The 19th-place perch on the score sheet didn’t reflect the daylong performance that Kyle Larson flexed Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was far from a mid-packer, but a wayward series of late restarts left him smack in the midsection of the 39-car field.
Larson led nine times for a race-best 132 of the 267 laps in Sunday’s Buschy McBusch Race 400, but a closing jolt of chaos thwarted his bid to become the NASCAR Cup Series’ second repeat winner this season. Instead, another Kyle — fittingly Busch, given the race’s title sponsorship — scooted away to his first Cup win of 2021.
Larson’s tipping point came in the final restart with two laps remaining. Lined up on the outside of the second row, Larson tried to push second-place Ryan Blaney to the front, but the aggressive move got the No. 12 Team Penske Ford sideways. Larson’s car swept into the outside retaining wall and Blaney recovered control, but the pair lost any sort of edge as they dropped back through the field. Blaney placed 21st, next to last among the lead-lap finishers.
“Yeah, just lining up behind Blaney, and my plan was just to push him as hard as I could and try and be with him on the backstretch to shove him and hopefully get them guys racing in front of me or potentially get inside or outside for the lead somehow,” Larson said. “I had just planned on pushing him really hard, and obviously I did that and got him sideways and ended up getting us both in the wall.
“Probably should have just laid off once I got to the corner and hopefully a run came to where I could get to his back bumper on the backstretch. Hate that I screwed that up and cost ourselves a good finish.”
Larson had started 32nd after last weekend’s early exit at Talladega weighed down his metrics for Sunday’s lineup. He rose to seventh place at the time of the first caution flag on Lap 25, and was second to Busch when the first stage ended on Lap 80.
He found momentum in winning the second stage, and continued to show strength in the final segment, but a late series of yellows kept the field bunched. Busch and Blaney slipped by in a restart with 10 to go before another caution flag flew, and Larson never regained the top spot.
Larson continued a trend of solid showings on 1.5-mile tracks, where he finished among the top five in all three of those previous starts before Sunday’s. That stretch included a victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and a runner-up effort at Atlanta Motor Speedway after leading 269 of the 325 laps.
Larson is virtually locked into the 16-driver playoff field by virtue of his Vegas victory, but indicated that the would-be wins that have slipped away in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports have tempered some of the big-picture positives.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s great. We’ve got one win. Could have four or five,” Larson said. “But yeah, just another day where I lead a lot of laps and don’t win. Just got to figure it out.”