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NASCAR Cup: Kyle Larson finally claims first win

NASCAR Cup: Kyle Larson finally claims first win
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Huggies Chevrolet SS, celebrates his win Sunday, August 28, 2016 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Larson’s 1st career Sprint Cup Series win and the first win, after 99 races, for the Chip Ganassi Racing team. Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet SS finished second. (Photo by Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)

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August 29, 2016
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Kyle Larson doesn’t normally get a haircut on race day, but he made an exception Sunday and let his longtime girlfriend cut his hair prior to the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

Larson led a race-high 42 laps and claimed his first-career series win in his 99th-career Sprint Cup start, clinching a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship postseason with two races remaining in the regular season.

“I was teared-up that whole last few laps, because I could just feel it,” Larson said. “It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We love you guys. We’re going to miss him. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool.”

After the race, Larson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Claire B. Lang that he hopes his hair grows fast, because more race-day haircuts may be in order.

The win was part of a NASCAR history-making weekend, as it was the first time in a single NASCAR three-race weekend that each of the three national divisions produced first-time winners. Michael McDowell claimed his first Xfinity Series win at Road America on Saturday and Brett Moffitt drove to victory lane at Michigan after the Camping World Truck Series race, also on Saturday.

Larson’s victory also snapped a winless streak for Chip Ganassi Racing, as it was the first Cup win for the organization in 99 races.

“Well, he hung in there with our team,” car owner Chip Ganassi said. “We were building. We’ve been building over the years. He came on board and did a great job. The team rallied around him. I can’t say enough about the kid and the job he’s done over the last few years, and it’s been a nice, gradual coming-up through the pack. And I couldn’t be more happy with Kyle right now.”

Winless drivers Larson and Elliott held the top-two positions in the running order throughout most of the second half of the race. Larson wound up with most laps led honors, running up front for 42 laps of the 200 that made up the race.

“We had a lot of work to do for that first third of the race and got it done,” Larson said. Thanks to Target. Thanks to everyone on this team. Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and the pit crew and everybody. We messed up that last stop, but we made it back.”

Elliott took runner-up honors. Meanwhile, Michigan native Brad Keselowski finished third. Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five.

Elliott was the leader after the completion of a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 118. A caution came a lap later, and Larson took the lead on a lap 125 restart.

Another green-flag cycle of stops began just after lap 150, and when the cycle completed on lap 170, Elliott was back up front with a lead of nearly three seconds over second-place Larson. Larson closed on Elliott but lost the ground gained in lapped traffic with just under 20 laps to go.

“My guys did such a good job today of making the most of pit road,” Elliott said. “That was the only place you could make a large sum of ground in a short period of time. They did exactly what I asked them to do. I said, ‘You guys are going to have to bail me out here. I messed up.’ They did; they got us the lead just like I asked, and I gave it away again. It’s one of those things wehre you do or you don’t, and I didn’t. You just got to recognize your mistakes, look at the positives, I guess, and move on down the road.”

The fourth and final caution of the race inside 15 laps erased Elliotts sizable lead. He and Larson restarted on the front row and when the race returned to green with eight laps to go, Keselowski gave Larson a push to the lead and took second for himself. Soon after, Elliott was able to retake second from Keselowski.

“We both spun our tires really bad, and the No. 2 (Keselowski) pushed me really good,” Larson said. “He could have probably pulled underneath me and went by, but he stayed with me and got me the lead. So, thanks to him. I had a lot of fun.”

After starting on the pole, Joey Logano led early but lost the lead to Harvick on a lap 26 restart. Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Keselowski also led laps before Larson and Elliott took over control of the race. Keselowski’s laps led came as a result of the driver extending his fuel window, going extra laps during cycles of green-flag pit stops before heading to pit road.

Johnson finished sixth, Carl Edwards was seventh, Larson’s teammate Jamie McMurray was eighth, Hamlin ninth, and Logano rounded out the top-10.

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