Kyle Larson held off two of the sport’s top road course racers – Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. – to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in a thrilling overtime finish Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
Larson, who started on the pole, dominated the action in the NASCAR Cup Series race in his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Camaro, winning the first two stages and leading a race-best 57 laps on the iconic 2.52-mile, 12-turn road course to take his third victory of the year, ninth win of his career and first-ever victory at Sonoma.
In the closing laps, Larson had to outduel defending series champion and recent road course master Elliott, three-time Sonoma winner Truex Jr. and Team Penske’s Joey Logano to take the checkered flag. Larson finished .614-of a second in front of Elliott at the checkered flag.
Elliott, who had won five of the last six road course races including the most recent one at Circuit of The Americas in Texas two weeks ago, started second in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy and finished there after leading 13 laps of the race. He said even though it was the best he’s run here, it just wasn’t good enough to get the trophy today.
“Congratulations to Kyle (Larson) and Cliff (Daniels, crew chief), and everybody on the No. 5 team. They’ve been doing an amazing job,” Elliott said. “I’m really proud of our NAPA group, though. I feel like we were a lot better there at the end than we were at the beginning; and definitely the best I’ve ever been here, I feel like, at Sonoma, in particular. I’m pleased with that. I wish we could have gotten another spot, but we’ll try again.”
Truex, who was trying for the Sonoma three-peat and his fourth career win here in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after winning in Wine Country in 2018 and 2019, said Larson definitely had the car to beat today.
“Our only hope was for it really to go green the rest of the race there in that third stage once we both pitted and we were one-two,” Truex Jr. said. “(Kyle Larson) drove by me and he was just super-fast for 10 laps. Our only chance was if the race would have gone green from there and I still don’t even know. He was really fast for 15 laps then obviously once we started getting all those cautions, we were toast. Definitely not what we needed.”
Larson, a native of Elk Grove near Sacramento, won the Coca-Cola 600 last Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., and said he spent the last week relaxing with family and friends in the Bay Area, and winning today in front of all his peeps was a great way to finish off his trip.
“(Winning here) means a lot,” said Larson, who said he spent quite a bit of time at Sonoma Raceway as a youngster watching races and dreaming of one day becoming a professional race car driver.
“Northern California will always be home to me, even if I live way out on the East Coast now,” Larson continued. “Thanks to all the fans for coming out. I know there’s a lot of Sprint Car fans in the stands and around this race track. I got to see a lot of my friends here today. I’ve got my family here. This is unbelievable.
“And to get back-to-back wins in the Cup Series is something I’ve always dreamed of doing and to get it done feels great. To win last week on Memorial Day weekend, four in a row now, if you count my dirt racing too. And we’ve got a big week of racing coming up. I look forward to all that and just look forward to keeping the streak going.”
There were eight cautions in the race, the worst incident coming with four laps to go after Ryan Preece ran off track and then when he drove back onto the track, his Chevy made contact with Cody Ware’s car, sending both cars careening in different directions.
Another late-race caution with 14 laps to go cut down a huge lead that Larson had built and gave the rest of the field some hope. In that incident, Ross Chastain, Corey LaJoie and Kevin Harvick tangled in Turn 11, and also collected the cars of William Byron, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and Erik Jones. However, after each restart, Larson was able to get back on the gas quickly and pull away from his rivals.
“On each of those last restarts, I got good launches, was able to do that,” Larson said. “On each of them I felt like I lost a little bit of front grip. Kind of went through there and pushed a little bit too much, couldn’t get on the gas as soon as I needed to. Same with three, three and four. Chase was actually able to stay closer to me than I wanted him to by the time we got to seven. He’s really good at out-braking people. I didn’t want to go in there and make a mistake. I can get good drive off to kind of stretch out from him. Just had to make sure I hit my marks and didn’t enter into the fast corners too fast, slide out and lose speed. My car was really good. I didn’t really have to run 100-percent. I could run 95-percent, just limit my mistakes a little bit better.”
Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Bowman and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10. ARCA Menards West winner from Saturday and Cup rookie Chase Briscoe finished 17th after starting 25th. It was the fourth consecutive victory for Hendrick Motorsports and with the effort Larson cut Hamlin’s series lead to 47 points. It was the fourth straight 1-2 finish for Hendrick Motorsports and the first time since 2014 that the Hendrick team has posted four-straight wins.
Prior to the green flag, San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, serving as the race’s Grand Marshal, welcomed the large Bay Area contingent of fans back to live sports before saying the most famous words in motorsports. Shanahan, who said this was his first visit to a NASCAR race, toured the pits, met with several drivers and had a brief interview session with media members.
Other celebrities who attended today’s race included NBA legend and NASCAR team owner Michael Jordan, who was here to cheer on his driver Bubba Wallace and the No. 23 Toyota team; Food Network star Guy Fieri, an admitted gearhead who drove the honorary pace car; and U.S. Skateboarding champ Mina Stess, who performed a skating demonstration during pre-race ceremonies.
The NASCAR Cup Series moves on to Texas Motor Speedway near Dallas for the prestigious NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday, June 13 (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio).