Kyle Larson led a race high 269 of 325 laps in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. He swept both stages and was well in charge of his second win in the last three weeks.
But, Ryan Blaney caught Larson and passed his No. 5 Chevrolet with eight laps remaining. Blaney, not Larson, was celebrating instead.
On the surface, some may blame Joey Logano as to why the flip flop in the end. Larson, caught Logano and struggled to lap him. That allowed Blaney to close the gap even quicker and eventually make the winning move.
But, after hearing both drivers talk, it seems like Logano wasn’t a factor after all. Blaney, was likely going to win this race anyways.
They had two different philosophies in the end. Larson, was so good, he felt like he had to do what he’s done all race and go all out towards the checkered.
“I was pushing the whole time, every lap really from when I left pit road,” Larson said after a runner up result in Atlanta. “I was trying to get out to a big gap. But I never really did. I think I extended it a little bit, but not nearly enough.”
Larson said that before the other green flag stops that he could exit pit road and feel like he’d gain a few seconds over the course of like 20 laps.
“I was hoping it was going to be like that,” Larson continued. “I thought me having to race him and pass him was what used my tires up the little run before, but after the green flag stop, he was just really good. I couldn’t get out to that gap that I could earlier in the race. Ultimately just had to run my tires too hard to try to get that gap, and I didn’t have anything there at the end.”
Blaney, knew that with a 56 lap run to the end, that he had to take it easy. As weird as it sounds, he knew on pace, he never was going to catch Larson. So, he had to slow down to go faster later.
That was the winning move.
“Yeah, if I was going to stick with him… I wasn’t going to be able to stick with him, I was going to burn my stuff all the way up,” Blaney said of the final stint. “I just got to save my tires, save my right rear and we’ll see what happens.
“At that point when I said that, no one was able to touch him all day. He would straightaway you, and even more than that. Just got to ride here, see on a longer run, if he starts coming back to us.
“Just kind of the position you were in or I was in just knowing if I try to hang with him, which I wouldn’t be able to hang with him, burn my stuff up, when he started coming back to us, obviously paid dividends just being patient. Just trying to be smart about this, not have a heavy right foot. It’s cool to win here today at a place that you have to finesse it a little bit, kind of think ahead. That was good.
“It goes back to just knowing we had a good long run car. You know what you got, try to play to your strengths.”
That’s why Logano had really nothing to do with the ending. It was eventually going to happen anyways.
While Larson said that would have had a better shot had he gotten by Logano when he got to him, it still would have been hard to hold Blaney off.
“My tires were pretty much gone at that point,” Larson said. “I was sliding around. I just didn’t get through traffic good at the end.
Larson said that initially, he wanted to go green until the end because hed been so good on the long runs. But then when he realized that Blaney was better than him and was catching his car there at the end, he changed his mindset and was definitely hoping for a caution just to get some new tires on it and hopefully come out the leader, control the restart and try and win that way.
“I knew I was in trouble. But it didn’t play out that way.”