FONTANA, Calif. — Kevin Harvick’s winning string ended at three with an early Sunday thud at Auto Club Speedway, but a slightly more obscure streak belonging to Kyle Larson also fell — a victorious four-race stretch at NASCAR’s 2-mile tracks.
Larson settled for the next best thing in Sunday’s Auto Club 400, rallying twice from deep in the pack to finish a season-best second place behind a dominant Martin Truex Jr. He surged back after an early collision with Harvick in the 37th lap, then made an extra pit stop before the final stage began for a vibration, forcing him to make a methodical comeback to the runner-up spot.
“Would have liked to be one spot better, but we couldn’t even see Martin,” Larson said, making a nod to the sizable 11.685-second margin of victory. “Got to be a little bit better. All in all, a good day. We fought hard. That’s all you can ask for.”
Harvick and Larson had already been engaged in a back-and-forth contest for third place over the course of multiple laps when their battle escalated into a coming-together of Californians. Coming off the 2-mile track’s second turn, Harvick fought for control and bobbled, then veered left into the side of Larson’s No. 42.
Harvick’s car ricocheted off the outside retaining wall then narrowly avoided the inside barrier, scraping away with significant damage. After repairs, he limped to a 35th-place result, nine laps down. Larson’s crew made their own mending work in an extended stop, dropping him to 20th in the running order.
Disappointed in myself for a bone head move 2 years in a row @ACSupdates. Proud of my team for another fast car and we move on.
— Kevin Harvick (@KevinHarvick) March 18, 2018
Harvick keyed his radio to shoulder the blame for their contact, a stance he reiterated in post-race interviews on pit road. Larson’s radio was slightly more colorful in the initial aftermath, but having Harvick’s messaged relayed to him helped soothe any potential ill will.
RELATED: Harvick: ‘Just my fault back there’
“I think he came down to side-draft me maybe and just got on my right-rear,” Larson said. “Just the one replay I saw, it looked like it just spun him to the right. I’m glad that he’s not mad at me because I didn’t think I did anything wrong at the time, so it’s good that he doesn’t feel that way either.”
Larson’s next round of misfortune came on Lap 125 during the intermission after Stage 2. Instead of restarting seventh for the final stage, an additional pit stop to cure a wheel vibration knocked him back to 28th, setting the table for another charge through the field.
WATCH: See the wreck unfold
Larson chalked both setbacks up as “a lot of weird issues,” but Chad Johnston — his crew chief on the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet team — said that the earlier trouble was the more irksome of the two.
“For passing as many cars as we did, it’s just frustrating to get wrecked 30 laps into a race for no reason,” Johnston said. “That’s the most frustrating part to me. I don’t know why we were raced that hard 30 laps in and if it was the other way around, I’m sure that he wouldn’t be happy about it either. But we need to clean up our issues on pit road if we’re going to have a shot to win ’em, but guys are working hard and we’ll get it figured out. It’s new for everybody.
“We’ve just got to find our rhythm in what we need to do to do our jobs and go from there. But the car’s got speed, so that’s good.”