NASCAR Cup Series: Kyle Larson not the big winner at Sonoma

Kyle Larson earned his third victory of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season at Sonoma Raceway, but he wasn't the biggest winner in Wine Country.
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Sonoma Raceway, NASCAR
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Sonoma Raceway, NASCAR / Meg Oliphant/GettyImages

Days after it was finally confirmed that he would indeed be granted a playoff waiver, keeping him eligible for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs after missing the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson secured his third win of the season at Sonoma Raceway.

The 2021 Cup Series champion, who had most recently won at Sonoma in June 2021 before the current 12-turn, 1.99-mile (3.203-kilometer) layout was brought back the following year, had already secured his playoff spot by winning at both Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway this year.

With the regular season consisting of 26 races and there being 16 playoff spots, which go to the regular season champion and the 15 drivers with the most race wins, the only way to lock up a playoff spot by this point in the regular season is by winning twice, as there can be no more than 13 multi-race winners in the regular season.

So Larson, along with teammate William Byron and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell, entered Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 having already locked up spots in this year's postseason.

A third victory for the driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet was simply icing (and five playoff points) on the cake.

The real big winners on Sunday afternoon were the drivers hovering around the playoff cut line and the single-race winners who are relatively low in the point standings.

Had a new winner emerged, that would have marked 10 different winners this season, and given who else was in contention for the victory, it could have even moved the playoff cut line up a full position.

In the event that there end up being more winners than playoff spots, points determine which single-race winners get in and which don't.

The two lowest winners in the point standings are currently Team Penske's Austin Cindric, who won at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, in 18th place, and Trackhouse Racing Team's Daniel Suarez, who won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in 19th.

The fact that Larson won Sunday's race means that there is one less opportunity for a new winner to emerge before the regular season ends, which was a relief to those two drivers in particular.

And we were quite close to seeing another new winner on Sunday.

Front Row Motorsports' Michael McDowell finished in second place, and RFK Racing's Chris Buescher finished in third. Both moved up after Joe Gibbs Racing's Martin Truex Jr., who was in the mix for the win until being passed by Larson with a handful of laps remaining, ran out of fuel.

None of those three drivers have found victory lane yet this year. While Truex sits in fifth place in the point standings and wouldn't have drastically shaken up the playoff picture with a victory, Buescher finds himself in 13th with McDowell in 20th.

There are now 10 races remaining on this year's regular season schedule and thus 10 opportunities to add to the current winner total of nine.

The "safe" single-race winners include Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott, who won at Texas Motor Speedway, in second place in the standings; 23XI Racing's Tyler Reddick, who won at Talladega Superspeedway, in fourth; and RFK Racing's Brad Keselowski, who won at Darlington Raceway, in seventh.

Next. NASCAR changes Sonoma results shortly after the race ends. NASCAR changes Sonoma results shortly after the race ends. dark

Will a 10th different winner emerge in the 2024 season's 17th race, the first ever Cup Series race at Iowa Speedway? The Iowa Corn 350 Powered by Ethanol is set to be broadcast live on USA Network beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, June 16. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don't miss it!