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Kyle Larson Scores Dominant Las Vegas Victory

Kyle Larson enjoys a dominant Pennzoil 400 victory at Las Vegas. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

LAS VEGAS — Kyle Larson had an afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that many dream about in their profession.

Winning in one’s trade is a sweet feeling but to dominate like Larson during Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube is another level of excellence. Then again, it was the hardest fought path toward a masterclass performance in the NASCAR Cup Series.

On the surface, Larson led 181 of 267 laps, or just under 68% of the distance. Starting from the second position, the 31-year-old Elk Grove, California, native wasted little time getting to the lead, scooting past pole sitter Joey Logano on Lap 3.

A Lap 10 caution, officially for possible fluid on the track, brought the lead lap contenders to pit road. Chris Buescher of RFK Racing won the race off pit road with Larson going from the lead to sixth.

Once the race restarted on Lap 16, William Byron zigged and zagged his way from seventh to first in a lap. It appeared as if Sunday’s race would be a Hendrick Motorsports battle between Byron and Larson.

Then, on Lap 26, Chris Buescher crashed hard into the Turn 2 wall with his right front wheel dislodging. The impact resulted in a red flag period of 10 minutes and 39 seconds to repair the SAFER barrier.

Before the brief respite, Byron led the field to pit road for the second pit stops of the race with Martin Truex Jr. prevailing while Byron dropped to fourth.

However, some lead lap contenders, mainly Daniel Suárez, last Sunday’s Atlanta winner, stayed out and led the Lap 36 restart. As Larson worked his way up to second position, Byron fell back to 13th after making slight contact with the Turn 2 wall.

Further problems befell Byron and his No. 24 Z HP Chevrolet as a garbage bag covered the grille opening of his car. Losing a lap in the process, it would take until the end of Stage 1 for Byron to rejoin the lead lap fray as the “Lucky Dog” or free pass.

On this occasion, Kyle Larson was dominant in Las Vegas. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

Then again, even as Larson retook the lead on Lap 62, passing Kyle Busch in the process, a prelude to the race’s finish played out toward the end of Stage 1. Tyler Reddick, who started 18th, worked his way up to second and did his best Christopher Bell, last lap charge against Larson.

Like Bell, Larson bested Reddick to the stripe, edging him out but for the Stage 1 win.

On Lap 85, Larson led the lead lap contenders to pit road before falling to third with Truex leading the frantic pack. Just four laps later, Truex led the restart before Denny Hamlin drove to the lead on Lap 89.

It as a short lived stint as Larson retook the lead just 16 laps later. Other than for pit stop cycles, the 2021 Cup champion was the class of the field.

Much like Stage 1, Larson bested Reddick for the Stage 2 win. It was evident, even if Reddick had some pit road errors, that this race would come down to two Golden State warriors.

Save for Corey LaJoie’s Turn 2 accident with 34 laps remaining, the stage was set for a duel between Larson and Reddick.

Undoubtedly, Kyle Larson’s No. 5 pit crew delivered with timely pit stops all race long. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

Each lap, Larson saw his once comfortable lead shrink to a matter of car lengths. In fact, Larson and Reddick were like Lt. Hanna and Neil McCauley in the 1995 film Heat.

“Yeah, I knew it was going to be cat and mouse,” Larson said. “I knew I was going to have to kind of catch him off guard with a late kind of block.

“Yes, the bottom was good, but he was making some time up top in (Turns) 3 and 4, and I felt like going back to the fall, Bell was catching me around the top and I didn’t quite move up early enough or thought at the time that I could have maybe not had that last-lap battle if I moved around a bit more.”

With the race winding down, Larson resorted to a bit of defensive driving, realizing it was going to take astute awareness to disrupt Reddick’s progress.

“I thought I had a decent gap with eight-ish laps left, and I was like, I need to get going up top in 3 and 4 to try and build some momentum,” he said. “That was the wrong move, and it really allowed him to get much closer to me. And then I was like, crap, all right, now I’ve got to block, air block him.

“Tried in 1 and 2, I don’t know, three or four laps left, he was running a little bit higher than me in 1 and 2, and I was trying to take his air away and really mess his angle up off of 2 but it didn’t hurt him that bad and he was close to me in 3 and 4 or down the backstretch through 3 and 4. I don’t remember what happened that next corner.”

Namely, in the final two laps of the race, Larson made a heads up move that effectively decided the race.

“But there with two to go, he expected, I think, me to run the middle or top or something, and I was able to do kind of a nice lazy arc to the bottom and take his air away in the center of 3 and 4 and got him tight,” Larson recalled. “That killed his run down the frontstretch, and thankfully that was the white flag. I knew as long as I hit my marks I was going to be safe to the checkered. Seemed like blocked him maybe once earlier it took him a lap and a half to get that run built back to me to where I was going to have to block again.

“Yeah, thankful it all kind of worked out there. But as you mentioned, yeah, I have a lot of fun racing Tyler. We’ve grown up together racing. We’ve had great races back to when we were like seven, eight years old. Cool to have another fellow northern Californian from the Outlaw kart ranks racing up front on Sundays.”

A bit of defensive driving rewarded Kyle Larson with his 24th career Cup win and third at Las Vegas. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

Officially, Larson bested Reddick by 0.441 seconds. Although Reddick finally scored his first top five and top 10 result on Sunday, he tipped his cap to his worthy opponent but was less than thrilled with his pit road experiences.

