AVONDALE, Ariz. — Though he’s no longer in the mix for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, Kyle Larson proved he’s still going to be in the hunt for a race win after charging late to win the opening stage of Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
Larson found some grip in the high groove and used it to chase down Denny Hamlin in the closing stages of the 75-lap sprint, surging around Hamlin’s outside with eight to go and taking the green-checkered flag a half-second clear of the pack.
The stage win was Larson’s sixth of the season and marked the 54th time he has scored stage points this year.
Ryan Blaney bolted to the early lead from the pole, despite an early challenge from both outside polesitter Denny Hamlin and a charging Kyle Larson, who made an early three-wide move on the backstretch to go from fourth to second on lap two before fading again.
By the time things finally settled out on lap five, it was Blaney leading Chase Elliott by three car lengths, with Hamlin trailing in third.
It was the 12th round before things changed up front, as Elliott powered hard to Blaney’s inside going through the dogleg to assume firm command over the field and quickly opened up a seven car length lead. Hamlin followed into second, chasing after the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
That chase turned into a battle for the lead as Elliott began to work traffic, with Hamlin making his first bid for the top spot on lap 21, but unable to work past Elliott despite using multiple grooves to try and find a path through.
It wasn’t until lap 26 that Hamlin was able to pounce, using the inside lane to blow by Elliott for the lead in turn four and edging out the spot at the line, but Elliott fired back with a crossover in turn one and retook the point the next time by.
Undeterred, Hamlin used the slower car of David Starr as a pick to get back by Elliott on the outside at lap 28 and pulled away from there, opening up nearly a second and a half over the field but seeing that gap come back in as Kyle Larson worked his way to the high side and began to close in.
Larson’s hustle finally paid off when Hamlin was held up trying to lap the No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., surging outside of Hamlin off the exit of turn four and stealing the lead on lap 68.
From there, Hamlin’s best efforts weren’t enough, as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver faded to second behind Larson but still picked up nine valuable points to cut his deficit to Brad Keselowski from 19 points down to just 10.
Elliott crossed the line in third, just in front of Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.
Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10.
Blaney dropped all the way to 13th through the caution-free run, while Keselowski could never make any forward progress and finished stage one in 17th after rolling off the grid from the outside of row eight.
Provisionally, Hamlin would be in position to advance to Homestead-Miami Speedway if the stage one results held through the remainder of the 312-lap event.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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