Kyle Larson finally got the Michigan monkey off of his back.
After becoming the first driver in 30 years to win three-straight races at the 2-mile oval, Larson couldn’t muster a top-10 result in his last three starts.
On Sunday, Larson drove the No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet to a podium finish at Michigan International Speedway.
“I crossed the start-finish line and wasn’t expecting to hear third,” Larson said. “I feel like we've been showing a lot of speed here the last two to two and a half months now, so we contended for a win in Chicago and have had some good runs since then. Some mistakes on my part to run backup cars, but all in all we've done a good job to bring fast race cars to the track every week.
“Just says a lot about our team and fighting through the season, and yeah, it's a good time of year to get the speed and get some rhythm, so hopefully we can keep it going.”
With three races remaining to decide the Playoff grid, Larson has started to develop the consistency he lacked earlier in the season. Over the last eight races, Larson has advanced from 15th to 13th in the standings by posting four top fives and six top 10s.
Despite a speeding penalty on Lap 52, Larson lined up 21st for the start of the second stage. He moved into the top 15 over the next 30 laps. While his teammate Kurt Busch was contending at the front, the No. 42 patiently progressed through the field, climbing to 11th by Lap 100.
As teams pitted before the end of Stage 2, Larson had moved up to sixth on Lap 115. After Brad Keselowski spun off of Turn 4 on the next lap, Larson was shuffled back to 18th. He worked his way to 11th at the end of the stage and lined up fifth for the final 63 laps.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s spin on Lap 149 disrupted most crew chief’s strategies. If the race remained green, most cars would not survive a 50-lap run to the finish. Larson restarted 15th on Lap 152 behind the three Team Penske Fords, eventual race winner Kevin Harvick and runner up Denny Hamlin.
With less than 19 laps remaining, Larson climbed into the top 10. Then the seas parted for him as the Penske Fords and his Ganassi teammate Busch ran out of fuel.
“The last thing I knew I was running like ninth and I passed a couple guys, but so yeah, I guess more people ran out of fuel than I thought,” Larson said. “I don't really know what happened there. But yeah, it worked out.
“That was a great point saver, well above the cut line now, so happy about that. Our McDonald's Chevy handled really well today when we had four tires on it. When we would do two rights, I'd be way too tight, and then we'd put two lefts on and I was way too loose, but then that finally balanced out and I was back to being good and running really fast laps at the end. Passed what felt like the most people today, so happy about that.”
“We're getting a little bit better. I feel like our cars are good. I feel like for intermediate style kind of racing, Michigan would probably be our worst track right now as far as just speed, so I'm excited now for the rest of the season.”
Larson did lead the Consumers Energy 400 with 128 Green Flag Passes and was second in the Quality Passes category to Martin Truex Jr., after passing 62 top-15 cars over 200 laps.
And now he’ll return to his favorite track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup circuit—Bristol Motor Speedway.
“You can be more aggressive now—and that’s a good thing,” Larson said. “Hopefully, we can get a win.”