Kyle Larson returned to NASCAR victory lane Sunday after one of the longest years of his life, winning the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway almost one year after beging suspended by NASCAR and fired by Chip Ganassi Racing.
The career of Kyle Larson was wrecked last season after he uttered a racial slur during an iRacing event early in the season. Larson was suspended by NASCAR and fired by Ganassi after just four races, costing him all of his sponsors. Larson was reinstated after the season after participating in sensitivity training and other efforts to advance racial equality.
Kyle Larson signed with Hendrick Motorsports during the offseason, and it took him just four races to win with Hendrick's No. 5 team for his seventh career victory. Larson won six Cup races in six full seasons with Ganassi's No. 42 team.
"That was such an awesome race car. It was so much fun to drive," an emotional Kyle Larson said after the race. "I want to thank Mr. H (team owner Rick Hendrick), Jeff Gordon for this amazing opportunity I have been given. This is definitely a special day."
The win was the first for Kyle Larson on a 1.5-mile track. He had nine runnerup finishes on 1.5-mile tracks entering the race.
It was also his first win with new Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Cliff Daniels.
Kyle Larson landed in the No. 5 car after teammate Alex Bowman moved from the No. 88 to the No. 48 that seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson drove. The No. 5 was the car number used by Ricky Hendrick, the won of team owner Rick Hendrick. Ricky Hendrick died in a plane crash in 2004.
"It's an honor for me to drive it," Kyle Larson said.
Runnerup Brad Keselowski approached Kyle Larson after the race to congratulate him.
"Just really happy for him. He's been through a lot in the last year," Keselowski said. "He's a good kid. I'm glad to see him bounce back."
How did Kyle Larson win at Las Vegas?
After Brad Keselowski won Stage 1, Kyle Larson took control of the race. Larson took the lead on Lap 106 and began to pull away, opening up a 5.6-second lead on Keselowski after green-flag pit stops. He won Stage 2 over Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.
Also Read: Keselowski wins Stage 1 of Pennzoil 400
NASCAR's top drivers were locked and loaded for Stage 1, which included 12 official lead changes and some thrilling racing. Keselowski and Chase Elliott waged a fierce battle for the lead, swapping the top spot multiple times before Keselowski finally held on to win Stage 1.
Elliott raced for the lead often in Stage 1 despite damage to the right side of his car that needed attention during an extended stay on pit road after Stage 1.
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The racing in Stage 1 was so thrilling it sent statiticians searching for comparions on 1.5-mile tracks.
Elliott, the defending series champion, recovered from his early troubles but spun early in Stage 3, making a remarkable save to keep from hitting the wall or another car. He had to pit with minor damage to the front of his car but was able to return to the race.