Kyle Larson showcased race winning speed throughout Sunday evening’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Despite starting ninth, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion worked his way up to fourth by Lap 70.
Not long after, he took the third spot from his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, William Byron, before battling for the lead on Lap 90.
An impressive struggle between Tyler Reddick and Denny Hamlin resulted in Larson snookering past both for the number one spot.
Alex Bowman, Larson’s teammate, hit the Turn 4 wall, which resulted in a Lap 98 caution and a split agenda for the lead lap contenders during a Lap 100 pit stop sequence.
Rather than pitting with the lot of the race and Playoff contenders, Larson stayed out to battle for the Stage 1 win. Suffice to say, it was a tenacious scrap for the victory as Larson and Hamlin traded paint off the exit of Turn 2 and along the backstretch.
Larson tallied the Stage 1 win, showcasing some of the strength and speed that resulted in last year’s Cup championship.
From there on, it was a chase for track position and maximizing points in an otherwise frustrating race besieged by tire failures for contenders like Chase Elliott, Larson’s teammate, and Christopher Bell.
Pitting throughout the better part of Stage 2, Larson netted a 13th place finish before it was more of the same in Stage 3.
In the closing moments, Larson worked his way up to seventh before he nearly hit the Turn 4 wall inside the final 10 laps.
Placing ninth, Larson broke even in terms of his starting and finishing position. Despite the up and down evening, Larson minimized the damage, literally and figuratively, with his championship defense and quest.
“I’m glad because it could’ve been worse,” Larson said. “But I’m also mad because it should’ve been a lot better. But you have days like that. But we did a good job fighting and overcoming and passed a ton of cars.
“Nobody passed more cars than we did, so it was good to get a top 1. But it could’ve been a lot better.”
A ninth at Texas kept Larson ranked fourth in the points standings but only 14 points behind Joey Logano, 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Clearly, the 30-year-old Elk Grove, California has a fleet of strong, fast No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaros at the shop. In his case, it’s about surviving and maximizing at Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL.
“I just hope we can get to that round,” he quipped. “Great car. So, I’m proud of that. Hopefully, we can somehow have a clean day at Talladega and have a good race at the ROVAL.”
As infuriating as the 500-miler was at times with Larson and his peers, particularly with the heat, humidity and numerous caution periods, Larson kept himself composed in the driver’s seat.
“I think it was just important to stay cool and calm whenever I’d lose spots on pit road,” he offered. “You’d just try to shake it off and get focused on passing all those cars again. I tried to do my best to not take myself out of it mentally and I think that paid off.”
Given the tire failures that took Bowman and Elliott out of contention at Texas, Larson was concise but candid on his thoughts with this matter.
“I think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” he said.