Through the first 40 laps of Saturday’s All-Star Race, Kyle Larson seemed uncatchable.
After earning the pole position on Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Larson won each of the first two segments Saturday night, giving him a 2.994-second edge over Jimmie Johnson entering the third.
However, despite entering the 10-lap shootout with the best average finish, Larson couldn’t capitalize on his dominant start, restarting the final segment in fifth before finishing 1.274 seconds behind eventual champion Kyle Busch.
As the best average finished through three stages, Kyle Larson lined up first before the final pit stops. But it was then that his night went awry.
“Restarting in fifth, I knew I was in trouble,” Larson said. “I was able to get to third and was hoping Jimmie could catch Kyle and they could get racing and maybe I could make something happen. It didn’t work out that way. … Just disappointed we didn’t get the win.”
Larson secured a spot in the shootout during the first stage, when he beat Busch by 2.1 seconds. He then kept any other driver from attaining the same advantage when he handily won Stage 2.
Johnson broke through and won Stage 3. However, Larson still appeared to be the front-runner, using his lone set of softer “Option” tires to finish the segment in third.
As the best average finished through three stages, Larson lined up first before the final pit stops. But it was then that his night went awry.
A slow final pit stop resulted in Larson restarting the race in fifth – a mishap that ultimately led to his undoing.
With 10 laps, track position is huge, and we just didn't have it at the end. Kyle Larson
"My pit crew has been awesome all year,” Larson said. “We came down pit road the leader and three people passed us. That was pretty much the difference. With 10 laps, track position is huge, and we just didn't have it at the end. We had the best car out there for sure.”
Despite falling behind, Larson still made one final push.
Coming out of the final corner, Larson went high and passed Johnson for second, energizing the crowd one last time. But after leading 18 laps of last year’s race before being passed by eventual champion Joey Logano with two laps remaining, Larson was once again left unsatisfied.
“I think if we could have had a 20-lap run, maybe I could have caught him,” Larson said. “I wanted to be aggressive and try to pass Jimmie because you never know what can happen in these races – maybe he blows a tire or blows an engine. I just wanted to do everything I could to get to every position I could.
“That was a fun last 10 laps. I’m just mad that we weren’t in the lead during it.”
Pat James: @patjames24