The hometown hero Kyle Larson executed as he needed to, making a pass for the lead with eight laps remaining in the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 to claim his second win at the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway road course and third trophy of the season.

It was a frantic start to the day on the newly-repaved 1.99-mile course through the rolling Northern Californian hills with seven caution flags falling before the 110-lap race’s halfway point – more yellow flags than the previous two Sonoma races had combined.

But the final 51 laps ran caution-free with varying pit stop strategies playing a vital role in track position. The Hendrick Motorsports driver Larson was among the last to make his final stop – coming out on track in eighth position with 20 laps remaining and then moving forward by picking off one car, sometimes two cars at a time. 

Larson, who is from Elk Grove, Calif. about an hour from the track, ultimately put his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet out front for good after a dramatic three-way battle with four-time Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. and Chris Buescher with eight to go.

After Larson passed them both, Truex kept Larson honest for much of the closing laps only to run out of gas on the final lap. His No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota came to a stop in front of the front-stretch grandstands about 40-yards shy of the checkered flag. And with the other cars zooming by, Truex ultimately inched his car forward to a cheering crowd limping across the finish line in a heartbreaking 27th place.

“I didn’t know what we were doing as far as strategy,” said the 31-year old Larson. “I was just out there banging laps away. … so I was like, these guys have to pit another time maybe but then when they said I had to go race and then pass those guys, I got a bit nervous. I knew I’d be quick from the get-go but thought once the tires came up to temp it would even off too much.

“Thankful we had enough grip. Thankful too, those guys got racing and Martin never got clear really to where I’d be stuck in third.

“Just an awesome, awesome race.”

After making a last lap pass of Buescher and then benefitting from Truex’s situation, Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell came across the line in second place – 4.258-seconds behind Larson.

Buescher’s RFK Racing Ford was third followed by Hendrick’s Chase Elliott and Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, who had a collision with Richard Childress Racing driver Kyle Busch on the last lap that sent Busch’s No. 8 Chevrolet off-track and dropped him from a top-10 finish to 12th place.

“Proud of everybody,” Buescher said of his 32 laps led and Stage 2 win despite starting the race 26th. “That was a good one to be close and in the hunt. … kind of a tough weekend until today if you had told us we’d gather some playoff and stage points, we’d be happy. Just needed a bit more coming to the finish line.”

Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger was sixth followed by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, who won the opening stage and led a race best 35 laps. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell finished ninth and Front Row Motorsports’ Todd Gilliland claimed 10th-place – the 23-year old driver’s second top-10 finish of the season.

Polesitter Joey Logano finished 21st and the two Australian SuperCar Series drivers making their NASCAR debuts – Will Brown and Cam Waters – finished 31st and 35th, respectively.

It was a significant win for the 2021 series champion Larson, giving him the championship lead by 14 points over his Hendrick teammate Elliott. It comes on the heels of last week’s news that Larson would be granted a Playoff waiver from NASCAR despite missing the Charlotte 600-mile race two weeks ago.

The multi-talented Larson had competed in a rain-delayed Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend with plans to run racing’s celebrated “Double” – the Indy 500 and Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600. Bad weather, however, ruined those plans. There was a rain-delay in Indianapolis, where Larson finished 18th and by the time he arrived in Charlotte to assume driving duties in that NASCAR race, rain had forced officials to call it early and he never was able to turn a lap.

Larson’s victory Sunday – his 26th career win – was significant for him in the championship standings, but the race was also a big deal for the opposite reasons for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, who had held the points lead entering the race. Hamlin’s No. 20 Toyota suffered an engine problem on the second lap of the race and he finished 38th – last – in the field and now drops to third in the championship standings, 26 points behind Larson.

“No [warning], it’s just the gearing is a little weird for the track,” said Hamlin, who snapped a five-race streak of top-five finishes that included a win at Dover, Del. and a runner-up at St. Louis last week.

“It’s a lot of high-end RPM stuff, but the same as everyone else and I’m just not really sure. They’ll look at it and figure it out, but certainly not ideal.”

The NASCAR Cup Series moves to the Midwest where it will make its Iowa Speedway debut with next Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350 Powered by Ethanol (7 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).