Kyle Larson finished second place at Phoenix International Raceway but emerged as the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader, proving that consistency is key in the Chase for the Championship.
He ended last season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the runner-up position and this year has added three more to his resume, with three consecutive second-place results this year.
“This one stings,” Larson said after the race, “because I felt like I was in the best spot out of anybody there to line up fourth on two tires but it’s really, really cool to be the point leader right now.”
The Camping World 500 was scheduled for 312 laps but Joey Logano experienced a tire failure and crashed on Lap 308, bringing out the final caution and resulting in a two-lap overtime race to the checkered flag.
Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. elected to remain on the track. Larson was first off pit road, lining up fourth beside Stenhouse. The two drivers made contact on the restart which allowed Newman to pull away for the win.
Larson talked about the challenges of racing at the one-mile track in the desert heat and took responsibility for the incident with Logano.
“It was hot for sure,” he acknowledged. “The second half definitely got hot and the track got kind of slimy. My feet were getting kind of hot, but not that crazy. It didn’t feel honestly that bad. The temperature reads really hot here, but it’s a dry heat out here on the West Coast. A mid 90s day in North Carolina feels 20 degrees warmer.
“But, yeah, you know, it was a fun race for us. We ran no worse than fourth I think all race. Was really happy about that, challenged for the segment win there the first stage with Joey. That was a lot of fun. Finished second, I think, the second stage, too, second overall.
“A solid run for us. Wish we would have been the winners. I thought we were; I knew we were in the best spot. Just, yeah, turned across Ricky’s nose and got sideways, killed both of our runs off of two, and allowed Newman to get out on us.”
While no one could blame Larson for becoming frustrated with finishes that have left his first win this season barely out of reach, he remains upbeat about his chances.
“Like I’ve been saying all of this early year, we’ve never had that speed,” he explained. “It’s a lot of fun right now. I’m sure, you know, if I ran second for the next eight weeks, yeah, it’s probably going to grow old. But, yeah, it’s so cool to be one of the fastest cars every week. I feel like I’ve got a shot to win every week at a racetrack like here and Vegas where I don’t normally run good and challenge for wins.
“It’s been a lot of fun to start this year. I just hope we can continue to work hard, be consistent, be mistake-free on pit road and on the racetrack. If we can just keep doing that, the wins are going to come. I could easily have four wins right now, just got to keep working hard.”
Larson admits that all of the second-place finishes may be “weird,” but is confident that a trip to victory lane is in his future.
“Yeah, it’s weird running all these seconds,” he said. “It took me, like, three years to finish second in sprint cars. Now I finish second like every week, so, a little weird, but maybe we’ll turn them into wins soon.”
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