Larson wins last-lap dash to the finish line for NASCAR win in Fontana

Kyle Larson races to victory during the NASCAR Cup race in Fontana on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. David Barks photo.

Elliott Stern, [email protected]

FONTANA – From worst to first.

Kyle Larson started at the back of the back, worked his way through the field and into the lead, going on to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Race – the 25th Wise Power 400 – at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.

After Saturday’s qualifying, Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports team made some adjustments to his car which sent him to the back of the pack of the 36-car field for the start of Sunday’s race.

“The race is so long; it doesn’t matter where you start. I was able to move up to 12th rather quickly,” said Larson.

Austin Dillon drives down the front stretch during Sunday’s Wise Power 400 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Dillon finished second. David Barks photo.

On the 15th lap, Kyle Busch lost traction on Turn 4 bringing out the day’s first caution flag.

When racing resumed on Lap 19, Larson moved into eighth place and he stayed with the leaders the rest of the way.

“It’s always fun to win in California,” said Larson. “There were definitely some cars that were quicker than me but they had their misfortunes and I was able to get to the front late and get the win. I hope we can start a little (winning) streak.”

There were 12 cautions covering 59 laps during the 200 laps over the speedway’s 2-mile oval.

Larson moved into second place after the 10th caution, grabbing the lead on Lap 165, shortly after the restart and then battled Joey Logano and Austin Dillon the rest of the way.

Larson grabbed the lead for the final time on the 181st lap, then survived a late caution for the win.

It was the second win at the speedway for the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, 17th of his career and 11th since joining Hendrick Motorsports.

Dillon finished second followed by Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Logano, Aric Almirola, Bakersfield’s Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Daniel Hemrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Erik Jones races to a third place finish during Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. David Barks Photo.

“I give all the credit to my pit crew,” said Dillon. “Those guys are amazing – they kept me in the race. I made a pretty good run at the win on Turn 4 in the last lap but I just didn’t have enough to get the win.”

“I wanted to win but it was good to race up front with the leaders,” said Jones. “It’s been a while since I was able to race up front – to race for the win. It was good to pick up a lot of points today.”

“We’re going to win a few races very soon here,” Suarez said. “I just can’t thank everyone enough on my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. We had a few issues. We hit the wall once. We had an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends, it’s unbelievable.”

The race wasn’t without some controversy as Larson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott were involved in a mishap on the 178th lap.

Daniel Suarez finished fourth in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. David Barks Photo.

During the restart after the 11th caution, Chase Briscoe, Larson and Elliott were racing three-wide for the lead.

Larson was going for the lead but as he passed Briscoe he sideswiped Elliott heading into Turn 1, Elliott hit the wall and Alex Bowman, who was in fourth place, also got into it and also hit the wall.

“I knew I had a good run at the No. 14 (Briscoe),” said Larson. “I had no clue he (Elliott) was even coming up on my outside. I hate that I ended his day (Elliott ended up 26th). It happened. I hate that it happened. I would never do that to my teammate.”

Elliott spun out on Lap 192 to bring out the final caution, setting up Larson’s dramatic run to victory.

Polesitter and Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric finished 12th after suffering damage in a four-car accident involving Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Harrison Burton on Lap 158.

The NASCAR Cup series continues its West Coast swing next weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway before heading to Phoenix the weekend after that.

NASCAR cup 5 Wide Honorary Pace Car Driver Albert Pujols leads the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Wise Power 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday in Fontana. David Barks Photo.
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