Sunday’s date with Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 was within 100 miles of Kyle Larson’s hometown of Elk Grove, California, and the driver celebrated the trip to his home area with a second-consecutive dominant performance and win.
After claiming a historic win for Hendrick Motorsports with a dominant performance a week earlier in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Larson claimed his third win of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season Sunday at Sonoma. Larson’s latest win also was the fourth-consecutive win for HMS.
“It means a lot. Northern California will always be home to me, even if I live way out on the East Coast now,” Larson said. “Thanks to all the fans for coming out. I know there’s a lot of sprint car fans in the stands and around this race track. I got to see a lot of my friends here today. I’ve got my family here. This is unbelievable.
“To get back-to-back wins in the Cup Series is something I’ve always dreamed of doing and to get it done feels great. To win last week on Memorial Day weekend, four in-a-row now, if you count my dirt racing, too. And we’ve got a big week of racing coming up. I look forward to all that and just look forward to keeping the streak going.”
One of Larson’s Hendrick teammates and reigning Cup Series campion Chase Elliott, who won five of the last six road-course races heading into Sunday’s Sonoma event, finished second for the HMS one-two. It was the fourth-straight one-two finish for Hendrick Motorsports.
Two-time reigning Sonoma race winner and three-time, overall, winner at the track, Martin Truex Jr., finished third. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five.
“Our only hope was for it really to go green the rest of the race, there, in that third stage once we both pitted, and we were one-two. He [Larson] drove by me, and he was just super fast for 10 laps,” Truex said. “Our only chance was if the race would have gone green from there, and I still don’t even know. He was really fast for 15 laps; then obviously, once we started getting all those cautions, we were toast. Definitely not what we needed.”
Just as he did at Charlotte, Larson swept the stages at Sonoma. His first stage win came on lap 20 after he started on the pole and led 18 laps of the first of two 20-lap stages.
Larson, then, restarted outside the top-10 for the second stage after pitting during the caution between the two stages. Kurt Busch, meanwhile, restarted with the lead after staying out, both in the laps late in the first stage and the caution at stage end. William Byron, who pitted in the closing laps of the first stage, took the lead from Busch on lap 28, and two laps later, Larson was up to second.
Byron gave up the lead to pit during a caution for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 31, and Larson took the lead that would lead to his stage-two win on lap 40.
Pitting, again, under caution, Larson was 21st for the restart at the beginning of the third and final stage that comprised the final half of the race that was scheduled for 90 laps. Kurt Busch and Elliott, who were among the drivers who stayed out after the second stage, both led laps as Larson made his way back toward the front. As Elliott led, Larson moved into the second position of the running order on lap 53. Larson, then, retook the lead on lap 58.
The race leader gave up the top spot to pit under green on lap 64. Four drivers — Logano, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski — stayed out longer during the cycle of stops and ran in front of Larson until the eventual winner got back up front when he passed Kyle Busch on lap 69.
Larson lost the lead through varying pit strategies, again, when the yellow flag waved for Quin Houff on lap 70. While Logano, Tyler Reddick, Corey LaJoie snd Anthony Alfredo stayed out to restart in the first two rows, Larson was fifth, with new tires for the restart. Larson took second on lap 75 snd, then, the lead from Logano on lap 76. He maintained that lead through three additional restarts, including an overtime restart.
“It was not easy. Any road course isn’t easy, just trying to keep it on track is tough, especially when you’ve got two of the best behind you on the last restart, Chase and Martin,” Larson said. “I felt like I did a good job at the one before and stretched it out a little bit and didn’t want to give him another try at it, but he kept the pressure on. Martin was stron, too, but what a car. This HendrickCars.com Chevy, thank you Mr. Hendrick. The is unbelievable. I thought I would be okay today, but I just didn’t know how I would race. I don’t think any of us really do with no practice. But our car was really good, there, and I can’t say enough about it.”
Although the yellow flag waved four times in the first 69 laps, only one of those cautions was for an on-track incident. The final 20-laps were littered with incidents, though, with the yellow flag waving a total of eight times by the checkered flag. The largest crash of the race came on lap 77 and involved Corey LaJoie, Ross Chastain, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, Erik Jones, William Byron and Alex Bowman.
“I was trying to roll the outside of the # 43 [ Jones] and the #4 [ Harvick] was in front of me. I thought he was going to run the bottom, and obviously, somebody spun in front of him and caused a big pileup,” Byron said. At that point, you’re just a passenger. You’re obviously going to knock the radiator in and be done for the day. It stinks, but we were struggling all day, to be honest. So we have to go back and work on that. Definitely learned some lessons. Thanks to Axalta, Chevrolet and everyone. We’ll re-group. It was really the first bad weekend of the year, so we’ll re-group from it.”
Finishing sixth through 10th were Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney.