Kyle Larson raced to his first Sprint Cup victory Sunday, taking the lead on a restart with nine laps remaining and holding off Chase Elliott at Michigan International Speedway in a duel between two of NASCAR’s up-and-coming standouts.
Elliott had a comfortable lead before a tire problem on Michael Annett’s car brought out the yellow flag. Larson had the better restart and went on to win by 1.48 seconds. Brad Keselowski finished third.
Larson’s victory in his No. 42 Chevrolet snapped a 99-race losing streak for Chip Ganassi Racing dating to Jamie McMurray’s victory at Talladega in 2013.
Larson secured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with two races left in the regular season. Elliott remains winless, but is in solid shape to make the Chase field on points if need be.
It was the 99th career start for the 24-year-old Larson, who had 14 top-five finishes before Sunday but hadn’t won at the Cup level. The 20-year-old Elliott is winless in 29 starts, but this was an impressive showing for him after eight consecutive races outside the top 10.
Elliott finished second at Michigan in June as well, losing to Joey Logano.
There were only four cautions in the 200-lap, 400-mile race. Larson led a race-high 41 laps. Logano, the pole winner, finished 10th.
Chris Buescher, who has a victory but still needs to stay in the top 30 in points to make the Chase, finished 35th after some early engine trouble. Buescher is seven points ahead of David Ragan for 30th place on the season.
Alex Bowman, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car, had a problem with the ignition system and finished 30th.
Hendrick Motorsports is now winless in the last 19 races after Elliott fell short, but there were some positive signs for the team. At the midway point, Hendrick cars were 1-2, with Jimmie Johnson leading Elliott at the front. Kasey Kahne was in fifth at that point.
Johnson ended up sixth, and Kahne finished 14th.
This is Hendrick’s longest losing streak since a 22-race dry spell from 1993 into 1994.
Twelve drivers who have wrapped up Chase berths. Tony Stewart, who has a victory, has clinched a top-30 finish in points to secure his spot.
Buescher’s situation is still uncertain, so there could end up being as many as four drivers making it in on points. Elliott is 11th in the standings, the top driver with no victories.