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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Kyle Larson Dominates Las Vegas, Wins in 4th Start with Hendrick

Kyle Larson did nothing short of dominate Sunday’s (March 7) Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, cruising to his seventh career victory and first as a member of the Hendrick Motorsports team.

Larson led 103 laps en route to the win, bringing the No. 5 back to victory lane for the first time since Kasey Kahne won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2017. He also became the quickest driver to win for Hendrick in NASCAR Cup Series competition, winning in just his fourth start.

“Such an awesome racecar,” Larson said after the race. “[Crew chief] Cliff [Daniels] and everybody did a great job preparing this piece. It was so much fun to drive, I could go wherever I wanted to [and] we had a really good car once we kind of got single-filed out.”

The win also came a day short of one year since Larson’s final race with Chip Ganassi Racing. That was at Phoenix Raceway last March; after that race, Larson used a racial slur in an iRacing event, which led to a suspension from NASCAR and release from Ganassi. That race at Phoenix was also the final race NASCAR had last year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the season for two months.

Kevin Harvick and William Byron, the latter fresh off scoring his second career win last week at Homestead-Miami Speedway, led the field to green. Byron quickly took the top spot and led the opening lap, a precursor to the afternoon’s strong showing from all four Hendrick Motorsports machines.

Harvick fell back to kick off a dismal day for Stewart-Haas Racing, later having a tire rub and running midpack for most of the race. Bubba Wallace‘s day took a turn for the worse when his power steering failed soon after the first caution of the afternoon flew for debris.

Joey Logano, looking for his third straight victory in Las Vegas’ spring event, waged a three-wide, lap-long battle with Larson and Team Penske stablemate Brad Keselowski for the lead before securing it. The No. 22 faded, though, and both Keselowski and Chase Elliott snuck by for the top two spots.

Keselowski got by Elliott and won the opening stage, but Elliott came in to fix some damage to the No. 9. Keselowski retained the lead once the green flag waved to start stage 2 before Larson cut through the top five and got by the No. 2, before getting passed for the top spot by teammate Byron.

Near the end of the second stage and after pit stops, Larson held a lead of more five seconds over the rest of the field and set sail to win the second stage.

The third and final stage kicked off on lap 100, but a yellow flew within minutes after Elliott got loose on the backstretch and spun around. Later, Aric Almirola‘s race came to an end when he smacked the wall and trundled to pit road, marking the second SHR car to have troubles.

Larson cut his way back through the field and got by Denny Hamlin for the lead with less than 60 laps remaining.

His Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman had a flat tire and a close call with Anthony Alfredo as Bowman tried to get to pit road. That happened behind Larson, though, who never gave up the lead and won the 400-mile event by more than three seconds.

Larson was asked how much it meant to win in the same scheme and number that team owner Rick Hendrick’s son, Ricky, had made famous.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I know that this is Rick’s most special paint scheme for obvious reasons, and it’s just an honor for me to be able to drive it. Our first time out with this color scheme. … It’s blessed. Thanks to all the fans for coming out. … That was some fun racing on the restarts. I hope everybody enjoyed it, I know I did. I had fun racing with Brad and Denny and everybody, [I] tried giving it away coming to the green-flag stop, but thankfully we were able to have a good enough car to hold them off.”

Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five, while Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Byron, Logano and Erik Jones filled the top 10. Elsewhere, Chris Buescher and Ryan Preece both scored top-15 finishes (14th and 15th, respectively), and Matt DiBenedetto came home 16th after running in the top 10 for a good portion of the race. DiBenedetto ran the last 90 laps on the same left front tire after his Wood Brothers Racing crew had issues with the tire gun.

Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell ended up 17th, running top-20 all day but ending his streak of three top-10 finishes to start the season. Kevin Harvick also had his streak of three top 10s to start the season snapped as he finished 20th.

Next week, the Cup Series stays on the West Coast, but heads south next to Phoenix Raceway for the Instacart 500. The Sunday (March 14) afternoon event is set to take the green flag shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET, with coverage on FOX.

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: LAS VEGAS

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Actually enjoyed the whole race. Lots of mixing it up and the camera spread it around. Really nice to see Kyle win the race and the other Kyle starting to get started with his new crew chief.

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