Larson dominates, but Almirola prevails in NASCAR Xfinity Series DoorDash 250
Northern California native Kyle Larson dominated the majority of the DoorDash 250, but a strategic decision by Aric Almirola’s crew chief to keep his driver on the track while the leaders came to pit road under caution with less than 20 laps remaining provided Almirola the opportunity to start up front and earn the NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Sonoma Raceway.
The No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of the Elk Grove, Calif., native bobbled in Turn 11 on Lap 72 of 79 as he pressed Almirola for the lead, allowing Almirola to get away and Los Gatos, Calif., native AJ Allmendinger to slip by for second. From there, Almirola focused on hitting his marks in the No. 28 RSS Racing Ford for the final seven circuits and took the checkered flag 1.868 seconds ahead of Allmendinger. Larson ended up third, Ty Gibbs fourth and Parker Kligerman fifth.
The balance of the Top 10 finishers were Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, Austin Hill, Sammy Smith, and Sam Mayer.
“Oh, man, this is so special,” said Almirola, who led 17 laps in his second Xfinity start of the season after a 24th-place finish at Circuit of the Americas in April. “It’s hard to explain. I know it’s an Xfinity win—it’s not a Cup win, but after COTA (I said) I don’t think I should run any more road course races in an Xfinity car.
“It makes me look like a wanker, and I lose self-confidence going into Sunday. But I knew that this racetrack is one I could run good at. I’ve run good here my whole career. I don’t know what it is about this place, but I love racing here.”
Larson led the 38-car field to green and quickly moved out to a comfortable lead. He was 2.7 seconds ahead of Almirola after just five laps and was 2.9 seconds ahead of Allmendinger at the conclusion of Stage 1 at the conclusion of Lap 20. The Top 5 were Larson, Allmendinger, Almirola, and Gibbs.
The leaders pitted under caution on Lap 22 and the top for that took the green flag on Lap 27 to begin Stage 2 were John Hunter Nemechek, Hill, Sage Karam, Riley Herbst and Larson. Larson returned to the point one lap later and once again began to drive away from his closest competitors, which included Allmendinger, Hill, Gibbs and Nemechek by lap 30.
Larson was 2.3 seconds ahead of Allmendinger on Lap 30, 4.0 seconds ahead four laps later, and 5.8 seconds to the good on Lap 39. The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Champion then went on a tear, ahead 6.2 seconds on Lap 40 and 9.2 seconds at the conclusion of Stage 2 after Lap 45.
The field shuffled somewhat when the No. 17 came to pit road under green on Lap 47 but Larson was back to the point just two laps later as much of the rest of the field also came to pit road for service.
On Lap 51, Larson was ahead of Allmendinger by 10.8 seconds which stretched to 13.4 seconds by Lap 59. But everything changed the next lap.
The No. 45 Chevrolet of Jeffrey Earnhardt spun to bring on the caution on Lap 60 and the majority of the leaders hit pit road two laps later. NASCAR Cup Series regulars Daniel Suarez and Almirola had stayed out so led the field back to green on Lap 65. Suarez was black-flagged for jumping the restart so the top five at the conclusion of the lap was Almirola, Allmendinger, Larson, Allgaier, and Hill.
Larson dogged Almirola over the next seven circuits, cutting the lead to 0.01-of-a-second. As the two rounded the tight right-hand hairpin of Turn 11, Larson seemed to bobble and turn to the left, allowing Allmendinger to slip by and Almirola to set sail.
The Coral Gables, Fla., native opened up a lead of 3.2 seconds with two laps remaining and comfortably took the checkered flag for his fifth NASCAR Xfinity Series victory.
“I just got too greedy,” said Larson who led a race-high 53 laps. “I was kind of tucked up right behind him, clipped the tires, and it knocked the wheel out of my hands. After that the toe was off. I was really tight in the left and really loose in the right, so I couldn’t make runs at it..."
“I’m really mad at myself right now, but I’m really proud of the car they (Hendrick Motorsports) brought. Congrats to Aric, too. He did a really good job out in front of me, hitting his marks. He could kind of get away from me in a couple of important areas and would make me have to work hard behind him. So, hats off to him and that team.”
There were 10 lead changes among six drivers and two cautions for eight laps.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin earned the pole position for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350, wheeling his No. 11 Toyota to a best lap of 77.719 seconds at an average speed of 92.178 mph. The run was a mere 0.093-of-a-second quicker than Tyler Reddick, who will start on the outside of Row 1 with a lap of 77.812 seconds at 92.068 mph.
The balance of the top 10 qualifiers were Michael McDowell (No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford), Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), AJ Allmendinger (No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet), Ty Gibbs (No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), Chris Buescher (No. 17 RFK Racing Ford), Martin Truex, Jr. (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), last year’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 winner Daniel Suarez (No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet) and Chase Elliott (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet).
Tickets for this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR weekend are on sale now at https://www.sonomaraceway.com/events/tickets.