Based off practice times on Friday and Saturday, Kyle Larson was among the favorites for Sunday’s (Oct. 7) Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway. When the green flag flew, that was not the case.
Even pre-race, Larson mentioned to NBC Sports, he had a top-three racecar, believing that only Kevin Harvick was quicker than the No. 42 car. The No. 4 car was indeed fast, leading a race-high 286 laps, but Larson was way off.
“It was just really bad,” he said after the race after struggling to run inside the top 15 most of the day. ” [I’m] Not sure why we were that bad. It was a little cooler yesterday, but you wouldn’t think it would make that much of a difference. Just a really disappointing day. We were really, really bad.”
Since qualifying was rained out due to inclement weather, Larson began the race in 10th. However, he didn’t make a green flag pass through the first three-quarters of the race, dropping as low as 17th. At the conclusion of stage one, the No. 42 sat 11th. But it was during the second stage where Larson dropped, hard. He took the green and white checkers one lap down in 15th. Larson made contact with Paul Menard, scuffing up the right side of his car as he struggled to run the high line around the track.
The second half of the race was much of the same. In a race that saw many long, green flag runs, including the first two stages going caution free, crew chief Chad Johnston elected to bring Larson down pit road halfway through the final stage. With 62 laps to go, a caution for debris came out after the stop. That meant the No. 42 car was two laps down before getting forced to take the wavearound.
It took until the final pileup on a restart with less than five laps to go for Larson to get his second lap back. He finished in 12th position, a far cry from expectations considering his 378 laps led in his last three Dover starts.
The weather was much warmer on Sunday than it was during the rest of the weekend. But Larson doesn’t think that contributed to his poor performance.
“I would love to use that as an excuse, but everyone that was fast on Friday and Saturday was fast today,” Larson said. “’I’m not sure why we weren’t good, but we were pretty terrible.”
Heading to Talladega Superspeedway, Larson sits 11th on the playoff grid, 12 markers behind Ryan Blaney, who currently holds the last transfer position into the Round of 8. With late-race incidents involving playoff drivers Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer, it lessened the blow just a bit.
But Larson still believes he will need help after earning no stage points on Sunday.
“There was a lot of times throughout the race where I wanted to give up and wish I hit the wall head on, but whatever,” he said. “We’re going to need a lot of people to have a lot of issues to make it to the next round.”