Oh, what could have been for Kyle Larson at Texas Motor Speedway.
Despite starting from the rear of the field in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday, Larson came back with a shot at the win in the closing laps.
But the driver of the No. 42 Ganassi Racing Chevy wasn’t able to catch Superman’s cape as Jimmie Johnson extended his lead by .34-seconds over Larson at the finish.
“I think if I could have got by Joey (Logano) with maybe five to go, I think I could have ‑‑ I definitely would have caught Jimmie,” Larson said. “Passing him is obviously another story. But I would have at least had a couple opportunities to get behind him and work there behind him and try and get by.”
Fighting from the back
Larson started the race at a deficit when the No. 42 Chevy failed to pass pre-qualifying on Friday. Forced to start from the back of the field, Larson motored his way through traffic to ninth before the Competition Caution on Lap 30.
On the first round of pit stops, the driver was penalized for driving through too many pit boxes for his service and was forced to restart 37th when the race returned to green on Lap 36. Once again, Larson was on a mission. He finished sixth at the end of Stage 1 on Lap 70.
Over the next 70 laps, Larson battled with the leaders and wound up fourth at the conclusion of the second stage. Although Larson was forced to pit after the second segment, he restarted 21st — one position ahead of Johnson — on Lap 177. He was back in the top 10 on Lap 193. Prior to the eighth and final caution on Lap 299, Larson was running fifth. He retained his position out of the pits and passed Martin Truex Jr. two laps later.
What could have been
With 17 laps remaining, Johnson got around Logano for the lead. Larson was running fourth behind Kevin Harvick. Five circuits later, Larson fought his way by Harvick for third. Over the final 11 laps, Larson used 10 circuits to pass Logano for second coming to the white flag.
“Wish I would have got him by a little sooner, but all in all a great day for our Credit One Bank Chevy team,” Larson said. “I made a mistake there on the first pit stop and clipped too many boxes. I turned in way early. I probably clipped a couple before the 11 box. But yeah, I was disappointed in myself then because I feel like our car was really, really good the beginning part of the race and probably could have drove up to the lead and maybe controlled the race from then on. So, you never know.
“I just got to focus a little bit harder and not make mistakes, and we can control some races, lead some laps. All in all, still a really good finish for us and we extend the point lead a little bit, so a solid day.”
Larson extended his point lead by 17 points over Chase Elliott, who finished ninth. He’s picked up stage points in every race until last week. Larson’s streak of top 10s in every stage ended at Martinsville Speedway.
Before last Sunday, when Larson finished 17th at Martinsville, his worst result of 2017 was 12th at Daytona.
Second doesn’t “suck that bad”
Larson’s second-place finish at Texas marks his fifth result of second or better in the first seven races — marking the best start of the season by a driver since Harvick in 2015. Harvick, who had won the Cup championship in the previous year, had two wins, four seconds and an eight-place result.
“They’re all kind of easy to swallow, just because we have a lot of speed in our cars right now,” Larson said. “You know, seconds don’t suck that bad. Yeah, you know, I’d like to have five wins right now, but four seconds and a win isn’t terrible.”
Still, after waiting nearly three years to earn his first Monster Energy Cup win and 17 additional races to capture his second victory, it’s safe to say Larson is finally enjoying a true break-out season.
“Yeah, it’s awesome,” Larson said. “I know I keep giving the same answer every time you ask that question, but it’s awesome. We knew, or we thought we’d start the year off good. I don’t think we thought we’d start the year off this good. I’m extremely thankful to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing and a part of everybody’s hard work at the shop and on the road crew. It’s been a lot of fun to show up to the racetrack and be fast each and every time we hit the track.
“Even in times when I feel like we don’t end practice very good, they make great adjustments overnight and we’re a lot better in the race, which was kind of what we were fighting yesterday was I didn’t end Happy Hour being very happy. But today when I asked Chad (Johnston, crew chief) all the changes that he need, sounded like he had a long list of stuff. He was able to make the right calls, and our car was definitely the best the first half, I thought. We just didn’t have the track position.”
Following a week off, the Cup tour returns to short track racing at Bristol Motor Speedway where Larson has two top 10s in six start. With as solid as he’s been this season, Larson doesn’t want his success to end.
“Yeah, it’s fun. It’s fun right now, and hopefully keep it going,” Larson said. “I don’t know what it takes to improve because I just drive the cars, but yeah, we’re going to Bristol, which is a track that I run really, really good at, so I’m excited about that, and hopefully can find some good luck there finally.”