The pressure is officially off Kyle Larson.
With his dominating victory in Sunday’s wild Auto Club 400, Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team are all but guaranteed a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs, where they stand an excellent chance of making a serious title run.
That’s the key takeaway from a crazy and calamitous afternoon at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, where Larson became the fifth different driver to win in 2017 and Ganassi the fifth different car owner to win.
But almost as significant is the fact that Larson no longer has to answer The Question: “When are you going to finally win?”
And that’s an 800-pound gorilla off Larson’s back.
After all, he’d won only once in 115 prior Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.
On top of that, he’s been tantalizing close so many times lately. In fact, prior to his Auto Club victory, Larson had finished second in four of the last five Cup races, dating back to the 2016 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“This is just amazing,” Larson said. “We have been so good all year long; three seconds in a row. I’ve been watching all the TV like ‘He doesn’t know how to win,’ but we knew how to win today, so that was good.”
At times, Larson made it look easy, leading 110 of 202 laps around the 2-mile Southern California track.
But at the end, it was anything but easy as Larson had to deal with four cautions — and the four restarts that followed — over the final 20 laps to seal the deal.
“Seems like every time I get to the lead in one of these NASCAR races, cautions always fall,” said Larson. “I’m always having to fight people off on restarts. A lot of times I’ve gotten beat. Today we did a good enough job to hold the lead. Stayed focused and stayed calm and had a good result.”
Among the people Larson had to fight off at the end were Toyota drivers Denny Hamlin, who was second on the final restart, and fourth-place Martin Truex Jr.
“We were just able to have a good restart there on the last one and get a really good push by Truex on that launch,” Larson said. “I got a little nervous that he might peel underneath me or try and get above me, but we were able to carry enough momentum around to hold onto the lead and ultimately get the win.”
And what a win it was.
In fact, it was huge weekend for driver and team, as Larson also won Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Auto Club and took the pole in the Cup race.
“I’m pretty excited today here with the sweep this weekend,” said car owner Chip Ganassi. “It’s all Kyle Larson this weekend, all Kyle Larson.”
“I’m more surprised that I won the race yesterday than I am I won the race today,” said Larson. “I was very confident going into today’s race. I knew our race car was extremely good throughout the practices yesterday.
“In the XFINITY race, I struggled in practice, then struggled in the first half of the race,” said Larson. “Didn’t really expect to win that one. We were able to find the speed at the end to do it. But, yeah, it was a solid, solid weekend. Definitely the best of my NASCAR career.”
Punched our ticket!!!!
— Chip Ganassi (@GanassiChip) March 26, 2017
Check that off the list.
— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) March 26, 2017
— CGR NASCAR Teams (@CGRnascar) March 26, 2017
— Team Chevy (@TeamChevy) March 26, 2017