FONTANA, Calif. — Polesitter and California native Kyle Larson dominated the opening stage of Sunday’s Auto Club 400, leading 43 of 60 laps en route to 10 bonus points and his first stage win of the season.
Larson drove around Las Vegas winner Martin Truex Jr. on the apron in turns three and four to take the lead back with 13 laps to go in stage one, never looking back as he deftly navigated slower traffic before reaching the green-checkered flag first.
The performance makes Larson now the only Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver to score stage points in every stage completed this season, after Brad Keselowski finished the 60-lap run one lap down in 19th.
“I didn’t expect our Target Chevrolet to be so good on the bottom,” said Larson, who crossed the line a half-second ahead of Truex after leading by as much as 1.5 seconds earlier in the run. “I had to go down there to pass a lapper and it stuck really good and I gained ground on the 78 (Truex), so I kept committing down there and was able to get around him and get the stage win. It was a good run for us.”
However, Larson had a miscue on pit road, coming too close to the wall on his entry and losing four positions during the exchange of service.
“I made a big mistake on pit road, came in a little hot, locked (the tires) up and got too close to the inside wall,” he explained. “We lost some spots because of me, so we’ll just have to make it up here and try to go for another stage win.”
Truex, who took the lead for 12 circuits after green flag pit stops cycled through at lap 35, finished second in the stage ahead of Chase Elliott, Larson’s teammate Jamie McMurray and former Fontana winner Kyle Busch.
Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10 and all scored bonus points as part of NASCAR’s new-for-2017 format, designed to reward consistent performers throughout the race.
Logano was the biggest story of the first run, charging forward from 31st to eighth in 15 laps and staying there for the remainder of the stage.
Only one caution slowed the pace during the opening stage, coming at lap four, when Brad Keselowski spun into the infield off turn four after receiving damage due to contact with Jimmie Johnson on the initial start.
Keselowski rebounded to score the free pass as the caution came out to end the stage, however, while defending Fontana winner Jimmie Johnson was the biggest name to be trapped a lap down at the stage break, running 20th.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
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