Kyle Larson notches first Nationwide win in Fontana

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Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontanta, Calif., was a home race, of sorts, for Kyle Larson, a native of Sacramento, and Kevin Harvick, a Bakersfield native. In the end, they were among the three drivers battling for the win, with Larson coming out victorious and Harvick taking runner-up honors, giving California a one-two finish at home. Kyle Busch finished third.

“That was a blast racing out there,” Larson said. “It’s pretty cool to beat those guys.”

The win was a Nationwide Series career first for Larson, and he became the first California-born driver to win in series competition at Auto Club. It also marked the first Nationwide race in the last 10 at the track not win by Joe Gibbs Racing, as Larson is a Chip Ganassi Racing driver. It also broke a Busch/Joey Logano strangle-hold of Nationwide competition in Fontana, as those two drivers combined to win the last eight series events there, with Busch winning six and Logano taking the other two when he was also a JGR driver.

“He’s great,” Busch said of Larson. “He’s definitely a great talent. That’s why he’s here. That’s why he’s made it this far. That’s why he’s in Cup. He does a good job. It was fun racing there at the end.”

Larson moved up to the second position, getting by Busch, with 49 laps to go in the 150-lap race. He then closed in on then-leader Logano. The yellow flag waved for the fourth and final time with 21 laps to go, and Harvick got off pit road first to restart with the lead. Larson, meanwhile, restarted second.

“We just over-adjusted a little bit,” Logano said of not being able to get back up front in the closing laps. “The run before, Kyle Larson caught me pretty quick, and I was pretty free, so we tightened it up quite a bit and restarted third, there, but it was just too tight.”

Larson took the lead on the restart, and Harvick and Busch spent the remaining laps swapping the second spot back and forth. With each switch, the second-place driver would pull up beside Larson to challenge for the lead, but was never able to make a pass stick.

“I wasn’t very happy when we got that last caution,” Larson said. “I was surprised when I got the lead.”

Logano led a group of Sprint Cup regulars up front, leading a race-high 96 laps. Series regular Elliott Sadler started on the pole, but failed to lead the first lap, as that honor went to Harvick. Logano took the lead for the first time on lap six. Throughout the first half of the race, the top-five was dominated by Logano, Harvick, Busch and Matt Kenseth, with Sadler seeming to be the only Nationwide championship-eligible driver able to run consistently in the top-five.

Busch made his way up to the front early from the back of the field. Because of trouble getting through technical inspection earlier in the day, Busch was unable to make a qualifying attempt and, therefore, started the 40-car race from the 39th spot.

“This morning, they rolled through inspection, just to check everything as soon as they came in and everything was fine,” Busch said. “They passed and everything was green. Then, when they went back through inspection in order to get ready for qualifying, the NASCAR inspectors didn’t like the length of the studs on the wheels. There wasn’t enough thread showing, so we were going to have faster pit stops than everybody else. So they made us change studs. All they did was roll around and change studs and went back across the platform and the platform said it was illegal. The car was; it was out of skew. So they came back, made an adjustment and went back across the platform and didn’t change the number. Came back, made another adjustment to the car to get less skew, back to the platform, didn’t change the number. They just kept making laps and little, little increments and they weren’t making any gains on the numbers. Finally, it was just a matter of, ‘Alright, give up, start over and figure out what the heck is really going on,’ and I think it took them, still, another 10 minutes after our session had ended to get through.”

Busch was in the top-10 by lap seven, and was running second to Logano by lap 22. Busch took the lead during a cycle of green-flag pit stops around lap 40 when Logano suffered a 19.5-second stop.

Nationwide regular Brian Scott was able to get to the front on a restart at the halfway point of the race, but a few laps later, the regular Sprint Cup suspects were back up front. Nationwide Series rookie Chase Elliott raced into the top five near the end, moving into the fourth position by the final yellow flag. But a slow spot during the caution dropped him back to 10th for the restart. He did manage to get back some of those positions to finish sixth.

Logano finished fourth, and Sadler was fifth. Finishing seventh through 10th were Kenseth, Ty Dillon, Trevor Bayne and Regan Smith.

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Check out this photo gallery of images from Saturday’s Nationwide race in Fontana (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR):

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