FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Larson was second to nobody in his home state.
Larson persevered through four late restarts to win at Fontana on Sunday, adding his second career victory to his overall Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series points lead.
Larson finished second in each of the last three races, but the Sacramento-area native’s Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was the class of the field at Auto Club Speedway for the second straight day. He also won the Xfinity Series race on Saturday, completing a clean sweep of the weekend.
“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.”
Faced with the late drama and jockeying typical to the five-wide asphalt on Fontana’s bumpy 2-mile track, Larson was persistent and tenacious. After surging up from fourth to first with four new tires before the final caution, he made one last outstanding restart and cruised through two overtime laps to win.
Brad Keselowski was second, and Clint Bowyer came in third for his best finish since June 2015 and his first top-five finish in 52 races. Martin Truex Jr. was fourth after challenging Larson aggressively, and Joey Logano roared up to fifth.
Larson is only the second driver in Fontana history to win from the pole, joining six-time race champion Jimmie Johnson, who did it in 2008. Johnson finished 21st after starting near the back in his backup car.
Larson also became just the fourth driver to sweep a weekend at Fontana. The 24-year-old prodigy added a win at Fontana to his other career victory on NASCAR’s other 2-mile oval at Michigan.
After an early NASCAR season full of dominant cars getting stung at the finish, Larson wasted none of his advantage.
“He’s on a really nice roll, and it takes everything,” said Keselowski, who surged into second after two outstanding late restarts. “This is a sport of speed, execution and luck, and when you’re on a roll like that, you’ve got all three on your side.”
Johnson, Keselowski and Phoenix winner Ryan Newman all sustained minor damage early on, but Larson was fast from the start.
Larson won the first stage of 60 laps, earning his first stage victory of the season, but lost his lead after getting too close to the wall on pit road. Truex won the second stage, but Larson slipped past him to reclaim the lead on the first lap of the final stage.
The leaders pitted under caution with 20 laps to go, but Truex had his first slow stop all day and slipped five spots down the field to seventh. Larson won the race off pit road and had a fine restart, but Matt Kenseth slid hard into the wall moments later after minor contact with Truex.
Kenseth failed to finish for the third time in five races this season.
After the restart with 12 laps to go, Larson flew past Kyle Busch and built a decent cushion – only to slow again when Cory LaJoie spun out. Larson pitted for tires along with most of the field, while only Hamlin, Truex and McMurray stayed out.
Larson barely got back into the lead before Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun on contact from Roush Fenway Racing teammate Trevor Bayne to force the fourth caution, necessitating overtime. Larson had no problem hanging on.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th in his landmark 600th NASCAR start, becoming just the 25th driver to hit the mark. He had to start from the back due to a tire change.
The Fontana race compelled its usual eclectic collection of Hollywood celebrities to make the one-hour drive east. The group included actors Scott Eastwood, Kaitlin Olson, Terry Crews and Eric Stonestreet along with Los Angeles Kings forward Tyler Toffoli and Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates.
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