Larson kicked off the weekend in a big way, winning the Knoxville Nationals for the first time Saturday night.
Just a few hours later, the Hendrick Motorsports driver then qualified fourth and went on to lead the most laps at IMS, but victory eluded him. A late-race caution put him a couple rows back for the restart, and the chaos that soon erupted would rob him of a chance at the win.
Although he escaped damage in the Turn 6 curb debacle, he could never regain his lost track position.
“It was wild there at the end,” said Larson. “My car was extremely good. Really proud of everybody on our Hendrickcars.com team. We had the best car for sure throughout the second and third stage, and then just we had the caution there with like 10 to go or something and then we had to come down, put tires on, and some guys gambled and stayed out, and that kind of just got us in the mess a little bit. Was able to find my way to the front row and then just got shoved around and put in the grass. Kind of ended my shot to win there.”
But there was another battle going on besides the fight for the win Sunday. Larson and Hamlin entered the race tied for the championship lead. Although the playoffs are just around the corner, being the regular season ‘champion’ is still very important.
The points leader at the end of Race 26 is granted 15 additional bonus points, which is the equivalent of three race wins or 15 stage wins.
It looked like Hamlin would keep Larson at bay, that was until he was sent spinning from the lead by Chase Briscoe with just a couple laps to go.
Hamlin finished 23rd, while Larson crossed the finish line third. The result allowed him to move 22pts ahead, and that could mean the difference in being crowned champion in November or being eliminated early.
Just two races now remain in the regular season.