After a late-race contact with teammate Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson won his first race of the season.
Kyle Larson, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion and 2021 wins leader, won his first race of 2022 on Sunday in his home state of California, the Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway, the second official race of the season and the first Cup Series event at ACS since 2020.
Larson collided with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott while battling for the lead with just less than 20 laps remaining on the way to the victory. On Lap 192, Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet collided with the wall, and he spun out.
Second place went to Austin Dillon, third to Erik Jones, fourth to Daniel Suarez, and fifth to Joey Logano. Larson and Logano were among a handful of drivers that started the race from the back, Logano due to repairs made to his car following a qualifying incident on Saturday, and Larson due to maintenance done to his car’s ignition before the race.
With only six laps remaining, Larson held off a slew of contenders in the final restart. Larson triumphed over surprising contenders Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, and Daniel Suarez in a race that saw four Chevrolet drivers compete for the win.
Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick battled their way back to the front, and their efforts were rewarded with sixth and seventh place finishes, respectively. Kurt Busch, who finished eighth, was the only Toyota driver to finish in the top 12. Daniel Hemric and Ricky Stenhouse Jr rounded out the top ten.
“It’s always fun to win here in the home state,” Larson said.
“Hard work all weekend. I didn’t feel great in practice yesterday but Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) and everybody on the team made great adjustments overnight.”
“The car handled a lot better… there were definitely some guys that were quicker than us but they had their misfortune. Just kept our heads in it all day. Long race. Restarts were crazy – the whole runs were crazy.”
“It was definitely wild. Definitely cool to get a win here in California. Hopefully, we get on a streak.”
Several drivers struggled to keep their cars on the track, resulting in numerous caution flags throughout the afternoon. Kyle Busch was the first driver to spin out on Lap 15, and he was the first to go around. Several difficulties plagued the Joe Gibbs Racing driver throughout the day, resulting in a 14th-place finish. Almost all Toyota vehicles experienced problems with overheating.
Chase Elliott grazed the wall while leading on Lap 33, but it was just the beginning of his day. However, the Hendrick driver was able to claw his way back into the lead pack. Denny Hamlin was experiencing overheating and was on his way to pit road when his teammate Christopher Bell spun on the track, forcing him to continue without stopping.
Tyler Reddick started fast and dominated the first half of the race, leading 90 laps and winning the first two stages. However, the Richard Childress Racing driver was having trouble feeling his left leg and was on the verge of having to come to pit road. He kept going until his No. 8 Chevrolet slowed down on Lap 152 and collided with William Byron. He finished 24th on a day when it appeared he may win for the first time.
On the other hand, Brad Keselowski spun multiple times, with the second one creating the greatest havoc. Bubba Wallace and Harrison Burton, who had nowhere to go, were picked up by the driver of the No. 6 Ford on Lap 158. On Lap 172, Ross Chastain spun, setting up a tense 20-lap fight between Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
Larson was in a battle for the lead with Logano when the reigning champion attempted a side draft from the No. 22 Ford’s side. Elliott ran outside to see Larson, but Larson did not notice him and rushed up, slamming Elliott against the wall. Chase called out the race’s 12th and final caution with only eight laps to go. He came in 26th place and was enraged with Larson over the team radio.
When the subject was brought up again, the 2021 winner apologized once more. “It happened, and I’m sorry about it. I’m sure they’re irritated. But we’ll talk, and perhaps we’ll be able to come to an agreement. On intentionally, I would never rush into or block my colleague that fiercely and so late.”
The 12 cautions today tied the track record for a 500-mile race set in 2008. The 32 lead changes were the third most in Auto Club Speedway history, and more than twice as many as the previous race at Fontana in 2020.
The Cup Series will continue in the western United States, with the next race scheduled for Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Pennzoil 400 will air on FOX at 3:30 p.m. ET next Sunday.