BROOKLYN, MI — Kyle Larson joined some elite company when he took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400, becoming only the third driver in history to win three in a row at Michigan International Speedway, joining David Pearson and Bill Elliott.
“That’s some awesome company for sure,” Larson said. “We kind of struggled all day. I felt like I was good when I could find clean air on my car. But any time I would get any dirty air or wake from the car in front of me I’d get extremely loose.”
Larson took the lead on an overtime restart, starting on the outside second row and diving to the middle, taking the field four-wide to get the win. Martin Truex Jr. was the lead car on the restart, leading 57 laps of the day and dominating much of the tail end of the race, though differing pit strategies allowed Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch to lead laps late.
Brad Keselowski was the guy at the start of the race, leading 105 laps on the day.
Larson’s win was the fourth of his career out of 134 starts in the premier series. It is also his third victory in 2017, with his other wins coming in June at MIS and at Auto Club Speedway, MIS’ sister track. He led just two laps — the last two.
“It played out exactly how I’d hoped,” Larson said. “The win, it feels amazing to steal one in a way. In my other wins I had the first or second best car. Today I think we were a top-10 car.”
Larson returned to Michigan early Sunday morning after racing in the Knoxville Nationals sprint car race the night before where he finished second. He said he feels like racing in other series has helped him be successful this season.
“I think anytime I get to race any type of car, whether it be a go-kart or a sprint car, any time I’m getting laps, I feel like it’s helping me be a better racecar driver,” Larson said. “Especially when I can get in that stuff and win. It helps my confidence when I get into the Cup car. I get to race quite a bit throughout the year and this year I’ve had a really good year in everything really, especially the dirt stuff, and I feel like for sure that carries over to Sundays.”
Team Owner Chip Ganassi said when Larson was running in the middle of the pack earlier in the race, he was starting to regret his decision to allow Larson to race in Knoxville.
“We didn’t have too good of a start,” Ganassi said. “We were sort of mired in the top 10 there. I had concerns. I was getting ready to take a lot of heat in the media for that if we didn’t have a good day.”
“It’s easy to break that star athlete, easy to break them and slow them down,” Ganassi said. “It’s a lot harder to speed him up. I don’t want to do something that’s going to slow him down. You run the risk of that when you have a talent like that that wants to go out and drive other kinds of cars and things.”
So would Ganassi let Larson run in the Indianapolis 500?
“See what you do to me?” Ganassi said to Larson, laughing. “That’s a great question. Anybody else have any other questions?”
“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Larson said. “The Indy 500 is definitely on my bucket list. I just don’t know if it is right now.”
Truex wound up second, and was visibly frustrated after the race.
“I’m just angry,” Truex said.
He said Larson’s move was expected — Truex said he even held back a little bit hoping Larson would push him ahead, but he spun the tires and that cost him the race.
“I did everything right,” Truex said. “It caught me by surprise … I hadn’t spun the tires all day long, did not expect to have an issue with it, and when I did, there was nothing I could do. I was just helpless, and he had the momentum and did what everybody else would have done. It’s just my screw-up that gave him the win, basically.”
Truex won the second stage of the race, claiming yet another playoff point as the regular season winds down. It was his ninth top-10 finish in 24 races at MIS, and his 16th in 2017.
Michigan Native Erik Jones finished third, his first top-10 finish at his home track. He was the top finishing rookie on the day, and challenged for the lead late in the race.
Jones continues to improve as the season goes on, and credits returning to tracks for a second time as part of the reason for his added success. He said preparation for each weekend is what has differed the most between the truck and Xfinity series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“In trucks and Xfinity, I didn’t really have to prepare at all,” Jones said. “It kind of worked out most of the time. You get to the Cup Series and you do that and you kind of feel a little bit out to lunch when you show up and you’re off like that.”
Truex was asked if, when he was leading and Jones was in second, if he had considered letting Jones go by since Jones needs a win to make the playoffs.
“No,” Truex said. “We don’t have team orders. Nobody lets each other win. He’s going to win some races. His turn will come.”
He said Jones will get his win in the future.
“That’s not how we race,” Truex said. “Nobody out there races that way. Nobody’s going to give a Cup win up. They’re too hard to get.”
Fourth place went to Ryan Newman, with fifth going to Trevor Bayne.
Overall the race was clean, with only five cautions for 28 laps. Two of those were for stage finishes, but on Lap 140 Kasey Kahne and Daniel Suarez got together, with both cars collecting the wall and ending their day.
The last caution of the day came on with just three laps to go after Michael McDowell and Paul Menard got together in turn two. The race was red-flagged for a five and a half minutes to clean up oil before an overtime restart. The official race distance was 202 laps after overtime.
Also leading laps on the day were Hamlin with 16, Kyle Busch with 14, Jones with five and Suarez with three.