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NASCAR Cup Series

Larson Tallies Agonizing Runner-Up, “Just Part of Cup Racing”

Kyle Larson was on the precipice of his first Cup win of 2023. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson was on the precipice of his first Cup win of 2023. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

LAS VEGAS – In the race’s original, final 48 laps, Kyle Larson appeared to be in prime position for his first win of 2023 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Placing second in Stages 1 and 2, Larson’s No. 5 Chevy Camaro had race winning pace.

After passing Denny Hamlin for the lead on Lap 196, other than the race’s final green flag pit stop cycle from Laps 221 to 227, the 30-year-old Elk Grove, California native was in the catbird seat.

While William Byron chipped away at Larson’s lead in the final laps of Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion focused on tallying his second Las Vegas Cup race win in the past three seasons.

With two laps remaining to the scheduled distance, Aric Almirola spun and hit the Turn 4 wall, bringing out the race’s final caution.

Larson and the lead lap contenders were in a dilemma between staying out for track position on older tires or risk frontrunning spots for fresh right side tires.

Once Larson brought all but Martin Truex Jr., to pit road on Lap 266, it was a drag race between two Hendrick Motorsports drivers and pit crews.

Larson's No. 5 pit crew were consistently fast and smooth.  (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

Larson’s No. 5 pit crew were consistently fast and smooth. (Photo: Erik Smith | The Podium Finish)

At first blush, Larson and Byron appeared to have nearly identical pit entries, pit stops and pit exits. The difference between potentially winning the race or clawing through dirty air was ridiculously minute.

Byron’s No. 24 Chevy pit crew reeled off a slightly better stop than Larson’s over-the-wall brigade, essentially switching on track positions for the race’s only Overtime restart session.

As the field was underway for the race’s Overtime restart, Byron wasted little time getting past Truex while Larson fought a gaggle of drivers for the runner-up spot.

About a half lap later, Larson managed to get scoop the second position but ran out of time to battle Byron for the win.

Compared to last year’s runner-up at Las Vegas, this one might be more frustrating for Larson.

“Damn. It’s just part of Cup racing,” Larson said to FOX NASCAR’s Regan Smith. “It seems like you count the laps down lap by lap, and then sure enough the yellow lights come on.”

Despite the untimely caution, Larson hit the reset button, concentrating on flawless pit road entry and exit.

“You just have to get over that and try to execute a good pit stop,” he said. “I thought I did a really good job getting to my sign and getting to the commitment line. I had a gap to William behind me, so their pit crew must have done a really good job and got him out in front of us. So that gave up the front row to us.”

In a difficult situation, the Californian did everything he could to win from an unfavorable position for the Overtime restart.

“I knew I was in trouble with the 19 staying out. I felt like William was going to get by him,” he said. “It’s a bummer that we didn’t end up the winner, but all in all William probably had a little better car than I had today and their pit crew executed when they needed to at the end.”

Upon reflection, Larson chalked up the heartbreaking result as another part of high stakes, no holds barred NASCAR Cup Series competition.

For a while, Larson looked like he would win the Pennzoil 400. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

For a while, Larson looked like he would win the Pennzoil 400. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

“You can’t fuss about it too much,” Larson said. “You just try to get focused on the pit stop and try to execute and do a good job. I felt like I did everything on my end good. I had a gap to the (No.) 24 behind me when we got the commitment line.

“I got to my sign good and got to pit-road speed good and all that  Their pit crew must have done a really good job. He edged us out there on pit road, and that was the race. It’s part of Cup racing. These are really, really tough to win and you have to execute from top to bottom.”

All things considered, a runner-up result after finishes of 18th and 29th

“We did a good job today but their pit crew was a little faster on the last stop. A bummer,” he said. “But all in all, I’m happy and proud of the effort from our Hendrick team. I’m looking forward to getting to Phoenix next week.”

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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