NASCAR Cup Series at Fontana results: Kyle Larson drives into Victory Lane for the first time in 2022

After his team discovered a problem with his ignition on Sunday morning, Kyle Larson was forced to give up his starting spot and start from the rear of the field for the second race of the season. But try as they might, even to the very last laps, the field couldn’t keep him out of Victory Lane.

After coming all the way through the field to make his way to the front late in the race, Kyle Larson was able to win the Wise Power 400 in a frantic finish, blowing past Daniel Suarez with two laps to go and holding off Austin Dillon and Erik Jones for his first win of 2022 and his second at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

It had appeared Larson would simply drive off into the sunset with 10 laps to go, but his path to victory was complicated by a late-race spin by Chase Elliott that brought out the 12th and final caution of the day. Larson lost the lead to Suarez with three laps left, but got a massive run off Turn 4 heading into the final two laps to make the deciding pass.

Wise Power 400 unofficial results

  1. #5 – Kyle Larson
  2. #3 – Austin Dillon
  3. #43 – Erik Jones
  4. #99 – Daniel Suarez
  5. #22 – Joey Logano
  6. #10 – Aric Almirola
  7. #4 – Kevin Harvick
  8. #45 – Kurt Busch
  9. #16 – Daniel Hemric
  10. #47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Although it wasn’t quite a home game for Larson — his hometown of Elk Grove is in the Sacramento area in Northern California — he nevertheless was proud to take the checkered flag for the Golden State.

“Always fun here to win in the home state. Hard work all weekend there,” Larson told Fox Sports. “Didn’t feel great in practice yesterday. [Crew chief Cliff Daniels] and everybody made some good adjustments overnight, and the car handled a lot better. There was definitely some guys that were quicker than us, but they had their misfortunes.

“Just kept our heads in it all day. Long race. Restarts were crazy, the whole runs were crazy. Definitely wild, but cool to get a win here in California and hopefully we can get on a little streak.”

Here are some of the major takeaways from the second race of the season:

Reddick’s big day and the unusual suspects

While Larson taking the win was more of the same from 2021, much of Sunday’s race was dominated by drivers not usually seen at the very front of the field. Leading the charge was Tyler Reddick, who won both stages and spent three quarters of the race running at the front and setting his career-high for laps led in a race (90). He wasn’t alone there, either: Erik Jones ran up front all race long in Petty GMS Motorsports’ No. 43, and Chase Briscoe also set a career-high in laps led (20) midway through the event.

By all indications, it looked as though Reddick had the best car and was set to earn his first Cup win. But then, entering Turn 1 on Lap 153, Larson cut down a left rear tire and was run into by William Byron. Reddick’s car suffered major damage, and he limped home in 24th.

Although Jones lost control of the race after being passed by Larson and Joey Logano on a restart, he ended up making it back into the fight for the win with two other unexpected drivers — Suarez and Dillon — in tow. Suarez ended up coming agonizingly close to his first Cup Series win, making a dramatic pass to take the lead with three laps to go before losing it the next lap and coming home fourth.

“We’re gonna win a few races very soon here,” Suarez told Fox Sports. “… I can tell you that I’m gonna work very, very hard to go to Victory Lane very, very soon here.”

Tire toil and trouble

The results of practice and qualifying foreshadowed what ended up being a caution-filled race. A lack of sideforce on the Next Gen car combined with the slick, abrasive surface of Auto Club Speedway led to a healthy number of spins and crashes throughout Sunday’s race, many of which occurred without contact from another car. The yellow flag flew 12 times in all, tying the record for the most ever in a race at Fontana and the most since the race was shortened to 400 miles.

In years’ past, several of the spins would not have ended drivers’ chances of contending: But a nuance in the Next Gen car was exposed, as the lack of an inner liner in its tire causes the car to stick on the ground if the tires flatspot, preventing it from moving. That led to harmless-looking self spins by drivers like Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, and Brad Keselowski putting them laps down and ruining their chances of a good finish.

For their part, NASCAR is working on a solution to that issue: According to Jeff Gluck of The Athletic, the sanctioning body hopes to come up with a solution “quickly”.

Hendrick run-in

Unfortunately for Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Larson didn’t get to Victory Lane without running afoul of one of his teammates: Late in the race, Larson and Joey Logano were side-by-side for the lead on the frontstretch when Chase Elliott got a massive run from behind them, which he attempted to take the outside of both. Larson came up to block, putting Elliott in the wall and ruining his chances of both a win and a good finish. After spinning to bring out the final caution, Elliott ended up 26th.

While Elliott expressed his displeasure with Larson as his teammate later put him a lap down, Elliott had little to say after the race according to Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports. Whether or not any displeasure towards Larson lingers will have to be something that Hendrick Motorsports manages as the early season progresses.

Odds and Ends

  • After suffering a shifter issue early in the race, Daniel Hemric ended up seven laps down and well out of contention. But thanks to a mixture of free passes earned and wave-arounds taken, Hemric made all of his laps back up and then capitalized on a fast car to earn a ninth-place finish. That marks Hemric’s first Top 10 in a Cup car since Pocono in July of 2019.
  • While it wasn’t quite at Hemric’s level, Aric Almirola also enjoyed a nice comeback after a big slide off Turn 4 that forced him to make two unscheduled trips down pit road. Almirola had been running in the Top 10 at the time, and ended up back there by the end for a sixth-place finish.
  • Austin Cindric was the top rookie of the race in 12th, but Todd Gilliland made a nice recovery from losing a wheel and tire on pit road to earn a 20th place finish, his first Top 20 in a Cup car in just his second career start.
  • Great days for both Garrett Smithley and B.J. McLeod, as both finished on the lead lap in 21st and 22nd respectively. For Smithley, that finish is the best of his Cup career.

Next race

The west coast swing continues with the third race of the NASCAR Cup Series season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the running of the Pennzoil 400. Last year, Las Vegas was the site of Kyle Larson’s first victory of 2021 en route to the Cup Series title.