“It’s the name of the next generation game, right?” Reddick said. “You get the lead, you’ve got to hold on to it. Yeah, Kyle did a really good job there of pretty much taking away every option I had to close the gap. Yeah, he seemed pretty good in the middle, and I was obviously really good on the bottom. He just never let me have it.

“I kept trying to run higher and higher and he was kind of running right in the middle of the racetrack there, was kind of pretty efficient to block both lanes. Every time I kind of got close, we’re running just wide open enough in Turn 1 and 2 that he could kind of defend pretty well. It’s frustrating. I feel like we were never up front really all day long until it got to the stage end. We had a really good Nasty Beast Toyota Camry and just stupid mistakes on pit road. Same shit, different year. It’s kind of frustrating.”

Ryan Blaney rounded out the podium finishers, capturing his second top five and top 10 finish of the season. Similar to last year, the reigning Cup champion resorted to crafty, heads up driving and smooth tactics to get a frontrunner’s result.

“It was a long day,” Blaney said. “We started 15th and just kind of slowly worked our way up. The top two guys were pretty quick. It was hard to catch them. We never really had the speed of those guys, but I’m proud of the effort. We got better all day, which was good.

“I didn’t think we were great early and we continued to get better, so that’s all you can ask for. It was a good day for the Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang. We definitely have a decent idea of where to go from here going forward.”

By far, Larson went forward by leaps and bounds with his Las Vegas victory. Moving from 11th to first in the points standings, there is the thought that he could have another magical year like his 2021 championship season.

Despite such thoughts, Larson tempered those expectations with a pragmatic outlook.

“I don’t know. I mean, Next Gen racing is so much different than 2021,” Larson said. “Who knows. Yes, I think we have the potential within our team to do that. I think it will be much harder. When we won here in 2021, we killed them at the end. This, we had to fight really hard for it.”

Then again, Larson knows his No. 5 team can get the job done for him on a weekly basis. Great pit stops, fast cars and surviving the drafting-style races allows the now 24-time Cup race winner to be more on the offensive during the spring segment of the year.

Kyle Larson, his family and crew enjoy “Viva Las Vegas” for a third time in four years. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

“As Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) mentioned, the field is much tighter, so that’s going to make winning much tougher than back then,” Larson said. “Again, I think out team is well capable of it. I feel like we’ve done a really good job of executing to start the year.

“Daytona was going really well until it didn’t there at the end. Atlanta was going great until it didn’t. Then today, we did everything great from start to finish. Pit crew, pit calls, restarts, the car itself, myself in the seat, blocking the right way and making speed while doing it was good.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. Kyle Larson
  2. Tyler Reddick
  3. Martin Truex Jr.
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. Denny Hamlin
  6. Ty Gibbs
  7. Corey LaJoie
  8. Ross Chastain
  9. Austin Cindric
  10. Christopher Bell
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Kyle Larson
  2. Tyler Reddick
  3. Denny Hamlin
  4. Ryan Blaney
  5. Martin Truex Jr.
  6. Chase Elliott
  7. Austin Dillon
  8. Alex Bowman
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Erik Jones
Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 2 5 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Running
2 18 45 Tyler Reddick Nasty Beast Toyota Running
3 15 12 Ryan Blaney Menards/Pennzoil Ford Running
4 20 1 Ross Chastain Kubota Chevrolet Running
5 8 54 Ty Gibbs He Gets Us Toyota Running
6 30 10 Noah Gragson Fanttik Ford Running
7 7 19 Martin Truex Jr. Resers Fine Foods Toyota Running
8 28 11 Denny Hamlin Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Running
9 1 22 Joey Logano Pennzoil Ford Running
10 4 24 William Byron Z HP Chevrolet Running
11 16 99 Daniel Suárez Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Running
12 11 9 Chase Elliott LLumar Chevrolet Running
13 25 6 Brad Keselowski Solomon Plumbing Ford Running
14 22 43 Erik Jones Dollar Tree Toyota Running
15 14 77 Carson Hocevar (R) Premier Security Chevrolet Running
16 19 3 Austin Dillon BetMGM Chevrolet Running
17 13 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Smiths/Tree Top Chevrolet Running
18 23 48 Alex Bowman Ally Chevrolet Running
19 34 31 Daniel Hemric South Point Hotel and Casino Chevrolet Running
20 26 4 Josh Berry (R) Mobil 1 Take 5 Ford Running
21 6 14 Chase Briscoe Mahindra Tractors Ford Running
22 27 42 John Hunter Nemechek Albertsons Toyota Running
23 36 41 Ryan Preece Ford Running
24 31 38 Todd Gilliland gener8tor Ford Running
25 12 34 Michael McDowell Loves Travel Stops Ford Running
26 21 8 Kyle Busch BetMGM Chevrolet Running
27 35 51 Justin Haley Ohanafy Ford Running
28 33 16 Derek Kraus (i) Western States Flooring Chevrolet Running
29 3 2 Austin Cindric Discount Tire Ford Running
30 29 21 Harrison Burton Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Running
31 32 15 Kaz Grala (R) N29 Capital Partners Ford Running
32 17 7 Corey LaJoie USANA Chevrolet Running
33 10 20 Christopher Bell Interstate Batteries Toyota Running
34 37 44 JJ Yeley (i) Urban Youth Racing School Chevrolet Running
35 5 23 Bubba Wallace Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Running
36 24 71 Zane Smith (R) Focused Health Chevrolet Running
37 9 17 Chris Buescher Fastenal Ford Accident

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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