By Dustin Albino

DOVER, DE — The intensity was rising in the final laps of Sunday’s Wurth 400 at Dover Motor Speedway. Over a 62-lap battle to the finish, Kyle Larson began inching his way towards race leader Denny Hamlin.

Once Hamlin grabbed the lead to begin the final stage, he was going to be hard to pass. He led a race-high 136 laps, though Larson won the second stage, earning his series-high sixth stage victory of the 2024 season. The next closest driver is a tie of five drivers with two.

Larson closed the gap considerably in lapped traffic. Hamlin had a strenuous time lapping Daniel Suarez late in the race. With 20 laps remaining, the gap was at six-tenths of a second. With 15 laps to go, Hamlin’s lead shrunk to under half a second. The No. 5 Chevrolet got within two car lengths in the waning laps.

“I knew that I was going to fight an uphill battle once I lost the lead,” Larson said. “With the way my car was, I knew I was going to time out to get closed to him, but I figured I would time out to get close to him in the final 20 and that‘s what happened. I started moving around, and I knew once I got within three, he was going to start moving around and shut my air off.”

Hamlin held off Larson just enough to score his third triumph of the 11-race season. It’s his 54th career Cup victory, tying NASCAR Hall of Famer Lee Petty for 12th on the all-time wins list.

“[Hamlin] did a good job,” Larson said. “It‘s not like he did anything special to win as far as the air blocking went. He executed some good restarts, but it‘s not hard to air block in these cars.”

Larson used the air to his advantage in the second stage, holding off his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for the playoff point. He also darted through the field in the opening stage from his 21st starting position to earn six stage points.

He wasn’t surprised that he moved through the field at rapid speed.

“Once you get to the top five, it‘s hard to pass guys because the pace is a little bit faster and their cars are driving a little better,” Larson said. “The lead car is really tough to pass because they can run wherever they want.”

Hamlin believes that Larson is a much more sufficient at blocking the air than he is. But it’s a tool that he knows how to use.

“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” Hamlin said. “Sometimes you start the corner here, you drive up when you see all you need to do is get him to cross your wake and you know you’re going to send his car off track.”

The runner-up finish for Larson is his eighth in 16 Dover starts. He and Martin Truex Jr. both tallied 51 points, so Larson’s regular season championship lead remains 15 points.

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