Kyle Larson cruised to victory at the Monster Mile on Sunday and locked the No. 42 Ganassi Racing team into the Round of 8.
Larson led the final 73 laps of the Drydene 400 en route to his sixth career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win and his first victory since the 2017 fall Richmond race, 75 races ago.
He crossed the line 1.578-seconds ahead of Martin Truex Jr. with just eight competitors remaining on the lead lap.
“After the first stage, I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like we made the car better at the same time,” Larson said. “And, they really benefitted our long runs. That’s as good as I’ve ever gotten around, cutting the bottom here.
“So, it was just a great combination here. To be fast in practice and then be good in the race and you get the win. I can’t thank all you fans enough for coming out. This cool weather was nice for a change. This is unbelievable. I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a Golden Monster (trophy) is pretty sweet.”
Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, pole sitter Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto and Jimmie Johnson were the only drivers to complete all 400 miles. Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top 10.
Several Playoff contenders were plagued by the Monster Mile early. Joey Logano sat in the garage with a broken axle as the green flag fell. Chase Elliott blew an engine eight laps later. Logano was fourth in the standings entering the race, 17 points behind leader Kyle Busch. He returned to the track on Lap 23 and finished 34th, 25 laps off of the pace. Logano dropped to ninth in the standings, tied with William Byron, who holds the tiebreaker.
“Something back there wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, so we had to fix that, and we were 20-something laps down from there,” Logano said. “You can’t make up 20 laps, that’s for sure. Maybe you can get one or two back if things go right. It was a bummer. Things happen.
“We definitely used our mulligan. We used the playoff points we accumulated. We just have to be perfect now. We have two really good race tracks coming up, though. Talladega is arguably one of our best race tracks, and I would say Kansas is as well. We just have to be perfect from here.”
Elliott, who started the race fifth, finished last, thanks to his second engine failure of the season. He dropped from sixth in the Cup standings to 11th, seven points below the cut line.
Hamlin led the field to green for the Drydene 400 and held the point for 11 laps before Elliott dropped fluid on the race track. Larson led his first of 154 circuits on the Lap 12 restart. But Hamlin returned to the point one lap later. With the exception of seven laps, after Hamlin’s green-flag stop on Lap 64, Hamlin dominated the first stage and picked up his fourth stage win of the season on Lap 120. Truex, Larson, William Byron, Harvick, Bowman, Johnson, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney picked up stage points.
Hamlin held serve during pit service with Truex, Larson, Harvick, Byron, Jones, Bowman, Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch in tow. Kyle Busch suffered a speeding penalty in Section 1 of pit road and dropped to 17th on the restart. Once again, Hamlin held the lead until his green-flag pit stop on Lap 184. Larson held the point for two laps before pitting and returned the lead to Hamlin. Byron was busted for speeding exiting the pits on Lap 187 and dropped to 17th, one lap down. He finished 13th, two laps off of the pace.
Hamlin led a race-high 218 laps but led for the last time on Lap 228, when he was passed by Truex. Larson passed Hamlin on Lap 249 for second. Truex led the final 12 laps of Stage 2 for his sixth green-white-checkered flag of 2019. Larson, Hamlin, Harvick, Johnson, Bowman, Jones, Blaney Keselowski and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10.
Truex experienced issues in the pits and dropped to eighth after service. With a flawless stop, Larson captured the lead, followed by Hamlin, Jones, Harvick and Bowman. Keselowski, who restarted eighth, was warming his tires and hit Bowyer while rocking the steering wheel back and forth.
In the first 10 laps, Larson extended his lead to 2.3-seconds. His advantage increased to 4.4-seconds by Lap 290. Seven laps later, Blaney, who was running seventh, came to pit road with brake issues. He wheeled the No. 12 Team Penske Ford to the garage on Lap 300 and never returned. Blaney finished 35th and dropped to 12th in the standings, 22 points behind eighth-place Byron.
Larson held nearly a six-second lead when he pitted for the final time under green on Lap 322. Paul Menard briefly held the point, but once Larson cycled to the lead on Lap 328, the driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet was in command. With the exception of battling the lapped traffic of Byron and Bowyer and watching his lead dwindle to 1.6-seconds by Lap 359, it was smooth sailing to the finish—and a transfer to the next round.
“Everybody in this Playoff field is going to be stressed next week at Talladega—except for me,” Larson said. “So, that’s good. The last time I was at Talladega, I was on my lid, and I could still end up on my lid next week, but it doesn’t matter after this win. What a day. This Clover Chevy was really good.”
For Truex, the Monster Mile provided the No. 19 team with a solid 54-point effort. He took the lead in the Playoff standings from Kyle Busch, who dropped to third after finishing sixth. Truex holds a 15-point advantage over Hamlin and Busch, who are tied for second.
“Every week is just about doing the best you can and getting all the points that you can,” Truex said. “Positive day for us today. Had a shot at the win today and came up short. Been nice to have that win and the free pass, but second is the next best. Good job to all of the guys. Just a good solid day here at Dover. Wish we could have won again, but that’s how it goes.”