So close but so far for Larson

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Brad Keselowski wasn’t a factor.

Joey Logano wasn’t a factor

Take nothing away from the two Team Penske teammates.

No one was a factor, regardless of affiliation.

Kyle Larson had this one in the bag.

Lock, stock and four-barrel.

OK, they did away with carburetors on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup cars years ago, but we’re trying to make a point here.

Kyle Larson absolutely dominated Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.

Until in a stunning late-race shake-up, he didn’t.

Larson was attempting to win not only his first Southern 500, one of the most coveted titles in NASCAR, but his was trying to win his first Cup race of the season as well.

He had finished second at Auto Club and second at Bristol and second at Pocono and second at Chicago and when the series returned to Bristol the other week, well wouldn’t you know it Larson finished second there again, too.

This time he didn’t. He finished third. Second, third, what’s the difference?

Larson led 284 of the race’s 376 laps. They’re still checking to see if anyone ever led more and didn’t get the trophy here at the series’ oldest speedway.

“It’s always important to come out the leader on pit road or be the control car on the restart,” Larson said afterward and that’s where his night went south.

“I felt like if I could have been in clean air, I would have been all right. All day when I would get in traffic I’d get loose.”

Following a caution for a spin by Jeffrey Earnhardt, Larson and those chasing his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet hit pit road for fresh tires.

Larson was first in, but second out.

Keselowski was second in and first out.

There wasn’t a slip or a fall or a loose lug nut that slowed anyone. Just head-to-head and then race off pit road to see who was quicker.

Even then, it was close, but Keselowski won that one by a nose.

The tide hadn’t turned at that point, not until the green flag dropped and Keselowski blasted his way into Turn 1.

Then Logano got by Larson and Kevin Harvick was trying his best to get by and Keselowski’s black and gold Ford, a throwback tribute to former Penske driver Rusty Wallace, kept getting smaller and smaller out front.

“I knew the only real weakness we would have throughout the race was a short run and that’s what it kind of came down to,” said Larson.

The final restart came with barely 20 laps remaining around the 1.366-mile track.

Time enough to see a day’s worth of hard work go down the drain. Not enough time to run down and pass a suddenly fresh race leader.

There was a positive, Larson said, in that his car “was extremely fast.

“We had the dominant car and we proved it. We just came up a little bit short.”

Short, for now, isn’t fatal.

With the Playoffs just around the corner, though, short won’t cut it.

“It stings for sure,” he said, “to not win at a prestigious race like this. I want to win every race, but I want to win a Southern 500 really bad.

“But at the same tie, to bring a car to the … track like we did this weekend is something to be proud of and a big confidence booster heading into the next 11 weeks.”

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