Alex Bowman wins at Pocono after Kyle Larson gets a flat tire with less than a lap to go

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Kyle Larson's quest for a fourth consecutive regular-season win fell short by less than half a lap.

Larson got a flat tire while leading on the final lap of Saturday's race at Pocono and smashed into the wall in Turn 3. That gave the lead to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman who scored his third win of 2021 in stunning fashion.

Larson had pressured Bowman for over 10 laps before making a pass for the lead with four laps to go. Larson had the fastest car all day and was clearly faster than Bowman over the final run. But Bowman had clean air and was able to use his car and the large spoiler on the back of it to defend well against Larson before Larson finally got past.

After Larson passed Bowman, the end of the race felt like a formality. Larson was going for his fifth consecutive win overall when you count the NASCAR All-Star Race but his left-front tire went flat after he exited Turn 2. It's unclear what made Larson's tire go flat and you could hear it explode on the in-car audio after he exited the corner.

"[Larson] beat us," Bowman said. "Their misfortune, it happens. That's part of the sport. I'll take it."

Larson said after the race that he didn't think his tire went flat because it had excessive wear and speculated that he ran over something on the track. Tire wear was a non-factor throughout much of the race.

"I don't think there were any tire issues all day," Larson said. "I must have just ran something over, I guess."

Since Larson damaged his car so significantly when he hit the wall, he has to use a backup car for Sunday's race at Pocono. The use of the backup car means that Larson will have to start at the back of the field. Bowman, meanwhile, will start 20th. The top 20 cars from Saturday's race are inverted for the second race of the doubleheader (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Kyle Busch was second and William Byron was third. Larson finished ninth because his car had a flat tire so close to the end. Chris Buescher finished 20th so he'll start first on Sunday.

Hendrick wins again

Bowman's win is the seventh consecutive win for Hendrick Motorsports counting the All-Star Race. Chase Elliott won at the Circuit of the Americas the week before Larson started his win streak and Bowman won at Dover before Elliott's win.

The Chevy team has shown no signs of slowing down, especially given that all four of its drivers finished in the top 12 on Sunday. Elliott was 12th after he sustained damage at the start of the race. The team fixed the left rear as best it could but that damage undoubtedly hindered Elliott, especially at a track like Pocono that's so dependent on aerodynamic downforce.

Track position and the difficulty of passing

Drivers who ran up front stayed up front at Pocono. While there were varying pit cycles that did shuffle the field at times, cars generally maintained their track position throughout Sunday's race.

Busch said it was "impossible" to pass while his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin also noted how important restarts and track position were. Busch was able to keep Larson at bay on older tires ahead of the race's final restart with less than 20 laps to go because of debris on the track.

Passing isn't going to be any easier on Sunday. With cars running NASCAR's high downforce and low horsepower rules setup, drivers don't have much acceleration off the corners to make moves. The high downforce allows them to carry a ton of speed into the corners while the lack of horsepower hinders their ability to accelerate off the corner.

The varying pit strategies in the final stage, Bowman's move to take the lead on the final restart and Larson's flat tire on the final lap made for an intriguing finish on Saturday. But that finish could have been better if drivers could do more to make passes themselves.

Race results

1. Alex Bowman

2. Kyle Busch

3. William Byron

4. Denny Hamlin

5. Ryan Blaney

6. Kurt Busch

7. Joey Logano

8. Kevin Harvick

9. Kyle Larson

10. Brad Keselowski

11. Tyler Reddick

12. Chase Elliott

13. Daniel Suarez

14. Bubba Wallace

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

16. Aric Almirola

17. Christopher Bell

18. Martin Truex Jr.

19. Michael McDowell

20. Chris Buescher

21. Austin Dillon

22. Erik Jones

23. Ryan Preece

24. Chase Briscoe

25. Cody Ware

26. Anthony Alfredo

27. Justin Haley

28. James Davison

29. Garrett Smithley

30. BJ McLeod

31. Quin Houff

32. Matt DiBenedetto

33. Ross Chastain

34. Josh Bilicki

35. Timmy Hill

36. Corey LaJoie

37. Ryan Newman

38. Cole Custer

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