BROOKLYN, Michigan — Kyle Larson claimed his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, clinching a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“He hung in there with our team,” car owner Chip Ganassi said. “We were building. We’ve been building over the years. He came on board and did a great job. The team rallied around him. I can’t say enough about the kid and the job he’s done over the last few years, and it’s been a nice gradual coming-up through the pack. And I couldn’t be more happy with Kyle right now.”
The victory came in Larson’s 99th career start and was the first win for Chip Ganassi Racing in 99 races.
“I was teared-up that whole last few laps, because I could just feel it,” Larson said. “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.”
Larson’s friend, Bryan Clauson, died earlier this month as a result of injuries sustained in a USAC midget car race.
Throughout the second half of the race, winless drivers Larson and rookie Chase Elliott ran first and second, with the exception of laps during cycles of green-flag pit stops. After giving up the lead to Larson on the final restart with eight laps remaining, Elliott went on to take runner-up honors.
“We both spun our tires really bad (on the last restart),” Larson said. “And the No. 2 (Michigan native 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.”
Keselowski finished third, another Sprint Cup rookie, Ryan Blaney, was fourth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
Elliott initially took the lead after a cycle of green-flag pit stops completed on lap 118, But the yellow flag waved on the next lap, and Larson took the lead on the lap 125 restart. Elliott returned to the lead, again, after another cycle of green-flag stops completed on lap 170.
After the final cycle of stops completed, Elliott had a lead of nearly three seconds over Larson. Larson closed in on Elliott, but bobbled in lapped traffic with just under 20 laps remaining, allowing Elliott to regrow his cushion.
Elliott’s lead, though, was erased by the fourth and final caution of the race inside 15 laps to go. When the race restarted with eight laps to go, Elliott lost the lead for good when Keselowski pushed Larson by and took second for himself. Soon after, Elliott was able to get back by Keselowski to retake second.
“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 (Elliott). I was able to give him a push, a really hard push and got sideways, there, and was able to get the lead. Those two cars, the 42 (Larson) and 24, were pretty close. They both had a lot of speed. We were right there, though, just a notch behind.”
Joey Logano led the race early after starting on the pole. Harvick was the first driver to get by Logano on the race track, taking the lead on lap 26. Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Keselowski also led laps in the first half of the race, with Keselowski’s laps led coming as a result of staying out later during green-flag pit stops.
NOTES: The Pure Michigan 400 was the sixth consecutive race missed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he continues to recover from a concussion thought to have been sustained in a crash during the last Michigan race in June. Alex Bowman was the substitute driver for the second time Sunday. … NASCAR, once again, tested an ultra-low downforce package in Sunday’s race. The Pure Michigan 400 was the third race in which the package that may become the base of the 2017 aero package was tested. It was used at MIS in June and at Kentucky Speedway in July. Team Penske won both those races — Logano at MIS and Brad Keselowski at Kentucky.