Kyle Larson wins a snoozer at Dover to clinch a third-round spot

The playoffs are a good time for your first win of the season.

Kyle Larson won his first race of 2019 at Dover on Sunday and locked himself into the third round of the Cup Series playoffs with an easy victory over Martin Truex Jr.

Truex Jr. appeared to have the car to beat but had a slow pit stop during the caution between the second stage and the final stage. He dropped from first to sixth on the pit stop cycle and couldn’t get any higher than second.

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Larson inherited the lead because of the pit miscue and easily drove away for the win. The race didn’t feature any cautions in the second and third stages and only one on-track pass for the lead that wasn’t immediately after a restart. That came when Truex tracked down teammate Denny Hamlin in the laps before the end of stage two.

All of the action at Dover happened early. Joey Logano had to take his car to the garage before the race began. Chase Elliott then had a terminal engine problem less than 10 laps into the race. After that, it was a bore. Though that’s pretty evident when a slow pit stop with over 100 laps to go is a race’s turning point.

The victory is Larson’s first in 75 points races dating back to the September 2017 race at Richmond. He won the exhibition All-Star Race at Charlotte in May.

He understood the significance of his win on Sunday. Larson flipped over during the spring race at Talladega earlier this year. Now he won’t have to worry about what happens next week at the crazy track because he’s automatically advancing to the third round of the playoffs.

“Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing next week at Talladega except for me, so that's good,” Larson said. “You know, last time I was at Talladega I was on my lid, and I mean, I could still end up on my lid next week, but it's not going to matter after this win.”

Kyle Larson hadn't won a Cup Series race since September of 2017. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson hadn't won a Cup Series race since September of 2017. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Elliott on the outside of the top 8

Logano is still tied for eighth in the standings thanks to the bonus points that he carried into the second round. He returned to the track over 20 laps down and ended up finishing 34th.

He was a spot ahead of teammate Ryan Blaney who had to go to the garage during the race because of an apparent brake problem. Blaney is now 12th and last in the playoff standings, 22 points behind Logano and William Byron tied for eighth. The top eight drivers make the third round.

Elliott is seven points outside the top eight after his last-place finish.

Why was Dover such a snoozer?

NASCAR’s move to add downforce and take away horsepower from Cup Series cars seems to have negative consequences on the racing at Dover. The concrete mile has been reduced to a one-groove track as corner speeds are now way up. Denny Hamlin’s pole lap on Saturday was a track record for stock cars.

Faster isn’t always better when it comes to quality of racing. Many in and around racing believe that slower corner speeds — and more time off the throttle for drivers — make for more passing opportunities and better racing. Well, Dover doesn’t have much off-throttle time any longer.

The most dramatic points in the race came when the lead cars had to navigate lapped traffic and deal with the dirty air off the slower cars ahead of them. Dirty air is another thing that’s also been heightened with NASCAR’s new rules. Since the cars have more downforce they’re also more sensitive to turbulent air.

When Larson was navigating lapped traffic during the third stage his six-second lead on Truex Jr. dwindled to just under two seconds. But as Truex struggled to pass the cars that Larson struggled to pass, Larson stretched his lead out again and Truex never came close to having a shot at passing him.

Points standings

1. Kyle Larson (won at Dover)

2. Martin Truex Jr., 3,095 points

3. Kyle Busch, 3,080

4. Denny Hamlin, 3,080

5. Kevin Harvick, 3,074

6. Brad Keselowski, 3,052

7. Alex Bowman, 3,049

8. Joey Logano, 3,032

9. William Byron, 3,032

10. Clint Bowyer, 3,028

11. Chase Elliott, 3,025

12. Ryan Blaney, 3,010

Race results

1. Kyle Larson

2. Martin Truex Jr.

3. Alex Bowman

4. Kevin Harvick

5. Denny Hamlin

6. Kyle Busch

7. Matt DiBenedetto

8. Jimmie Johnson

9. Kurt Busch

10. Clint Bowyer

11. Brad Keselowski

12. Paul Menard

13. William Byron

14. Daniel Suarez

15. Erik Jones

16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

17. Aric Almirola

18. Austin Dillon

19. Ryan Preece

20. Bubba Wallace

21. Daniel Hemric

22. Ryan Newman

23. Ty Dillon

24. Michael McDowell

25. Matt Tifft

26. Landon Cassill

27. David Ragan

28. Corey LaJoie

29. BJ McLeod

30. Joe Nemechek

31. Ross Chastain

32. JJ Yeley

33. Garrett Smithley

34. Joey Logano

35. Ryan Blaney

36. Chris Buescher

37. Reed Sorenson

38. Chase Elliott

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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