Kyle Larson snaps 75-race losing streak in Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway
Kyle Larson snapped a 75-race winless streak, dating back to the 2017 regular season, Sunday with his win of the Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway. With the win in the first race of the three-race second round of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Larson secured advancement to round three. Larson becomes the first driver in Chip Ganassi Racing history to advance to the Round of Eight in the Cup Series playoffs.
“Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressed next week at Talladega, except for me, so that’s good,” Larson said. “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. 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. And they really benefitted our long runs. That’s as good as I’ve ever been 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.”
Martin Truex Jr finished second. Alex Bowman and Kevin Harvick were third and fourth.
“For us, we had a tight condition and, just right off the bat, we struggled with getting the front of our car to turn, and we really just lacked overall grip for us,” Harvick said. “It was much different in the race today than it was in practice.”
Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five despite speculating his engine was blowing while running second on lap 270 of the 400-lap race.
Larson took the lead by getting out of the pits first during the caution after the second 120-lap stage and led most of the 160-lap third and final stage of the race. He had a sizable lead ahead of the final cycle of green-flag pit stops that began with about 82 laps to go. When the cycle completed with 72 laps remaining, he had a seven-second lead on second-place running Truex.
Truex ran second to Larson throughout the remaining laps. He was closing on the leader with about 30 laps to go but was unable to completely catch Larson in lapped traffic in the closing laps.
Hamlin dominated the first half of the race, his 500th-career Cup Series race. After starting on the pole he led all but 10 of the first 228 laps. Those 10 laps came during two cycles of green-flag pit stops.
Hamlin’s early-race domination included a stage-one win at lap 120. In the first stage, he was challenged, first, by Larson and, then, by Joe Gibbs Racing Truex. Kevin Harvick ran second to Hamlin early in the second stage before Truex cycled to second in the running order behind Hamlin after a cycle of green-flag pit stops around lap 185.
Truex was able to pass Hamlin for the lead on lap 229 and take the stage-two win on lap 240.
Sunday’s race was a struggle for a few playoff drivers. Difficulty came early for Joey Logano, as he headed to the garage with a broken axle before the green flag. He was able to begin his race several laps after his fellow-competitors and finish 34th.
“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 is for sure. Maybe you can get one or two back if things go right. It was a bummer. Things happen. I guess the good news is that I think we are the last one in right now. 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.”
Another playoff driver, Chase Elliott, only managed to run eight laps of the race before blowing an engine and retiring early. The caution for Elliott’s engine was the only caution of the race, aside from the two that divided the race into its three stages. His early exit resulted in a last-place finish.
“I just had an engine failure of some sort,” Elliott said. “Unfortunately, we don’t really know what it was just yet. It just quit running. It didn’t really seem like anything was off. We were just kind of making laps and then, obviously, had a failure. It’s an unfortunate way to start this round, for sure.”
Logano’s Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney headed to the garage with a brake issue about three-quarters of the way through the race and wound up 35th at the finish.
Although playoff drivers Kyle Busch and William Byron spent the entire race on the track, their journeys weren’t perfect. Both were nabbed speeding on pit road -- Busch during the caution at the end of the first stage and Byron during the cycle of green-flag pit stops in the second stage. Busch still finished in the top-10 in sixth. Bowyer, meanwhile, wound up 13th.
Other top-10 finishers included non-playoff drivers Matt DiBenedetto and Jimmie Johnson in seventh and eighth. Larson’s CGR teammate Kurt Busch finished ninth a week after being eliminated from the postseason. Playoff Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-10.
“We started 17th and finished 10th,” Bowyer said. “I don't know. It was hard to pass. Extremely hard to pass, almost impossible. You had to have a really, really good car. It was just kind of a struggle out there all day long for us. Our ITsavvy Ford was about where we came out about where we ran. I am looking forward to Talladega, though, because you can certainly pass there.”
The remaining playoff driver, Brad Keselowski, finished just outside the top-10 in 11th.
“We had an okay day,” Keselowski said. “We held serve. We came into the weekend 19 points up, and we leave 20 points up with two big races in front of us. If we can have a great day at Talladega, it would be huge. We are due for another great run there.”
One race into the second round of the playoffs, Byron and Logano are tied for eighth, the final advancing position. Bowyer, Elliott and Blaney are the bottom three drivers in the standings. Bowyer is four points out, Elliott seven and Blaney 22.