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Kyle Larson Wins Frantic Focused Health 250 at COTA

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson celebrates his victory in Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at COTA. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

DEL VALLE, Texas — While Kyle Larson won the pole for Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at COTA, a cracked brake rotor sent the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion to start toward the rear of the 38-driver field.

As a result, the 31-year-old Elk Grove, California, native had to march his way through the leaderboard. Needless to say, the No. 17 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, Hendrick Motorsports’ all-star NASCAR XFINITY Series ride, had the pace and speed to contend for the win.

However, it was a steady march to the front as Larson worked his way up to 11th in Stage 1. Meanwhile, AJ Allmendinger moved up to the front row alongside his Kaulig Racing teammate, Shane van Gisbergen, once the race was underrway.

In the early going, it was a hardy battle between the two road course masters in van Gisbergen and Allmendinger. Both combined to lead the opening 11 laps before pitting on Lap 12 to opt for better track position to start Stage 2.

Parker Kligerman

Parker Kligerman netted a Stage 1 win in Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at COTA. (Photo: Cody Porter | The Podium Finish)

Their pit stops propelled Parker Kligerman into the lead with a smooth path to win Stage 1, his first stage victory of the year. Despite van Gisbergen and Allmendinger’s pit stops being a bit slower than usual, both finished inside the top 10 and netted valuable stage points.

As Stage 2 was underway, the key players in Allmendinger, Larson and van Gisbergen ran third, fourth and fifth. Without a doubt, the trio had the cars to beat if they avoided trouble in the form of an on-track collision or penalty.

Like Stage 1, the trio opted to pit to get better track position to begin Stage 3. In conjunction with fast cars and solid pit stops by their respective pit crews, the scene was set for a three driver dogfight.

Then, the tide began to shift in favor of van Gisbergen as Allmendinger’s car was not to the latter’s liking while Larson had a tire issue that caught his attention. Just as the iconic V8 Supercars champion drew closer to the final laps, the race turned upside down in more ways that one.

Fluid on the track resulted in a caution on Lap 45, setting up the first of two NASCAR Overtime restarts. Then, a Lap 48 caution for a multi-car incident in Turn 11 involving Ryan Ellis, Leland Honeyman Jr., Danill Kvyat, Blaine Perkins and Riley Herbst set up the wild, frantic and defining restart of the race.

With van Gisbergen leading the way alongside Sam Mayer, both went wide into Turn 1, opening the door for Austin Hill to take the lead on Lap 49. Suddenly, it appeared as if the Richard Childress Racing driver would snatch a victory and gain more Playoff points.

Suddenly, van Gisbergen closed the gap with Hill as Larson, on fresher tires after pitting prior to the Overtime restarts, rocketed up to third and in position to win. Coming to the final lap, Hill appeared to have the race under control.

Larson, applying the pressure to van Gisbergen, saw the seas part as the 2023 Chicago Street Course winner bumped into Hill. Instead of van Gisbergen or Hill winning, Larson got the job done at COTA by capturing his 15th career XFINITY Series win.

Following the race, Larson considered the significance of winning in the No. 17 car for the Hendrick organization.

Kyle Larson

After some close calls since 2022, Kyle Larson netted the Focused Health 250 victory at COTA. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“Obviously, it means a lot,” Larson said. “Just to race that car with that number and for whatever reason, the three years we’ve ran it between the four drivers, we just haven’t been able to get into Victory Lane. It was definitely special to win a race in that fashion with having work out for us there. It was kinda not working out for us before that caution with five or so laps left and had the flat spot and pitted. I did not think I’d be getting to this point right here.”

Given how close Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman have been with winning in Hendrick’s No. 17 XFINITY Series ride since 2022, perhaps a milestone year made the wait to Victory Lane worthwhile.

“[It’s] really cool and got to talk to Rick and Linda there before pulling into Victory Lane and you could hear how proud they were to see that car in Victory Lane,” Larson shared. “It means a lot. Like you mentioned, it’s the 40th anniversary season for Hendrick Motorsports. Maybe all that heartbreak that we’ve all lived through with this car, it was just meant to be this season.

“So, hopefully, William, Alex and Chase can get in it or when I’m in it later on in the year, that we can keep winning in it. It’s always fun. It’s a fun group of guys. It’s fun to get to work with Greg Ives. He’s got a big sense of humor and keeps things light. I always enjoy getting to run this car.”

Jeff Gordon, vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, was equally pleased about the victory by Larson and the No. 17 team.

“It’s super cool,” Gordon said. “The team’s worked really hard. I think we’ve been fast and had a lot of speed and obviously great drivers. But we just haven’t been able to put it together on the road courses.

“Today, maybe we got a little bit of a break with those late cautions because Larson had a tire issue. But great execution and that was pretty cool to see.”

No stranger to last lap victories, Gordon channeled his “Refuse to Lose” mantra when it came to Larson, crew chief Greg Ives and the team on persevering through their challenges.

“Yea, these races are wild and unpredictable,” he said. “You’ve got to keep fighting and never think that you’re out of it and that’s what those guys did.”

By all means, Hill, despite the late race paint trading with van Gisbergen, hoped his critics and race fans recognize his versatility to get the job done as a bonafide XFINITY Series championship contender.

“Hopefully, some people are opening their eyes up a little bit,” Hill said after the race. “We’re a real threat no matter where we go on the race track.”

For now, Larson continues his stretch of relatively strong performances and results this month which kicked off with a victory in the Cup Series’ Las Vegas spring race. Considering all the wins in his career, Saturday’s victory did not take the cake for being the craziest win.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson hugs his son, Cooper, after winning Saturday’s Focused Health 250 at COTA. (Photo: John Arndt | The Podium Finish)

“Craziest win? Trophy Cup, 2013. You guys have to look that up,” he said with a smile. “It was crazy. I restarted 20th or so two restarts before the end and knew I needed a caution. So I was just trying to pick my way through cleanly.

“I didn’t want to get damaged just so if we did get a caution, I could hopefully line up around where we did. And it all just kind of worked out. I just knew we had an advantage with my tires. So I tried to be methodical and patient, kind of getting through the field. Also, not let those guys get too far away so it just worked out.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. Parker Kligerman
  2. Sammy Smith
  3. Sage Karam
  4. Parker Retzlaff
  5. Riley Herbst
  6. Austin Hill
  7. Alex Labbe
  8. AJ Allmendinger
  9. Josh Bilicki
  10. Shane van Gisbergen (R)
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Riley Herbst
  2. Cole Custer
  3. AJ Allmendinger
  4. Kyle Larson (i)
  5. Shane van Gisbergen (R)
  6. Alex Labbe
  7. Ryan Sieg
  8. Josh Bilicki
  9. Ty Gibbs (i)
  10. Chandler Smith
Focused Health 250 at Circuit of the Americas Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 1 17 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Running
2 11 21 Austin Hill Bennett Transportation Chevrolet Running
3 20 20 John Hunter Nemechek Dial Toyota Running
4 8 00 Cole Custer Haas Automation Ford Running
5 12 48 Parker Kligerman Spiked Lite Coolers Chevrolet Running
6 14 2 Jesse Love Whelen Chevrolet Running
7 25 32 Austin Green Chevrolet Running
8 4 81 Chandler Smith Mobil 1 Toyota Running
9 10 1 Sam Mayer Roto-Rooter Chevrolet Running
10 5 16 AJ Allmendinger Celsius Chevrolet Running
11 17 31 Parker Retzlaff Crest Chevrolet Running
12 30 5 Anthony Alfredo Dude Wipes Chevrolet Running
13 15 7 Justin Allgaier BRANDT/Rev1 Energy Chevrolet Running
14 27 39 Ryan Sieg Sci Aps Ford Running
15 29 44 Brennan Poole Finance Pros Plus Chevrolet Running
16 18 9 Brandon Jones Menards/Spectracide Chevrolet Running
17 6 26 Sage Karam CRC Brakleen Toyota Running
18 31 45 Brad Perez WEISS Sand & Clay/Sendero Chevrolet Running
19 24 51 Jeremy Clements Impel Union Chevrolet Running
20 34 42 Leland Honeyman Austin Gamblers Chevrolet Running
21 22 07 Daniil Kvyat GOTRAX Chevrolet Running
22 36 29 Blaine Perkins Ford Running
23 35 15 Hailie Deegan Cody Jinks Change The Game Ford Running
24 3 19 Ty Gibbs He Gets Us Toyota Running
25 33 4 Patrick Gallagher Chevrolet Running
26 26 35 Alex Labbe Toyota Running
27 2 97 Shane Van Gisbergen WeatherTech Chevrolet Running
28 37 14 RC Enerson Lucas Oil School of Racing Chevrolet Running
29 32 31 Kyle Weatherman myradar/ Chevrolet Running
30 21 27 Jeb Burton Golden Corral Chevrolet Running
31 23 92 Josh Bilicki Halford Mobile Services Chevrolet Suspension
32 7 18 Sheldon Creed Friends of Jaclyn Foundation Toyota Running
33 38 43 Ryan Ellis Classic Collision Chevrolet Accident
34 19 98 Riley Herbst Monster Energy Ford Accident
35 16 24 Ed Jones CRC Industries Toyota Accident
36 13 8 Sammy Smith Pilot Flying J Chevrolet Accident
37 28 6 Ty Dillon Ollie’s Good Stuff Cheap Chevrolet Suspension
38 9 11 Josh Williams Alloy Employer Services Chevrolet Overheating

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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