CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Larson seemed poised to win his second race of the season Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway after he won both stages and led for 269 laps at the track. However, the driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE noticed his tires were getting more and more worn in the final laps. That allowed Ryan Blaney to overtake him and win the race, relegating Larson to a second-place finish.
“I think he just got a lot better there that last stage and it kind of changed up my flow of the race a little bit,” Larson said. “He was fast there, and I just wanted to maintain that gap that I had, so I had to run in the faster part of the racetrack and just use my stuff up. And then he was just a lot better than me there late in the run.”
Larson’s effort wasn’t all for nothing. The 28-year-old driver jumped to second in the NASCAR Cup Series standings and is just 43 markers behind leader Denny Hamlin. The runner-up result also was Larson’s third top-five finish and fifth top-10 of the season, meaning he only finished lower than 10th in one race this year.
“(I) hate to lead a lot of laps and lose, but we had a really good car that we brought to the track,” Larson said. “Our HendrickCars.com Chevy was fast there for a long time. ... I don’t know if we got that much worse or he just got way better and, like I said, it just kind of changed up the flow of my race.”
Alex Bowman was behind Larson in the Atlanta finish, bringing home his first top-five result of the year. While Bowman was quiet throughout the day, he still remained with the leaders after starting 14th at the Georgia track.
“It was a good day to come home third,” Bowman said. “Obviously, (I) wish the No. 5 would have won there, but I’m proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports continually bringing really fast race cars to the racetrack.
“I feel like our Ally Camaro was pretty good. It was just a little bit off on the long-run stuff. But finally, a day where nothing bad happened. We’ll take a good solid day, a solid top-three, and move onto Bristol.”
Teammate William Byron also scored a top-10 finish with an eighth-place result in Atlanta – his best effort at the Peach State venue. It marked Byron’s fourth top-10 finish in a row, a personal best in his Cup career.
“We were up around the top five for most of the day and just had a bad final run; a bad restart got us back there and we just never could really recover,” Byron said. “We managed an eighth-place (finish), which is decent, but definitely want a lot more than that. We’ll go to work and figure out where we can improve so we can get better for the next one.”
Chase Elliott suffered an unfortunate engine issue in the third stage, which knocked him out of the race early and forced him to a 38th-place finish.
“I hate it, for sure. I feel like our car was pretty decent,” Elliott said. “We drove up there – we got up to 10th or so at the stage. I felt like we were in a decent position to work on it throughout the day. ... I wish we could have had a good result, but we’ll try again at Bristol.”
The four Hendrick Motorsports drivers will be part of the inaugural dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.