After two and a half years, Kyle Larson finally made his way into victory lane in the Sprint Cup Series with a win in the Irish Hills of Michigan.
Under mostly cloudy skies, Joey Logano led the field to the green flag at 2:18 p.m. Eastern time. During the first 20 laps, there wasn’t much drama outside of Chris Buescher engine issues that were related to a broken spark plug. That would relegate him to a 35th-place finish seven laps down. The first caution flew on lap 21. It was a scheduled competition caution after rain had fallen on the track the previous day.
The race restarted on lap 25 and the caution flew the same lap when Kyle Busch got loose exiting turn 4 and went for a spin. Kevin Harvick took the lead from Logano going into turn 1 prior to the caution flying.
When the race returned to green on lap 30, it settled into a stretch of long green flag racing that’s normal of Michigan. It was broken up by two green flag stops that saw the lead cycle to Jimmie Johnson at the end of the first and Chase Elliott at the end of the second.
Debris brought out the third caution of the race on lap 118.
The race went back to green on lap 126. The final round of stops took place starting with 54 laps to go. During the green flag cycle, the lead changed hands four times before cycling to Elliott who beat Larson off pit road when the two pitted together with 54 to go.
A tire carcass that came off the No. 46 Chevrolet of Michael Annett brought out the fourth caution of the race with 13 laps to go.
On the ensuing restart with nine laps to go, Elliott spun the tires and Larson got a push from Keselowski to take the lead. The 2014 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of The Year went on to win the Pure Michigan 400.
“I was teared-up that whole last few laps because I could just feel it,” Larson said of the emotion of winning the race. “It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We love you guys. We’re going to miss him. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool.
“We had a lot of work to do for that first third of the race, and got it done. Thanks to Target. Thanks to everyone on this team. Chad (Johnson, crew chief) and the pit crew and everybody. We messed up that last stop by we made it back.”
He spoke about the final restart.
“We both spun our tires really bad,” Larson said. “And, the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) pushed me really good. He could have probably pulled underneath me and went by. But he stayed with me and got me the lead. So, thanks to him. I had a lot of fun.”
He was also asked if he thought he lost the race after he was beat off pit road by Elliott on the final round of green flag stops with 54 laps to go.
“Yeah, we fell back to fourth and I thought we were done,” he said. “I’m sort of at a loss for words right now. My Adrenalin is going crazy right now. Thanks to all the fans who are watching. I had a good time.”
It’s his first career victory, eighth top-10 finish of the season and third in six starts at Michigan. He’s also the first driver of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program and NASCAR Next program to win a Sprint Cup Series race.
His win also ends a 99-race winless drought for Chip Ganassi Racing.
“It was a big one. It was a big one,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “I hate to put the onus on somebody else, but boy I’m sure glad to. And I can’t thank Target enough and all of our other sponsors that make up the team in all the series’ that we’re in. It’s one big team…all the engineers and all these people work so damn hard. And to go winless for so long is really difficult. Only one person wins in this sport. It’s like golf. There’s only one winner. And we’re just proud to be here right now. I’m really proud to represent out team and proud to represent our sponsors.”
Elliott led 31 laps on his way to a runner-up finish in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“Just a better restart again,” Elliott said of what he would’ve needed to be the one standing in victory lane instead of Larson. “That was what it was all about for sure. Once that guy (Larson) got out front it was really hard to pass. My guys did such a good job today of making the most of pit road. That was the only place you could make a large sum of ground in a short period of time. They did exactly what I asked them to do. I said ‘you guys are going to have to bail me out here I messed up.’ They did they got us the lead just like I asked and I gave it away again. It’s one of those things where you do or you don’t and I didn’t. You just got to recognize your mistakes, look at the positives I guess and move on down the road.”
It’s his 12th top-10 finish of 2016 and second at Michigan.
Brad Keselowski led 14 laps on his way to rounding out the podium in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford.
“It was a typical crazy restart at Michigan here at the end,” Keselowski said. “It is about getting a good launch and push. It looked like Kyle got a good launch and maybe something happened to the 24. I was able to give him a push, a really hard push, and got sideways there and was able to get the lead. The 42 just drove away. Those two cars, the 42 and 24 were pretty close. They both had a lot of speed. We were right there though, just a notch behind.”
It’s his eighth top-10 finish in 15 starts at Michigan.
His car failed post-race laser inspection. Any penalties that results from this will be announced on Wednesday.
Ryan Blaney finished fourth in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.
“We were up towards the front most of the day and some runs were better than others,” Blaney said. “It is kind of a decent day for us. It is nothing to complain about. I thought we were in a decent spot there that last restart and it didn’t work out great. Congrats to Larson. That is cool to see a rookie winning. These are the days we need. These are the days this team deserves. We always want to win in Ford’s backyard but we will go on to Darlington and try to get it done there.”
Kevin Harvick led 33 laps on his way to rounding out the top-five in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
“We just lost the handle there on the last couple of runs,” Harvick said of his race. “For whatever reason we got really loose in and then after that on the restart we were tight on two tires. Everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Busch Beer Chevrolet did a good job we just didn’t quite have what we need to to win the race today.”
Jimmie Johnson led 37 laps on his way to a sixth-place finish in his No. 48 HMS Chevrolet. Carl Edwards led one lap on his way to a seventh-place finish in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“We really struggled badly most of the day,” Edwards said of his day. “Dave (Rogers, crew chief) did a great job there at the end. Just a little disappointed, I thought we would have been a lot better than that. We’ll just have to regroup, figure it out and talk to our teammates. We’ll figure it out.”
Jamie McMurray finished eighth in his No. 1 CGR Chevrolet. Denny Hamlin finished ninth in his No. 11 JGR Toyota. Joey Logano led 24 laps on his way to rounding out the top-10 in his No. 22 Penske Ford.
Greg Biffle, who led one lap, finished 11th. Matt Kenseth, who led eight laps, finished 13th. Austin Dillon, who led one lap, finished 16th. Ryan Newman, who led one lap, finished 17th. Martin Truex Jr., who led seven laps, finished 20th. Regan Smith, who led one lap, finished 26th.
Eighteen cars finished the race on the lead lap and 39 were running at the finish.
The race lasted two hours, 27 minutes and 29 seconds at an average speed of 162.730 mph. There were 20 lead changes among 13 different drivers and four cautions for 17 laps.
Harvick leaves with a 25-point lead over Keselowski in the points standings.
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series is one of the crown jewel events, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.C1624_UNOFFRES