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Kyle Larson Victorious at Sonoma

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson celebrates his third win of the NASCAR Cup Series season at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Aaron Brink | The Podium Finish)

SONOMA, Calif. — The year may be 2024. However, Kyle Larson might be feeling like it is 2021 in the best, possible sense following Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

While Larson started fifth in the 110-lap race, it was evident that his No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was one of the fastest in the field. As the field sorted through the newly repaved 1.99-mile road course, the 31-year-old Elk Grove, California, native was ready to be on the attack.

Before Larson became a part of the fray, Joey Logano started from the pole alongside Tyler Reddick. Logano led the opening 16 laps before Reddick took the lead on Lap 17.

Then, Logano was involved in an incident on Lap 20 in Turn 3A along with Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton, Chase Briscoe and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. With a heavily damaged right side, Logano was forced to pit earlier than desired to repair his wounded machine.

Reddick went on to win Stage 1 ahead of Blaney, Larson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman. For a while, it looked like the Corning, California, native would get the job done.

Stage 2 played out with some action packed moments, including a seven-car incident in Turn 11 involving Josh Berry, Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell, William Byron, Cam Wauters, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones on Lap 36.

Other than a Turn 8A incident for Cindric, Michael McDowell and Noah Gragson on Lap 41 and the caution signaling the conclusion of Stage 2, won by Chris Buescher, the race was incident free.

This set the duel where Reddick and Larson, the two dominant drivers of the race, restarted deep in the field for Stage 3. Methodically, Larson picked his way up through the field, taking the lead on Lap 71 during pit stop sequences.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson (No. 5) charged his way outside the top 20 to his third win of 2024 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Aaron Brink | The Podium Finish)

Cliff Daniels, Larson’s crew chief, opted to stick to the strategy that ultimately prevailed for the No. 5 team. Despite slipping outside the top five in the final 30 laps, Larson worked his way back into the top five, catching Buescher, McDowell, Busch and Truex.

On this particular occasion, Larson would not be denied his home state victory. Coming to the line, Larson bested McDowell by 4.258 seconds as Truex ran out of fuel.

Despite winning at Sonoma in 2021, Larson captured his first victory at the 1.99 Chute version of the famed road course. After celebrating with his team, Larson recalled the aggressive path to his third victory of 2024.

“I didn’t know what we were doing as far as strategy,” Larson said. “I was just out there banging laps away. I don’t know, we study all the strategy, but it’s like doing homework. I don’t really know what I’m looking at.

“Yeah, I was like, well, man, these guys are going to have to pit another time maybe. Then we said we had to go race and pass these guys, I got a bit nervous. I knew I’d be quick from the get go, but I thought once the tires would come up to temp, it would even off too much.”

In Larson’s case, the tires held on for the Californian to make his hard charge in the final 30 laps.

“Thankful that we had enough grip,” he said. “Thankful, too, that those guys got racing and Martin never got clear really to where I could get stuck in third and that really saved the race. I thought, too, once he got the lead, I’m like, man, I hope he doesn’t have somebody to judge off of here into [Turn] 4 and he misses apex, and sure enough, he did, and I had a big run.

“Just an awesome, awesome race car. Valvoline, every time we have Valvoline on the car, I feel like we’re really fast. Thanks to Valvoline,, Chevrolet, Jinya Ramen Bar, Prime, too. Just cool to win at home, drink some wine here in a little bit and go celebrate.”

Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell rallied to a strong runner-up at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Aaron Brink | The Podium Finish)

McDowell’s path to a runner-up result was not the traditional path. Nevertheless, the two-time Cup race winner overcame his Lap 41 incident in Turn 8A to secure a podium finish.

“I was pushing pretty hard,” McDowell said. “I don’t know how much more I could have got. I needed him to battle with the 19 a little bit more and the 17 because when he came out on new tires, he was just quicker than us.

“I couldn’t hold him off, but I knew in the long run we could probably balance out and have a little bit of speed. Our long run was our strength, so I don’t know. I have to go back and watch it, but it’s just a shame.”

For the third consecutive year, Buescher tallied a strong top five finish with a third on Sunday afternoon. The tide continues to turn closer to another return to Victory Lane as Buescher tallied his third podium in the past six races.

