DOVER, Del. (AP) — Kyle Larson was the can’t-miss future star who tore up the sprint car circuit and would lead a new generation of young stars into the next era of NASCAR.
His promise yet unfulfilled, Larson’s path toward prominence has been slow burning in six-plus years in the Cup Series. He’s been saddled with mediocre cars that not even his raw talent could salvage, and a fantastic 2017 was more a blip than a sign Larson would blossom into a perennial championship contender.
But as Larson stood atop his Chevy with a two-year winless streak behind him, perhaps his playoff victory Sunday at Dover International Speedway was indeed a preview of a championship celebration ahead.
“It’s not a shock, either,” Larson said. “I feel like we’ve been running really well this year.”
Larson’s wife, Katelyn, shot-gunned a beer in a sudsy victory lane bash as he flashed a No. 1 sign behind her, a worthy way to end a 75-race winless streak.
The 27-year-old Larson has been oh-so close toward grabbing the checkered flag since his last win Sept. 9, 2017, in Richmond. Larson had nine runner-up finishes in the No. 42 Chevrolet over that span and won the $1 million NASCAR All-Star race this season.
He cashed in at Dover with the Monster Mile-stone win (it was the track’s 100th race) that earned him an automatic berth into the third round. Not only has Larson failed to win a title, long-time team owner Chip Ganassi has never won a NASCAR Cup Series championship, something that’s surely chapped an organization with handfuls of IndyCar titles.
“It would be nice to get him that championship that, honestly, he’s probably owed,” Larson said.
Larson had four of his six career Cup wins in 2017 and Dover marked his first one in the playoffs. He led 154 laps late after Denny Hamlin faded from a dominant early run (he led 219 laps) in the No. 11 Toyota that opened the door for Larson. Playoff drivers took the top six spots: