NASCAR Crash Course: Kyle Larson’s tumultuous three weeks culminates with Homestead win

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Crashing himself. Wrecked by someone else. And then spinning the leader on pit road some 20 laps from the finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It’s hard to find a crazier three weeks for Kyle Larson since his return to the NASCAR Cup Series full-time in 2021. Yet he somehow found his way to victory lane at Homestead, a dominant car most of the day in leading a race-high 199 of 267 laps.

Even the win was controversial, as this was a race Martin Truex, Jr. lost just as much as Larson won. After a well-timed caution gave the No. 19 Toyota driver an edge for the first time all day, he held a lead of nearly two seconds when the yellow waved one last time for Tyler Reddick’s spin off turn two.

All the lead-lap cars darted down pit road for fresh tires, Larson found himself inches from his rival, maximizing every advantage he could from second place.

“From my perspective,” Larson said. “I’m just running my pit road speed … I had a few feet from my front bumper to his front bumper. Usually, you peel off and you’re still in the gas until the guy’s got a lane to go by.

“He started to peel off, slammed on the brakes and I hit him. I really didn’t have any time to react, I was so close to him.”

“It’s really hard to see through these windshields right now with the sun like that and all the stuff covering it,” Truex said of the incident. “I did see my box late for sure, so I slowed down before I turned out of the way of the No. 5 there.

“Obviously, partly on me. I didn’t expect to get turned around.”

Nor did anyone expect either driver to be out front in the first place. While Truex’s winless year continued — he wound up sixth, Larson entered this race hobbled after contact with Bubba Wallace last weekend caused a hard wreck and physical retaliation last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wallace was suspended a race for the incident, later apologizing publicly although the drivers have not spoken one-on-one.

That followed a Round of 12 disaster for Larson at Charlotte where he lost control, slammed the outside wall and failed to advance in the playoffs. It’s what crew chief Cliff Daniels blamed on a season-long “lack of execution” he tried to rectify with a rousing Sunday morning speech to his team.

“If we do our job at our worst, we’re going to be really good,” he said. “And if we do our job at our best, we’re going to be great. That’s the window.”

The motivation paired perfectly with one of Larson’s best tracks, Homestead’s aging pavement and rim-riding groove the right match for his driving style.

“I hope they never repave this place,” Larson joked Sunday, upping his career lapses led total to 529 here. “It’s perfect and continues to get better.”

The race, where Larson built leads of almost 10 seconds at times, was reminiscent of his dominant, 10-win championship bid last year. But this victory still gives him something to race for, keeping the No. 5 alive for the owner’s championship at Phoenix.

“We’ve had a very character-building year and we’ve had to be tough through the adversity and learn from our mistakes,” Daniels added. “To still be in it and have a shot is pretty special.”

Traffic Report

green: Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger. Chastain is suddenly surging, a second straight runner-up finish leaving him 19 points above the cut line with one race left before the Championship 4. As for Allmendinger? His battle for second with Chastain left him enthusiastic, not enraged over a driver that’s been the center of controversy that much of the year. “That was fun as s–t right there,” Allmendinger said, earning his sixth straight top-10 finish at the Cup level. “I was just having a good time.”

yellow: Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex was in position to win and, at one point, Denny Hamlin worked his way to the front. Christopher Bell used strategy to get there, too, while Kyle Busch had a rare consistent run. But JGR came up emptyhanded, without a stage win or a top-5 finish despite all four cars finishing 11th or better. If the year ended now, JGR wouldn’t have a single driver inside the Championship 4 for the first time since this format began in 2014.

Rejection: John HunterNemechek. A one-race deal in the No. 45 Toyota, replacing the suspended Wallace, was an important audition for this former Cup full-timer. But a promising weekend that included a fourth-place qualifying effort went out the window with an early spin that left him fighting track position the rest of the race. Nemechek wound up a lap down in 27th.

Speeding Ticket: NASCAR Appeals Board. It’s worth mentioning again the reason Larson is on the outside of the championship looking in is a decision to overturn Byron’s 25-point penalty for what appeared to be an intentional spin of Denny Hamlin at Texas Motor Speedway.

So instead of Larson earning his way in, Hendrick Motorsports still runs the risk of having none of their drivers advance to the final round. Byron sits just five points above the cut line while their best option all year, Chase Elliott, was a ho-hum 14th at Homestead and left himself vulnerable to getting knocked out.

Oops!

Ryan Blaney’s chances to make the championship may come down to this awkward mistake that changed the complexion of the race at Homestead. As he came up to speed from his final green-flag stop of the day, Blaney made a crucial mistake reentering the track and spun his No. 12 Ford, ruining what was potentially a top-5 effort.

On this one, the audio tells us all we need to know.

“Downshifted,” Blaney said. “Went from second to first, like a dumba**. Two weeks in a row, I’ve made mistakes and cost us good finishes… not a good look for me.”

Blaney now sits 18 points below the cut line and almost certainly needs to win at Martinsville to make the Championship 4.

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