Chris Buescher

Chris Buescher had another solid outing at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Aaron Brink | The Podium Finish)

“It was really good strategy on the day and an awesome finish,” Buescher said. “I wasn’t quite able to hold the lead there and that bums me out. I was trying. I’ve got to be better and ultimately figure out how to make that last a little bit longer, but our team did a really nice job.

“To start where we did and finish right here at the front with our Ford Mustang. I’m really proud of that. Just another close one at the end of the day.”

That 2021 feeling may be radiating from Larson and his No. 5 team. Nevertheless, it was a milestone win, his 20th as a Hendrick Motorsports racer.

In spite of the murmurs about Larson’s racing ambitions, it seems he has a genuine home with the No. 5 team in the pursuit of more wins and championships.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson captured the checkered flag in front of his home state faithful at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Aaron Brink | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, that’s a great milestone, to get 20 wins in really a short period of time is special to me,” Larson said. “I wish I could have been here a long time ago. But no, they’re just a phenomenal organization. It’s the best in the business.

“The timing also couldn’t be any better. I feel like I’ve gotten to Hendrick when they’re really at peak or back to what peak used to be. Then, being with Cliff Daniels and the whole 5 team, they are also great at what they do. Just a lucky person, and hopefully, I’ll get 20 more wins in a shorter amount of time.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. Tyler Reddick
  2. Ryan Blaney
  3. Kyle Larson
  4. Chase Elliott
  5. Alex Bowman
  6. Michael McDowell
  7. Ross Chastain
  8. Daniel Suárez
  9. Corey LaJoie
  10. Todd Gilliland
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Chris Buescher
  2. Ryan Preece
  3. Martin Truex Jr.
  4. Kyle Busch
  5. AJ Allmendinger
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Erik Jones
  8. Todd Gilliland
  9. Joey Logano
  10. Harrison Burton
Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 5 5 Kyle Larson Valvoline Chevrolet Running
2 12 34 Michael McDowel Love’s Travel Stops Ford Running
3 26 17 Chris Buescher Ford Running
4 4 9 Chase Elliott NAPA Gold Filters Chevrolet Running
5 9 1 Ross Chastain Kubota Chevrolet Running
6 11 16 AJ Allmendinger (i) Cirkul Chevrolet Running
7 3 12 Ryan Blaney Menards/Moen Ford Running
8 2 45 Tyler Reddick Monster Energy Toyota Running
9 15 20 Christopher Bell Rheem Toyota Running
10 14 38 Todd Gilliland Frontline Enterprises Inc. Ford Running
11 17 7 Corey LaJoie Gainbridge Chevrolet Running
12 29 8 Kyle Busch zone Chevrolet Running
13 35 6 Brad Keselowski King’s Hawaiian/Despicable Me 4 Ford Running
14 7 99 Daniel Suárez Freeway Insurance Chevrolet Running
15 8 48 Alex Bowman Ally Pride Chevrolet Running
16 20 71 Zane Smith (R) Wellcare Chevrolet Running
17 13 77 Carson Hocevar (R) Delaware Life Chevrolet Running
18 30 41 Ryan Preece Caymus Vineyards Ford Running
19 38 43 Erik Jones Dollat Tree Toyota Running
20 18 23 Bubba Wallace Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Running
21 1 22 Joey Logano Autotrader Ford Running
22 28 2 Austin Cindric America’s Tire Ford Running
23 36 15 Kaz Grala (R) N29 Capital Partners Ford Running
24 33 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Kroger Health/Tylenol Chevrolet Running
25 22 21 Harrison Burton DEX Imaging Ford Running
26 19 10 Noah Gragson Ford Running
27 21 19 Martin Truex Jr. Bass Pro Shops Toyota Running
28 34 31 Daniel Hemric Cirkul Chevrolet Running
29 37 42 John Hunter Nemechek Save Mart Toyota Running
30 6 24 William Byron Chevrolet Running
31 24 33 Will Brown Mobile X/Shaw and Partners Chevrolet Running
32 32 4 Josh Berry Mobil 1 50th Anniversary Ford Suspension
33 27 51 Justin Haely Jacob Construction Ford Steering
34 23 14 Chase Briscoe Ford Performance Racing School Ford Transmission
35 31 60 Cam Wauters AUKUS/ Ford Accident
36 16 3 Austin Dillon Get Bioethanol Chevrolet DVP
37 10 54 Ty Gibbs He Gets Us Toyota DVP
38 25 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Toyota Engine

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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