for believing in me to get an opportunity as the crew chief when they did. Here today, we knew we had a fast car.

“Kyle coming onboard has been a nice spark for this team. It was tough for Jimmie to retire and we wanted to win with him so bad. We had some great runs last year that didn’t materialize.

“It was tough on our team to learn those lessons and fight those battles. To see him kind of move one was so bittersweet. But quickly being able to turn the page with Kyle was encouraging. We knew that the year he had last year, he positioned himself to win a lot of races. And just the talent he shows every week, we were hopeful.”

From a race perspective, Daniels was blessed with what Larson did with the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE all afternoon.

“To be here today and have the car prepared as well as it was (was cool to see),” Daniels observed. To see the moves Kyle made on the racetrack and pass those guys and nailing the restarts to put himself in position to win was so cool to see.”

Keselowski

If Larson wasn’t racing, Keselowski felt he would’ve been the man to beat. Comment aside, he was proud of Larson’s efforts and happy to see him win in NASCAR again.

“He was really fast (and) he was smart,” Keselowski said. “He had a lot of speed in all the lanes, which was really impressive. Usually, you’ve got to make a compromise, but they were really good. If Kyle wasn’t here, we’d have had a dominant day. But they were really strong.  He’s got some really good equipment now. And he’s gonna keep showing it I’m sure.”

When it comes to the bigger picture, Keselowski gained some ground on points leader Denny Hamlin, who ended up fourth. The regulars season deficit is now 38 points going into the fifth race at Phoenix Raceway next Sunday.

Kyle Busch

A prime example of race progress was third-place finisher Kyle Busch, whose car gradually improved in the final stage after dealing with a tight car.

Busch hopes a top-three result will lead to stronger outings with practices being rare since the pandemic began last year.

“We fought hard obviously,” Busch said. “We were a little behind the eight ball at the start of the green flag and just were super, super tight all day long. Ready to keep working on it and keep improving. We were just a little off on pace, overall pace, overall lap time from the fast guys.”

Stage 1

Kevin Harvick led the field to the green flag, but William Byron made quick business of him and led the opening lap. Byron’s teammates of Chase Elliott and Larson followed suit and already, it was a Hendrick Motorsports stranglehold.

Harvick was complaining about his No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang plowing really tight which caused him to regress throughout the stage. His day went south on Lap 50 when he had a flat left front but was saved by a debris caution. Harvick ended up 18th in the stage and subsequently wound up 20th overall.

Meanwhile back up front, Elliott tapped Byron on Lap 20 to let him know that it’s his time to shine in “Sin City” and all the way to the competition caution.

During pit stops, Elliott slid on his stall and had to pull back to avoid hitting Anthony Alfredo. Consequently, he exited out of the pits in seventh while Larson took the lead.

Adding insult to injury, Elliott’s jack post sustained damage, but that didn’t faze the defending Cup champion.

When the race resumed on Lap 52, chaos ensued. Keselowski and Joey Logano attempted to break up the Hendrick dominance with an amazing three-wide battle for the lead. Logano won the initial battle to lead his record 11th straight race at Vegas.

Brad Keselowski continued showing Team Penske’s strengths with a solid opening stage (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Elliott wouldn’t be denied and regained the lead on Lap 61. Then on Lap 72, Keselowski caught the defending Cup champion and fought tremendously to take the top spot. Elliott claimed the lead once again two laps later. Once more, his lead was short lived as Keselowski passed him with two to go and won a feisty stage that saw 12 lead changes.

Stage 1 Results: Keselowski, Elliott, Blaney, Hamlin, Bowman, Bell, Byron, DiBenedetto, Logano, and Truex Jr.

Stage 2

Team Penske set the tone during the opening half of the stage with Keselowski and Ryan Blaney up front. More repairs were made on the jack post, relegating Elliott from contention.

It was Larson who ended the Penske show after passing Keselowski on Lap 106 with Byron in pursuit. After a series of green flag pit stops, a few drivers attempted a strategy by staying out. Those were Alfredo, Michael McDowell, Corey LaJoie and Daniel Suarez, who were all in the top-five for a few laps.

Banking on a caution didn’t pan out as they eventually had to pit for tires and fuel. In fact, when McDowell pitted on Lap 145, Alfredo led but it didn’t last as Larson’s fresh tires put him back in first.

The Hendrick racer would have a comfortable lead on Keselowski and went on to score his first stage win since the Charlotte ROVAL in 2019.

Stage 2 Results: Larson, Keselowski, Hamlin, Byron, Blaney, Bowman, Bell, Truex Jr., Ky. Busch, Elliott, and Stenhouse Jr.

Stage 3

Elliott’s day went sour on Lap 169 when he spun in Turn 2 to bring out the first caution due to an incident. Aside his left front clipping Kurt Busch, nobody else were involved in the mayhem but his shot at a win was over.

After leading 22 laps, Chase Elliott finished 13th after problems plagued him throughout the day (Photo: Abbie Parr/Getty Images).

Lap 179 marked the end of Aric Almirola’s race after a flat left front tire led to him plowing the Turn 1 wall. It led to some comers and goers with now race leader Hamlin staying out while Larson and Keselowski pitted.

When the race resumed, it was Martin Truex, Jr.’s turn to lead the race until Hamlin regained it back with 76 to go. Keselowski and Larson’s fresh tires would come into play shortly thereafter, duking it out with the Joe Gibbs Racing duo.

Despite everything, Hamlin was still controlling the competition until Lap 206, By this point, Larson finally got around him in turn 2. Larson made his final pit stop with 42 to go and remained ahead of his competition, notably Keselowski.

Larson wouldn’t regain the lead until 30 to go when he passed Suarez, who had yet to make his final stop at that point. Suarez waited until 24 to go for fresh tires and fuel, finishing 26th.

From there, Larson never looked back after the 27th lead change. Moreover, Larson scored the most pivotal victory of his NASCAR career. It was made sweeter that he won it under the colors synonymous with the late Ricky Hendrick.

Following Sunday’s win, Larson currently sits third in the regular season standings after four races (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

Las Vegas was the site where his racing career was altered following a Busch Series crash in 2002. The accident sidelined him and ultimately factored into retiring as a racer. Also, it was when he became a successful owner until his tragic passing two years later.

Now, the low point is a distant memory as those colors were in victory lane.

“It means a lot,” Larson observed. “This is Rick’s most special paint scheme, for obvious reasons. And it’s just an honor for me to be able to drive it in our first time out with this color scheme.

“I had fun racing Brad and Denny and everybody and tried to give it away there coming to a green flag stop. But thankfully we were able to have a good enough car to hold them all off.”

Final Top 10 Results: Larson, Keselowski, Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Blaney, Truex Jr., Bell, Byron, Logano and Jones

luisdtorres94@hotmail.com'
Luis Torres

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA (occasionally F1 and IMSA stuff as well). Whether it's the Daytona 500 or an ARCA Menards Series West race at Evergreen Speedway, content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going.

I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content.

Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with GIFs about my Seattle Seahawks because they make things a roller coaster experience.

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