Everybody loves seeing drivers earn their first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race win of their career.
On Sunday at Michigan, Kyle Larson became the second driver this season to notch his first series win, joining Chris Buescher who won the second Pocono race.
On the final restart of the Pure Michigan 400 with 10 laps to go, Larson held off another driver fighting for his first series win — Chase Elliott. Heading into the final restart, Elliott held the point, leading the race for 22 laps.
It was another driver, however, who was also vying for his first series win — Ryan Blaney — who prevented Elliott from maintaining his lead. Whether Blaney was trying to help Elliott push ahead of Larson or not, the bump he gave Elliott on the restart lifted the rear of the No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet causing it to lose traction.
Larson took full advantage of the seemingly innocuous mishap and darted ahead, leading the final 10 laps. By the time Larson crossed the finish line, he was 1.478 seconds ahead of Elliott.
The win came in Larson’s 99th series start and ended 99-race winless drought for Chip Ganassi Racing. The win also makes Larson the first and only graduate of of NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next program to win a points race in the premier series. He also clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Larson led a race-high 41 laps, but was joined by 12 other drivers who led at least one lap: Jimmie Johnson (37 laps), Kevin Harvick (33), Elliott (31), Joey Logano (24), Brad Keselowski (14), Matt Kenseth (8), Martin Truex Jr. (7), Carl Edwards (1), Greg Biffle (1), Austin Dillon (1), Ryan Newman (1) and Regan Smith (1).
Did Larson’s first series win have enough clout to sway the Power 10 voters to put him in the top 10 for the first time? How did Elliott’s runner-up performance affect his standing? Was a fifth-place showing enough for Harvick to hold on to the top spot, or did Larson, Elliott, Keselowski or Blaney, all who finished ahead of the No. 4 driver, do enough to usurp him?
These questions and more will be answered in this week’s edition of Lionel Racing’s Power 10.
(Note: Only the 10 drivers receiving the highest average rankings are shown. The number of spots they’ve moved since the previous Power 10 are shown in the parentheses.)
1. Kevin Harvick (–): We’ll make this short and sweet: There’s no way a fifth-place finish and 33 laps led is going to knock Kevin from his lofty perch.
2. Brad Keselowski (+1): With four wins and the inside lane to take the top spot once the Chase begins, Brad’s in the perfect position to make a strong push for a second title.
3. Carl Edwards (+1): Similar to the actual standings, Carl has moved up a spot in Lionel Racing’s Power 10 each of the past two weeks. Keep getting more top 10s and he’ll move up further.
4. Kyle Busch (-2): Kyle needs to shake out of this mini-slump where he’s finished 19th and 39th. I don’t think there’s any reason to worry though. If anyone knows how to find Victory Lane, it’s him.
5. Joey Logano (+1): Joey has led laps in each of the past five races and has 10 top-10 finishes in the past 12 races. He’s just getting primed for the postseason.
6. Chase Elliott (+4): After pulling in his second runner-up finish of his rookie campaign, the future is awfully bright for Chase, which should mean plenty of wins.
7. Denny Hamlin (-2): What do you get when you have six top-10 finishes in the past six races, one of which is a win? A spot in the Power 10 for Denny.
8. Kurt Busch (-1): Kurt might be experiencing a little bit of a rough patch (six straight double-digit finishes), but he’ll be right in the middle of the championship fight as the season winds down.
9t. Martin Truex Jr. (-2): After running in the top 10 for a good portion of the race, it was probably disappointing for Martin to leave with a 20th-place showing in a car that was so much better.
9t. Jimmie Johnson (NR): On Sunday, we saw some of that old Jimmie that we’re used to seeing week in, week out. It was nice to see him running in the top 10 for most of the race.