SONOMA — Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports continued their recent domination of the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday in the 32nd Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway where Larson posted his second straight win and led the team to its fourth straight 1-2 finish.
With no practice or qualifying due to COVID restrictions, Larson earned the pole for Sunday’s race on the tough 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course through NASCAR’s performance metric. Despite not turning a wheel on the track until the field took their pace lap on the way to the opening green flag for the 90-lap race, Larson captured the checkered flag in all three stages of the race for a complete sweep of the event.
“What a car! This is unbelievable! I thought I would be OK today, but I really didn‘t know how it would race. I don‘t think any of us really knew with no practice, but our car was really good there, and I can‘t say enough about it,” said Larson, age 28, who resides in North Carolina, but was raised in nearby Elk Grove and still considers Sonoma Raceway his home track.
Larson held the lead over his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott through the first ten laps of the race before electing to pit for new tires at the mandatory competition yellow-caution after lap 10. He was able to regain the lead just two laps later where he stayed for the remainder of the 20-lap opening stage.
“I was a little bit nervous to start the race just having Chase Elliott, who is probably the best road racer right now, lined up next to me. When I was able to kind of stretch out from him and kind of get into a rhythm,” Larson explained after the race. “From then on, we were really good.”
It was much the same story in the 20-lap second stage as Larson worked his way back to the front on lap 33 following his second pit stop. By this point it had become clear that Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., who was attempting to win his third straight race at Sonoma, would be his primary competition for the race win.
The trio would battle it out for the lead through the remainder of the race with Larson only losing the lead as the field order shuffled during pit stops. Larson easily survived a couple of late race cautions, the last of which caused the race to go two extra overtime laps for a green-white-checkered finish, to pick up his third Cup victory of the season, the ninth of his career and first ever on a road course.
“It was not easy,” insisted Larson, who led the race for 57 laps in total. “No road course is easy. Just keeping it on the track was tough, especially when you have got two of the best behind you. I sure didn’t want to give them another try at it.”
Elliott would hang on for second while Truex, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch would round out the top five.
“He was just a little better in certain spots than me. I would like to have given him a little better run.” said Elliott. “We were a lot better at the end than we were in the beginning. This is probably the best car I have ever had here. I wish we could have gotten another spot, but we will try again next race.”
Truex felt the late cautions derailed any hopes he had for a victory.
“They (Larson) were just a little stronger than us everywhere. The Hendrick cars are really strong right now.” said Truex, who is now tied with Larson for the most victories this season at three. “We didn’t seem to have the short run speed and our only chance was on the long runs so those cautions at the end killed any chance we had.”
Larson’s win was met with strong approval of the approximately 15,000 fans that were allowed into Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, making it the biggest sporting event held in California since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in March of 2020.
“This means a lot to me. Thanks to all the fans for coming out,” exclaimed Larson, as he sipped some wine from the special winner’s goblet in victory lane after the race. “Even though I live on the East Coast now, Northern California will always be home to me.”
Notes: Denny Hamlin now holds a 644 to 617 lead in the driver standings as the series heads next to Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star race on Sunday, June 13.
Chase Briscoe won Saturday’s ARCA Menard’s Series race. Defending Stockton 99 track champion Eric Nascimento Jr., of Manteca, finished the ARCA race in 14th place.
Next up at Sonoma Raceway will be the NHRA Camping World Sonoma Nationals on July 23-25. For ticket information call 800-870-RACE or visit www.sonomaraceway.com.