SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Larson first visited Sonoma Raceway as a young kid dressed head-to-toe in Jeff Gordon gear watching NASCAR practice from the hillside on a Saturday afternoon.
Now he’s a Cup winner at what is considered the Elk Grove racer’s home track, but his victory lane celebration Sunday was a disaster.
Larson tried to recreate a 2014 photo of himself spitting wine into the air following a lower level win, but it was far windier after this big leagues victory and when Larson splayed his mouthful from the oversized chalice, the red wine splashed all over the new track president.
“I blew it,” Larson said. “It was way windy and I feel super bad.”
It was the only thing Larson did wrong all day.
Larson beat teammate Chase Elliott in overtime to win his second consecutive race, third of the season, and help Hendrick Motorsports continue its month of dominance.
Hendrick drivers have won four straight races and Larson’s Coca-Cola 600 win a week ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway made Rick Hendrick the winningest owner in NASCAR history.
“Obviously, last weekend was huge for our company, the history and heritage of our company. We’re obviously very proud to do that for Mr. Hendrick in our backyard,” said Jeff Andrews, executive vice president and general manager at HMS. “Now we come out here to Sonoma and we get one for Kyle in his backyard.”
The Hendrick group is on such a roll that maybe only two-time defending winner Martin Truex Jr. was considered a real threat to stop the streak Sunday, when NASCAR returned to California for the first time since 2019 because of the pandemic.
But reigning Cup champion Elliott was the favorite. He is, after all, the current king of the road with six victories on road courses including a victory over Larson two weeks ago in the rain-shortened debut at Circuit of the Americas in Texas.
Instead the win went to Larson. And even though it was in overtime, it wasn’t close as Elliott remained winless at Sonoma in five starts.
“We were solid today, just not good enough at the right times,” Elliott said.
Larson, who had led just 11 laps in six previous combined races at Sonoma, won all three stages and led a race-high 58 of the 92 laps. The eighth caution sent the race to overtime for a two-race sprint shootout, but he easily cleared Elliott on the restart and pulled away to tie Truex with a Cup high three wins each this season.
Hendrick’s four drivers have combined for seven wins this season and Bowman at ninth Sunday gave them three in the top 10.
Elliott finished second as Hendrick tied Carl Kiekhaefer in 1956 with four consecutive 1-2 finishes.
WELCOME RACE FANS
Sonoma welcomed roughly 15,000 fans — the first time in 714 days spectators have been permitted at the raceway — for NASCAR’s first trip to California since the start of the pandemic. It was likely the last race with limited spectators as nearly all the upcoming venues on NASCAR’s calendars have announced plans to open all seats for sale moving forward.
With the re-opening came a return of dignitaries including Michael Jordan’s first appearance in the garage as co-owner of 23XI Racing. Although NASCAR has permitted the team owner to return to the infield since the start of the year, Jordan watched from a suite at the Daytona 500 and had not been seen at the track since.
San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was the grand marshal and mingled with drivers before the race. Food Network star Guy Fieri drove the ceremonial pace car and 15-year-old U.S. Skateboarding champ Minna Stess from Petaluma performed a skating exhibition.
Shanahan was impressed with his first NASCAR race.
“I had no idea what goes into it,” he said. “I’ve seen ‘Talladega Nights’ and I thought that’s where it ended. I just thought you drive fast.”
NASCAR runs its annual All-Star event Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway for the first time in race history. Longtime track president Eddie Gossage will retire after the event.
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