Fresh off his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, Kyle Larson drove like a veteran in Sunday night's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
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It took Kyle Larson 99 long races to score his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, but after winning at Michigan International Speedway he last week, he nearly made it 2-for-2 at Darlington Raceway.
Sunday night at the venerable South Carolina track, the third-year Chip Ganassi Racing pilot led 45 laps and finished a solid third in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 behind race-winner Martin Truex Jr. and second-place finisher Kevin Harvick.
With qualifying rained out, Larson started the race in 16th place and had to work his way through the field. He was still 16th at the one-quarter distance and 11th at the halfway point, but from there his race improved markedly.
"It was a good night," said Larson, who this year will make the field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the first time.
Patience over 367 long laps was a key to Larson’s success.
"We had to fight pretty hard to get to the top four or five," he said. "Our pit stops weren’t great there in the beginning, but they rebounded and we had some good stops there at the end to maintain. The last probably five or six stops I thought were pretty good. We were able to get past Denny (Hamlin) and get to the lead and lead some laps."
Larson led just once, but it was from Lap 285 to Lap 329, when it appeared he had a good shot at victory.
"We had a really good car out front," Larson said. "In traffic, I was just too tight for a little while and as we went I would get too loose on exit, but I found some lines that worked for me and that helped, but a tough race."
Third place wasn’t another victory, but on balance Larson was pleased with how things went.
"It is good to come back after the win last week and finish third," he said. "I’m really happy with everybody on this Target team for working so hard and digging deep there throughout the race to get us in position."