Kyle Larson went back to his home state of California and won at Fontana. A win. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the 24-year old from Elk Grove is not perfect. Sure, he might be leading the standings, but perfection?
His average finish over his past four races is only 1.75. Only. The best he could do was second at Homestead to wrap up last season. Larson started this year 12th at Daytona. Then he was second at Atlanta. Second at Las Vegas. Second at Phoenix. It is about time he was perfect, don’t you think? With the second win of his career, he leads the standings by 29 points over Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski had an interesting day. On the start, he got into the hiccuping Denny Hamlin while Ryan Newman rearranged his left rear quarter-panel. That could not have been good on that tire, but we never really discovered if it would be a problem. You see, on the fourth lap, Jimmie Johnson tagged him when Keselowski had to lift, sending Brad spinning through the infield grass. He managed to get back into the Top Ten after the second stage, then second only to Larson at the end. Considering how the car looked, that was an incredible result.
Picking up 40 or more points in a race meant you mattered most of the day. Keselowski did not. Clint Bowyer (third) and Martin Truex, Jr. (fourth) did. In fact, after finishing second to Larson in the opening stage before leading him after the second frame, the Truex brain trust decided to stay out before the overtime finale. Their rival picked up the new Goodyears and that was that. Jamie McMurray was sixth on Sunday, and with points in both stages, he also had a real good afternoon to move to seventh in the season standings. Even Chase Elliott had a good day, with bonus points added to his 10th place completion placing him tied in seasonal points with Keselowski, just without a win.
Being in the Top 16 is what they all are aiming for. Johnson tumbled out after a 21st place result. 20-year old Erik Jones eases in, taking 12th place points bulked up by stage bonuses. Other notables who failed to finish among the Top 20 included Kurt Busch, Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick. To be honest, it is no longer coming as a surprise to see some of this group this far from the front. Patrick is 29th in the standings, four points up on A.J. Allmendinger, but at least he needed to receive a 35 point penalty after Atlanta to be buried this deep.
After races in Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Fontana, with a trek to Texas on the horizon, they return east to Virginia for one week and a date in Martinsville. Johnson has nine grandfather clocks while Hamlin has five of the iconic first place trophies. You would think both should do well. History tells us that Truex, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola might not. It also says Larson, Truex, and Elliott might also falter. Something tells me that history, at least this time out, might be full of it. Current events might suggest that relying totally on history might not be the right choice for Sunday.