The twin unraveling was as dramatic as it was shocking for Kyle Larson, as both a stellar win streak and a front tire came apart with less than half a lap remaining Saturday at Pocono Raceway. The climactic end foiled a bid for his fourth straight victory in NASCAR Cup Series points races.
Larson was in the lead with a seemingly comfortable margin over teammate Alex Bowman during the white-flag lap when his tire misfortune entering the third and final turn knocked his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet from contention. Bowman drove by him for his third Cup Series win of the season; Larson nursed his scraped-up car across the finish line in ninth place.
“I guess disbelief still. I don’t know, a little bit laughable just because I can’t believe it,” said Larson, who had prevailed for four straight Cup Series weekends, including the non-points All-Star Race. “Hate that we didn’t get another win. Would have been cool to win five in a row. Just wasn’t meant to be I guess today.
“Yeah, I felt something like right in the middle of the tunnel. Wasn’t quite sure what it was yet. It finally kind of shredded halfway through the short chute there. Couldn’t turn.”
That lack of turn in Pocono’s sweeping third corner meant a less-than-sweeping arc into the outside retaining wall, allowing his pursuers to drive past before the checkered flag.
Larson had started from the pole position and led three times for 15 laps — taking the top spot a final time on Lap 127 of the 130 in the Pocono Organics CBD 325. That rise came after repeated challenges of Bowman down the stretch. Once by, he padded his lead until his late-race catastrophe. Larson said his last-lap trouble wasn’t a result of abusing his tires during his heated contest for the lead, but he suspected, “I must have just ran something over, I guess.”
The streak, remarkable as it was, is over. Larson followed up a streak of three straight runner-up finishes (Darlington, Dover, COTA) with three consecutive victories (Charlotte, Sonoma, Nashville). During that stretch, Hendrick Motorsports entries have won six in a row and Larson has chopped into Denny Hamlin’s once-commanding hold on the series’ lead in the standings, now just eight points back.
His peril at Pocono scotched that near-historic run, but as his Hendrick Motorsports crew set about preparing his backup No. 5 Chevy, Larson’s attention turned to starting a new streak. The unique weekend Cup Series doubleheader schedule won’t allow him time to dwell on Saturday’s stunning defeat. He’ll have work to do from the back of the field for Sunday’s Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I guess that’s one thing that’s probably keeping me excited and not depressed, is that we get to go back again (Sunday),” Larson said. “I’m sure our backup car will be just as good as that one. Feel like we learned a lot about our car today. The track came to us a lot. I think we should be good tomorrow.”