Mired in a two-plus-year winless streak, Kyle Larson has had to dig and claw his way through the last three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. But on Sunday, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver earned himself a chance to breathe easy for a week or two as he collected a huge victory at Dover International Speedway.
"It's been a long time since we won a point-paying race," Larson said. "We won the All-Star race this year which is great, but we wanted to win a points race and we did when it mattered."
With the victory, Larson earned automatic entry in the third round of the Playoffs, which begin in three weeks at Martinsville Speedway. He will start next week's race at the home of the "Big Wreck" sans pressure.
"It's really critical," Larson said of the victory at Dover. "Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressed next week at Talladega except me. So that's good. Last time at Talladega, I was on my lid (roof). I could still end up on my lid next week, but it's not going to matter."
Larson took the lead for the first time at "The Monster Mile" during pit stops between the second and third stages of the Drydene 400, led 154 laps and went on to get the victory. It was his sixth Cup Series victory and the first following a 75-race winless drought.
Larson's last victory before Sunday came in Richmond, Va., in the 26th race of the 2017 season. Since then, he has finished second nine times. He had twice finished as runner-up at Dover before getting his first win there on Sunday.
"I always have wanted to win a Cup race here. I've been close a number of times. To get a golden Monster (the trophy for winning at Dover and gold this year because Sunday's was the 50th Cup race) is going to be pretty sweet.
"My first playoff win is special. I hope there is another one in our future. Especially in the next round."
Martin Truex Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing -- a six-time winner in 2019 -- finished second, 1.5 seconds behind Larson.
Truex lost his chance for victory when he got caught up in late-race traffic.
"It was about everything," he said of getting caught behind slower cars. "The whole third stage we were behind. We were catching him at the end; we got close. Cool to come home second as hard as it was to pass today.
"Would have been nice to get the win and have that free pass but second's the next best."
Hendrick Motorsports' Alex Bowman finished third while Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing and Denny Hamlin of JGR rounded out the top five.
Kyle Busch was sixth, giving Playoffs contenders the first six places.
Team Penske's Joey Logano -- a Playoffs driver who arrived at Dover fourth in points -- found himself in big trouble before the first stage went green. A problem with the drive train during pace laps sent him to the garages. He returned to the track but only after 24 laps had been run.
Chase Elliott, who won a week ago in the final race of the Round of 16 at the Charlotte "roval," also got in early trouble as he blew the engine of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on Lap 8.
"It quit running," said fan-favorite Elliott. "It didn't really seem like anything was off. We were just kind of making laps and then obviously had a failure. It's an unfortunate way to start this round for sure."
Ryan Blaney of Team Penske was yet another Playoffs driver to succumb to mechanical problems as he suffered a brake failure that sent him to the garages with just over 100 laps to go and while running near the front.