HOMESTEAD, Fla — For the second straight year, Kyle Larson won the eighth NASCAR Cup Series playoff race which as a result advances him to the Championship 4. However, this year’s trip to Phoenix is vastly different than last.
Last year, he was fighting for the drivers title. This year, he’s going for just the owners.
A year ago he scored both, but due to him being eliminated from championship contention following the Round of 12 elimination race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, his personal goal of a repeat title was dashed. But, with how wild of a year this has been on the owners standings side, he’s still alive.
Some may think, what’s the big deal of an owners title? Well, money for starters. This is where bonuses and the big money is to be made. It’s to where each entry finishes in the owners side. The payouts are strictly attributed to the owners points so for the industry, this is a far bigger deal than the drivers side.
The owners side is the car number where the drivers side is just that, the driver. A prime example is the 23XI Racing conundrum.
Kurt Busch made the postseason via his Kansas win. Without a 16th different winner in the regular season, he and his No. 45 Toyota were playoff eligible. By him taking himself out, it opened up a spot for winless Ryan Blaney.
However, Blaney’s No. 12 Ford wasn’t eligible on the owners side by virtue of them being winless. 23XI Racing wasn’t about to take the 45 out of the owners race.
So, despite Busch being out, the 45 wasn’t. That’s why the swapped Bubba Wallace over to that ride when essentially he was still using everything from his No. 23 side. It was just a number swap.
A veteran in Wallace was better than a Cup novice like Ty Gibbs. Wallace won in Kansas and advanced the 45 onto the Round of 12. That’s where that cars’ championship dreams ended.
Larson’s No. 5 teams’ wasn’t. He marched onto the Round of 8 still. Remember, Blaney’s car isn’t eligible so on points, the 5 team remained alive.
Then, with Larson’s win on Sunday, the 5 team gets to the Championship 4 with Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford team for Team Penske. Which is why 2 spots, not 3, remain open at Martinsville on this side.
“No matter what team I’ve been with, things haven’t worked out on my end to get a win, so glad to get one today,’’ Larson said.
“Definitely the best run we’ve had all year long,’’ he added. “We’ve been capable of it I feel like many weekends, we just hadn’t quite put it all together. [Crew chief] Cliff [Daniels] gave a great speech this morning and got us all ready to go and focused.
“Amazing race car,’’ he noted with a smile.
Only two other times has someone won the owners title and not the drivers (1954 and 1963).
Homestead Finally Rewarded Larson, Gragson
We knew that eventually Noah Gragson and Kyle Larson were going to win at Homestead. Both were wildly good here but each were also winless.
Gragson felt like the Homestead-Miami Speedway owed him one. He finally cashed in on the South Florida racetrack on Saturday. Gragson led the final 56 laps en route to his 13th career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory. It’s a star studded list of drivers with 13 career Xfinity Series wins as he joins Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Darrell Waltrip, Elliott Sadler and Austin Cindric for 27th all-time.
This win also stamped his name into the Championship 4 as he’ll join his teammate Josh Berry in two weeks at Phoenix in going for a title in the Arizona desert.
“We just kicked their ass baby, let’s go!” Gragson yelled. “I just wanted this one so bad.”
He absolutely did. He led 83 laps in the first race of 2020 but didn’t win. He led 81 laps a day later and didn’t win again. Then he led 34 laps last year and ran into a lapped car while leading late.
A day ago, after 127 laps led, he never wavered and now has to be the championship favorite as not only has he won 5 of the last 8 races on the season, he also won at Phoenix back in March too.
For Larson, he was always in a similar boat. He had three top five finishes in his last five Homestead starts entering the weekend including leading 132 laps in a runner-up effort in 2016, 145 more in a third place run in 2017 and 45 laps in 2018. He’s never finished past third in any stage at Homestead either. He started 5th.
He led 199 of 267 laps en route to a dominating win.
Larson Back Up Last Week’s Drama With A Win
Kyle Larson was in the midst of a lot of highlight reels the past week for his role in the altercation with Bubba Wallace last weekend in Las Vegas. A week later, he was back in the limelight for a better situation – a win.
In a race that didn’t feature Wallace due to a one race suspension levied by NASCAR this past week, Larson reached victory lane.
Larson Clutch In Big Moments
Exactly half of Larson’s career wins have occurred in the playoffs. Sunday was his 14th trip to victory lane in the Cup Series. 7 of those 14 wins have been in the postseason.