Kyle Larson ends 75-race winless drought with win at Dover

Kyle Larson celebrated his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in two years Sunday at Dover International Speedway, taking the checkered flag in the Drydene 400 by a convincing 1.578-second lead over Martin Truex Jr. and securing himself and his Chip Ganassi Racing team their first-ever berth in the upcoming Round of 8.
Larson’s friend and polesitter, Denny Hamlin, finished fifth after leading a race-high 218 laps. But perhaps the two golf buddies would agree, on this Sunday, Larson’s long game was just a bit better.
Larson, who started alongside Hamlin on the front row, took the race lead on a fast pit stop by his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team during the Stage 2 break and pulled out to a five-, then six-second advantage on the field – first on Hamlin then on Truex, a contender all afternoon. Truex won Stage 2 and led 15 laps, but a slight pit-stop miscue put the 2017 Cup champion out of the pits sixth on that stage stop instead of with the lead.
“After the first stage, I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like I made the car better at the same time, and it really benefited our long runs,’’ said Larson, who led 154 laps en route to his sixth career win and first playoff victory. “That’s as good as I’ve ever been around cutting the bottom here. Just a great combination here. Good to be fast in practice and then be good again in the race and get the win.”
“This is unbelievable,’’ he continued, motioning toward the track’s front grandstands in gratitude. “I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a Golden Monster (trophy) is going to be pretty sweet.’’
Larson and Truex’s fellow playoff contenders, Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick and Hamlin, rounded out the top five. Regular-season champion Kyle Busch, who started lowest on the grid of the 12 playoff drivers in 18th, rallied from an early-race pit-road penalty to finish sixth.
Heading to the second race of the NASCAR Playoffs’ three-race Round 2, Larson’s victory puts him atop the standings with a 500-mile race at the historic Talladega Superspeedway next week. Truex’s runner-up finish puts him atop the points – 15 points ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Hamlin. Busch’s rally puts him fourth in the points standings – tied with Hamlin.
“We were catching him at the end, got close, just unfortunate there,’’ Truex said. “We win and lose as a team and the guys will clean it up for sure.
“Every week is about getting most points you can, so a positive day for us.’’