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Kyle Larson Laments Potential Phoenix Victory, Places Fourth

Kyle Larson rued another possible victory at Phoenix with his fourth place result. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson rued another possible victory at Phoenix with his fourth place result. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – For the second consecutive week, Kyle Larson was in position to win his first race of the year.

Unlike last weekend at Las Vegas, Larson benefited from a late race yellow that brought him back into contention in Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

Namely, the 30-year-old Elk Grove, California native had another chance to win at the 1-mile speedway after Kevin Harvick passed him for the lead on Lap 269.

While Harvick led the lead lap contenders onto pit road with nine laps to go, Larson won the race off pit road by virtue of taking two tires and fuel along with William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Harvick, who opted for four tires and fuel, would be mired in traffic, restarting in the seventh position for the anticipated restart on Lap 309.

As Larson prepared for the restart, he had more to worry about than just another late race caution. Blaney, who has not won a race since the 2021 Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, was ready to leap and pounce for the lead.

Larson, who placed second in Stage 1 and won Stage 2, passed a critical test by staving off a determined Blaney just past the dogleg stripe. However, a couple of Turn 2 incidents on Lap 311 involving AJ Allmendinger, Noah Gragson and Ty Gibbs prompted a caution period.

Larson had one of the best cars in Sunday's race at Phoenix. (Photo: Michael Donohue | The Podium Finish)

Larson had one of the best cars in Sunday’s race at Phoenix. (Photo: Michael Donohue | The Podium Finish)

Despite Larson’s premium track position as the leader, the Overtime restart was going to be immensely important and critical.

Once Larson led the field on the Overtime restart on Lap 315, it was a scramble for position among the lead lap contenders. Initially, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, who staved off Blaney’s tenacious challenge on the apron, had another threat to consider with Byron on his outside.

In spite of Larson’s valiant efforts, Byron’s well timed restart proved insurmountable for the Californian and his No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro.

“We got lucky with the one caution, and the team made a great call to take two tires and get us out in the lead,” Larson said. “Restarts are just tough. I felt like I ran William up pretty high and expected him to lose some grip, but he did a really good job of holding it to my outside and clearing me down the back.”

After Byron cleared Larson, it was a matter of salvaging the best possible finish with a snarl of drivers ready to leap after a podium finish at Phoenix. Rather than force the issue with Blaney and Tyler Reddick, he fought for another race day afternoon, placing fourth.

Naturally, the 19-time Cup race winner was a bit frustrated with not closing out an otherwise dominant afternoon at Phoenix Raceway.

“Yeah, I’m pissed off, but a great fight by the team, a great car and way better than we were here last year,” he said. “It’s a long season, but hopefully we’re in the final four when we come back here in November and can have a run similar to that with speed and try to execute a little bit better in the end.”

All things considered, Larson observed how the inside line may have lost its advantage in the late moments of the race.

Larson's West Coast Swing ended with a couple of dominant runs and strong results. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

Larson’s West Coast Swing ended with a couple of dominant runs and strong results. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

“I thought I drove in far enough to at least that if he chased me in I thought he would get too high and into the marbles,” he said. “I think that top lane just got a little bit better the last 50 laps or so. I didn’t run in far enough and ended up getting beat.”

Compared to last year, Larson is off to a much better start with two consecutive top five finishes, boosting him nine positions to rank fifth, 17 markers behind Alex Bowman, the NASCAR Cup Series points leader.

At some point, consistency and late race luck may pay off for Larson in a future Cup race. For now, it is about hitting the reset button while maintaining the consistent, strong form from the West Coast Swing.

“It’s a bummer, but William again executed the last two races a little bit better than I did,” Larson said. “Congrats to him and their team. We’ll try to keep these good runs up.”

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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