With two laps to go, Kyle Larson was running ninth preparing for a green-white-checkered finish. One lap later he was in second and trying to find a way around leader Kyle Busch to win Sunday's NASCAR race at Auto Club Speedway.
The 21-yar-old prodigy heralded as the sport's next great star never could find his way past Busch. Larson instead finished a career-best second, which followed him fending off Busch and Kevin Harvick to claim his first Nationwide Series victory Saturday.
"I thought we were in trouble there or at least not going to be able to get up to the front," Larson said. "I don't know where everybody went, but I somehow ended up in second there and I was right on Kyle down the backstretch.
"It went through my mind ‘I might sweep the weekend here.'"
The final restart followed a chaotic closing stage that saw several drivers including Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. incur tire failures. This culminated an afternoon where myriad drivers suffered similar fates, as a rash of flat left-rear tires plagued the Auto Club 400.
Goodyear and NASCAR explained the failures as teams working outside the 22 pounds of air pressure Goodyear recommends. NASCAR vice president of competition Randy Pemberton said some teams were running as low as 14 pounds in their tires. Opinions were split among drivers, but many supported the tire Goodyear brought, the same compound it has used the previous three years at Fontana.
"Every pit stop my crew chief would tell me my tires were great," Larson said. "There was just a small concern that last run we had when people really started blowing tires, but I wasn't too concerned."
Larson was one of the few who did not have a tire issue Sunday. His only problem when he was caught speeding on pit road and had to drop to the rear of the field. Otherwise his day represented a breakthrough of sorts.
When Chip Ganassi tabbed Larson last summer to replace Juan Pablo Montoya as driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet, many thought he was being rushed before he was fully prepared for NASCAR's premiere division. At that time Larson was just a Nationwide Series rookie and was just in his second season of running stock-cars.
But in a short amount of time, any doubt of Larson's readiness has quickly been eliminated.
"It's no surprise Larson is good," Busch said. "He gets the experience of racing against us (in the Nationwide Series), racing against me, Kevin, racing against guys like Matt Kenseth.
"It gives him the perfect opportunity on Saturdays to perform well on Sundays and vice versa. Now that he's a Cup guy and performing well on Sundays, it gives him the confidence and the belief in himself and his team that he can do it Saturday and Sunday both."