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DOVER, DELAWARE - MAY 16: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 NationsGuard Chevrolet, on the grid during the NASCAR Cup Series Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 16, 2021 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Kyle Larson Maximizes Day at Dover Despite Runner-Up Finish

By Dustin Albino

When Kyle Larson grabbed the lead on lap 38 of Sunday’s Drydene 400 at Dover International Speedway, the No. 5 was on cruise control. Until it wasn’t.

During pit stops with just under 100 laps remaining, Alex Bowman’s No. 48 pit crew had the quickest stop of the NASCAR season. That stop awarded Bowman the lead, putting Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet in second.

On the restart, Larson chose the outside lane of the second row, behind Bowman. That’s as close as he could get to the No. 48 car, despite a couple of restarts during the final fourth of the race.

“I was really aggressive that one where I got to his bumper, pushed him through the middle of [Turns] one and two, then again in the middle of three and four,” Larson said after finishing second. “At that point I didn’t really care it was a teammate in front of me or not. I wasn’t going to push him any harder than I was there because I already had him pretty sideways.”

Bowman went on to win his second race of the season, while Hendrick Motorsports swept the top four positions with Larson finishing runner-up, Chase Elliott third and William Byron (11th straight top-10 finish) fourth. It’s just the fourth time in NASCAR history that a single team has claimed the top four positions, and the first since Roush Fenway Racing did so in 2005 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But for Larson, it was another race in which the No. 5 car dominated, coming up just short of his second victory in the 2021 campaign.

With the first half of the regular season wrapping up on Sunday, Larson leads the series with 774 laps led. However, he’s seen potential wins — and valuable playoff points — at  Atlanta Motor Speedway (led 269 of 325 laps, Kansas Speedway (led 132 of 267 laps) and Dover (led 263 of 400 laps) evaporate.

Yes, the No. 5 team has 11 playoff points, virtue of Larson’s early win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a series high six stage wins — including two on Sunday. But the team could have upwards of four triumphs on the season, had circumstances fallen its way.

Even still, Larson believes he pegged out his day at Dover.

“I honestly don’t know if there was anything I could have done differently to win the race after we came out second on pit road,” Larson said. “I would choose the top behind him, get to second every time. Maybe I could have chose the bottom on restart, but I still don’t think I would have stayed with him till he was inside or anything like that. Probably would have fell back to third or so.

“I feel like we maximized our day. We were all so equal. I think any of the four of us [Hendrick cars] could have been out in the lead. That person probably would have won.

“I’m not disappointed or upset about this second because I feel like there wasn’t anything else I could do.”

In 13 career starts at Dover, Larson has one win (fall 2019) with three runner-up results. He’s now led 880 laps at the Monster Mile.