For some drivers, the second time is the charm. For others, it is the third. For Kyle Larson, it was the fourth, or seventh.
Heading into June 6 action, the 28-year-old maintained a 17.5 average finish in six collective Cup races at Sonoma Raceway. Over his three previous races at the track, Larson started on the pole three times but only possessed an average finish of 16.7
The California valley demons, however, were all but quelled as Larson was able to finally cash in on a victory at his home track Sunday afternoon.
The win is Larson’s third of the season and his second in as many races (Charlotte on May 30). Dating back to May 9 (Darlington), Larson has finished second or first in five consecutive races. The win is additionally Larson’s first on a road course in the Cup Series.
From Michael Jordan to Guy Fieri, the high-profile fan presence only reinforced the star-studded occasion at Sonoma Raceway Sunday afternoon. While the celebrities stole the show in the stands, it was the usual suspects who took the crowd by storm to begin the race, as a three-headed Hendrick Motorsports monster in Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and William Byron led the field through the first seven+ laps until Denny Hamlin overtook Byron through turn 11 heading into lap eight.
The technical strategy began to peak through the grapevines before the lap 10 competition caution even had a chance to wave, as a slew of drivers, including Larson, lingered into pit road for green flag pit stops.
Although the Larson-Elliott-Byron trio reclaimed the top three positions with less than eight to go in stage one, it was Martin Truex Jr. who raised the most eyebrows the rest of the way as the No. 19 machine galloped all the way from his 19th-place starting position to fourth upon the conclusion of stage one.
After the Larson and Elliott one-two tandem risked their mileage to finish stage one in first and second, it was Kurt Busch and Matt DiBenedetto who both decided to stay out upon the start of stage two. However, the Hendrick and Truex Jr. train continued to pound their way through the field, and while several cars underwent late-stage pit stops, Larson led the final eight laps of the stage to scoop up his 11th stage win of the season and his second of the day.
But the fun would not end there for Larson. In fact, quite the contrary.
Despite restarting the final stage in 21st, Larson rocketed all the way into the top five in a span of only five laps. Truex Jr. meanwhile, was able to battle with Larson just enough to give the No. 5 machine a good run through the final turns of each lap until the pair ran second and third with less than 40 to go.
Over the final 30 laps, the Hendrick battle became a Circuit of the Americas (COTA) sequel, but with a plot-twisting kick in Truex Jr., who looked to play spoiler. An additional wrench in pit strategy only made the race in wine country that much more technical, as Joey Logano and Kyle Busch traded the lead until Larson and Truex Jr. pivoted their way back to the front.
A multi-car pileup through turn 11 involving Corey LaJoie, Kevin Harvick and Byron packed the field together with 11 to go until Larson and Elliott once again cleared the field, and after a three-lap shootout turned into overtime after a late Anthony Alfredo caution, Larson pulled away to pick up the win.
Elliott finished second. In 15 career road races in the Cup Series, Elliott has now finished inside the top five in eight of them. The finish additionally extends Elliott’s top-10 streak to six, dating back to Kansas Speedway on May 2 (fifth).
Truex Jr. finished third. Over his last three races at Sonoma, Truex has finished inside the top three in all three of them (he won his two previous races at the track).
Ross Chastain finished seventh. It is Chastain’s third finish inside the top 10 this season and his first since May 23 (COTA).
The Cup Series will take part in All-Star festivities when the field treks to Texas Motor Speedway next weekend. The All-Star Open will take place at 6:00 p.m. EST on June 13, while the All-Star Race for $1 million will start up at 8:00 p.m. EST.