Kyle Larson earned his first career Sprint Cup victory Sunday, beating out Chase Elliott to win the Pure Michigan 400 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan.
Larson's reaction immediately after the race spoke to how much it meant for the 24-year-old.
"I'm at a loss for words," he said to NBC Sports' Marty Snider (via NBC Sports PR). "I feel like I need to sit down."
Larson also enjoyed his post-race burnout on the track, courtesy of NASCAR on NBCSN:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
Why do burnouts in victory lane?! Because you just won the #PureMichigan400 and can! https://t.co/xeedfhkrdk2016-8-28 20:53:27
NASCAR shared a replay of the final lap and the No. 42 car crossing the finish line:
Larson takes it home for the first time! WOW. https://t.co/pQIVfseDR72016-8-28 20:48:57
In what was a close race for most of the day, Larson won with relatively little drama. Elliott came in second place, a little under 1.5 seconds behind the leader, and Brad Keselowski finished a little over two seconds behind in third place:
|Pure Michigan 400 Results (Top 10)|
|Pos.||Driver||Time Behind||Laps Led|
Beyond just being his first checkered flag on the Sprint Cup circuit, Sunday's win was massive for Larson since it guarantees him a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He entered the day in 18th place and moved up into 11th:
|Chase for the Sprint Cup Standings|
|10||Martin Truex Jr.||1||630|
Not only was Larson fighting off Elliott to remain in first place, but he was also racing against Mother Nature. The specter of rain hovered over the back half of the race, and RaceWeather.net's Aaron Studwell showed how foreboding the radar was as the final laps approached:
Aaron Studwell @RaceWeather
Rain abt 10 mi WSW @MISpeedway - Going to be close if it rains but will be worth watching. Stay tuned #NASCAR https://t.co/hCmkPfmOyJ2016-8-28 20:26:07
The race's defining moment came on a restart on Lap 191.
Elliott sat in first place after Michael Annett blew a tire on the 186th lap. Neither Larson nor Elliott got off to a great restart, with both cars swerving and spinning their tires a bit immediately after the green flag waved. But Larson edged out ahead of Elliott and Brad Keselowski on the outside and opened up a healthy lead in first place.
NASCAR provided a replay of the restart:
What a restart!! #NASCARonNBCSN https://t.co/z6yUdGN3P12016-8-28 20:42:15
NASCAR's Josh Hamilton thought the end of the race offered a glimpse into the sport's future:
Josh Hamilton @joshahamilton
Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson battling for the win is something you will see for the next 10+ years. #KidsDriveNASCAR2016-8-28 20:26:43
Elliott surged past Keselowski, but he was unable to make up any ground on Larson. He took the blame for failing to get the victory, per NBC Sports' Dustin Long:
Dustin Long @dustinlong
#NASCAR: Chase Elliott on radio: "I'm so sorry guys. My fault again.'' Gustafson: "Chin up. Just got to keep fighting. Long ways to go."2016-8-28 20:47:09
Of course, it wasn't as if Larson got lucky en route to Victory Lane. He led more laps than any other driver (41) and constantly found himself near the top of the pack. Crew chief Chad Johnson put together a solid strategy to ensure the No. 42 car was in a position to snatch the lead late in the race.
Larson didn't have a textbook restart on the 191st lap, but he capitalized on Elliott's mistake and never allowed the No. 24 car to have an opportunity to get back into first place.
This will be a learning experience for Elliott. With as much success as he has had this year, it's easy to forget he's only 20 years old and in his first full season on the Sprint Cup circuit. He'll have plenty of chances in the future to get the better of Larson on the track.
Only two more races remain before the Chase begins Sept. 18 with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Elliott is among those looking for a win in the next two weeks. As things stand, he'd qualify for the Chase based on his point total, but one bad race could change that, so the stakes are incredibly high for him and the other drivers on the outside looking in.
Elliott was hard on himself after the race, courtesy of NASCAR on NBCSN:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
"I spun the tires and didn’t do my job right." Chase Elliott reacts after his runner-up finish. https://t.co/jVjt2qq3xx2016-8-28 22:00:44
Getting the win was an emotional moment for Larson.
"I was tearing up those last few laps because I was feeling that was finally going to be it," he said, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck. "We weren't going to have a caution."
Larson also spoke about his friend Bryan Clauson, who died earlier this month following a crash during a dirt-track race: "This one's for the Clauson family. We're really missing Bryan. We love you guys. We parked it for him so that was really cool."