Larson had nine runner-up finishes in the No. 42 Chevrolet since his last win Sept. 9, 2017, in Richmond, but got the coveted playoff victory he needed at Dover to keep the Chip Ganassi Racing driver in championship contention.
“I hope there’s another win in our future, especially in the next round,” Larson said. “We’ll see what we can do. I’ve kept saying that I felt really close to winning here or anywhere right now. Our pit crew has been doing a better job, our team has been doing a better job. I’ve been doing a better job.”
Larson has six career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories and now his first one in the playoffs. He led 154 laps late after Denny Hamlin went from dominant to dud midway through the race. Hamlin led 219 laps before fading in race where playoff drivers Chase Elliott and reigning series champion Joey Logano both fell out of contention.
Martin Truex Jr. won the spring race at Dover and didn’t have enough down the stretch to catch Larson and complete the season sweep.
“We just ran out of time,” Truex said.
Larson did win the non-points All-Star race this year and felt like he was inching closer toward a checkered flag on the strength of a sensational late-summer run of top-10 finishes. The 27-year-old Larson escaped the first round without any serious drama and can now head to treacherous Talladega and then Kansas to end the second round without any serious concerns. He’s the first driver in the field of eight.
“Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing next week at Talladega except for me, so that’s good,” Larson said. “Last time I was at Talladega I was on my lid. I could still end up on my lid next week, but it’s not going to matter after this win.
NASCAR playoff drivers took the top six spots: Truex was second, followed by Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Here’s what else happened at Dover.
Logano and Elliott both had their races ruined before the race even finished 10 laps. Logano failed to start the race because of a broken axle on the No. 22 Ford. He eventually hit the track more than 20 laps down and finished 34th.
“We just used our mulligan up,” Logano said. “We’re not a must-win but we must do really well in the next two races.”
Elliott, who won last week at Charlotte, had the engine in his No. 9 Chevrolet blow up just laps into the race and he finished last.
Elliott won Dover last season and will likely have to win at Talladega or Kansas to advance into the next round.
“I don’t know where we’ll stack up,” he said. “I assume we’ll have to win one of these next few weeks. If you ever make it to Homestead, you’re going to have to win down there.”
Clint Bowyer and Ryan Blaney join Logano and Elliott as the bottom four drivers in the playoff field.
NASCAR heads to Talladega Superspeedway where Aric Almirola is the defending race winner.