Larson did pocket the $1 million first prize for his All-Star victory in North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway’s NASCAR return, but his races at both Darlington, S.C., and Charlotte were struggles for his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team.
He finished 20th at Darlington after tangling with Ross Chastain racing for the lead late in the race and also wrecked out at Charlotte, which left him with a 30th-place finish.
This weekend’s race weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway got off to a struggle as he qualified 22nd and early in the first stage of Sunday’s race, Larson was running near the rear of the field.
Three red flags and multiple late race restarts offered Larson’s No. 5 team plenty of opportunities to work on his car and utilizing a two-tire pit stop he made it to lead on lap 179 of 243.
Eventual winner Kyle Busch, who took four new tires on his final stop, got around Larson fairly easily but he was able to hang on for a respectable fourth-place finish.
“I want to be upset with fourth after running second there the last little bit of the race and having a shot to lineup on the front row for a green-white-checkered (overtime),” Larson said. “For a lot of the day, I thought I was going to run 20th on back.
“Huge thank you to Cliff Daniels (crew chief) and everybody on the No. 5 team for making the right adjustments. I don’t know if we were still amazing, but the strategy calls were perfect and at the right time and the late cautions fell at the right time.
“I think the car would have been fine had we just ran those last 50 laps under green.”
For much of the first stage, all four Hendrick cars were running 25th or worse but Larson and Byron both made their way into contention by late in the final stage.
For Larson, it was a welcome turn of fortune.
“Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit,” he said. “The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that.
“It’s a whole team effort. And congrats to Kyle (Busch). It was fun chasing him down. I wish I would have done a better job.”