HOMESTEAD, Fla — Kyle Larson has led a lot of laps and come awfully close to hoisting a trophy at Homestead-Miami Speedway. On Sunday he finally did both, winning the Dixie Vodka 400 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race in dominant form.
Larson swept both Stage wins and led 199 of the race’s 267 laps in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to pull away to a 1.261-second victory over Florida native Ross Chastain in the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevy.
Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger was third with Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon and Roush-Fenway-Keselowski Racing’s Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five. It is the 2012 series champion Keselowski’s first Top-five finish since becoming co-owner of the organization this season.
The win was 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Larson’s third of the year and 19th of his career – but the first at the 1.5-mile Homestead oval after a pair of previous near-misses. He led a race best 132 laps in 2016, but finished runner-up. He led 145 laps in 2017 and finished third.
“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.
The 30-year-old Californian was eliminated from the Playoffs in the last round, so Chastain was the top-finishing championship contender with only one race – next week at Martinsville, Va. – to set the four driver Championship field for the Nov. 6 season finale at Phoenix.
Only two Playoff drivers finished in the Top-10 Sunday at Homestead: Chastain and Denny Hamlin, who was seventh in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Playoff drivers Christopher Bell (finished 11th), Sunday’s polesitter William Byron (12th), Chase Elliott (14th), Ryan Blaney (17th) and Joey Logano (18th) were still running on the lead lap at the checkered flag. The eighth Playoff-eligible driver, Chase Briscoe, finished last (36th) after making contact with the wall on lap 160.
Hamlin (four laps), Bell (four laps) and Byron (33 laps) all spent time leading the field before various setbacks.
Team Penske’s Logano is the only Playoff driver who has already earned his position in the Championship race thanks to a victory at Las Vegas a week ago. Chastain, Elliott and Byron now complete the Top-four driver ranking.
Hamlin sits in fifth place, five points below Byron. Blaney is 18 points below the cutline, Bell, 33 back and Briscoe now essentially in a must-win situation, trailing by 44 points.
With his victory, Larson’s No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet is eligible for the owner’s title.
While Larson dominated the laps-led category and even paced the field by more than 9-seconds at one point late in the race, he had to earn this trophy after a late-race caution flag.
Martin Truex Jr. had taken the lead after a caution period with 46 laps remaining and pulled away to a nearly 2-second lead when the final yellow flag flew again with 23 laps remaining.
As the field pitted, Larson’s Chevy was right behind Truex’s Toyota and it appeared Truex was going to miss his pit box when Larson’s car bumped Truex’s car from behind. The contact spun Truex, whose team was still able to service the car, but he fell outside the Top-10 initially before racing back up to a sixth-place finish.
“I was just going behind him and he had a hard left and was hard on the brakes at the same time and I got into the back of him, ‘’ Larson explained of the incident. “My team said he was late getting into his stall. I don’t know. If it was my fault I’m sorry, but I don’t think it was. It’s hard to see on this pit road. .. hate that happened. He was definitely the one I was going to have to beat.”
Truex, who is still racing for his first victory of 2022, was obviously disappointed in the outcome, but could only shake his head at the circumstances.
“It’s really hard to see through these windshields with the sun like that and all the stuff covering it,’’ Truex said. “I did see my box late for sure, so I slowed down before I turned out of the way of the 5 (Larson) there.
“Partly on me, I didn’t expect to get turned around and glad nobody got hurt there. Overall, just tough, just disappointing to have a good day going like that and have a shot at winning and couldn’t close the deal. I hate it for my team.
“It’s been one of those years.”
The final race to set the Championship 4 is next Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the Xfinity 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman is the defending race winner, but won’t be competing while recovering from concussion-like symptoms. His teammate Byron won at Martinsville earlier this season.
Cautions Don’t Allow Strategy To Take Shape
It was a tame race for much of the afternoon which led to the debate on how to run the final stage. Homestead is a place to where tire fall off is so massive that you can cut the stage in half and do this stage on two pit stops. Others can just do it on one. It may seem silly to add an extra pit stop but tires are such a premium though which as odd as it sounds, a two stop strategy in the final stage can really be the way to go.
Some were starting to do just that. Then came Ryan Blaney’s caution for a spin on Lap 210 after he had just hit pit road. Before some could maybe stop 1 more time, Tyler Reddick crashed on Lap 244 to bring everyone back down pit road and take the strategy factor out of this.
Should Homestead Stay Here Or Become The Finale?
Some may say Homestead was a bit of a snoozer for a while, but I say it was just the byproduct of this type of racing. It’s refreshing. You don’t need to have every race be chaotic which with so many lanes to pass on here and strategy being a potential wrinkle, one could say that this is a great place to rotate the season finale at Phoenix with. Instead of the same place every year, why not switch it up year to year.
They do so in Final Four’s, Super Bowl’s, etc. Why not the final championship deciding race?
While there’s been better Homestead races than today’s, it’s not like this was a terrible one either.
Finally A Race Without Drama
Each playoff race has had some sort of drama or altercation which stole our attention during the week leading up to the next race. From the regular season finale at Daytona to where the officiating was questioned to Kyle Larson vs. Bubba Wallace last week, it’s not been a great postseason for NASCAR.
Drivers questioned NASCAR on safety and officiating, teams questioned NASCAR for future pieces of the pie, there’s just been far too much noise that takes the onus away from the playoffs.
That’s why Sunday’s race at Homestead was refreshing in a sense that we had no drama. No pending penalties. Nothing to take with us to Martinsville to where the storylines this week can be what we witnessed on track this Sunday and then midweek focus to the next race.
The Ford’s were the favorites here after the test but after qualifying, you could sense some panic. With just 2 cars in the top 6 Rows, they were struggling. That carried over to the race. Out of 267 laps, Ford led 0. Ford has won 1 of the last 12 at Homestead now.
Qualifying Different Than Race Pace
The drivers warned that despite track position being key here, qualifying on Saturday would be different than the race on Sunday. Just because you were fast in quals didn’t mean you’d be great in the race.
Boy was that right.
6 of the top 8 starters failed to even finish in the top 15. As far as why?
You have to attack the track in qualifying and baby it during the race. The harder you attack in the race, the slower you’ll actually go due to the tire fall off.
NASCAR Cup Series Race – 24th Annual Dixie Vodka 400
Sunday, October 23, 2022
- (5) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 267.
- (20) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 267.
- (10) AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 267.
- (32) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.
- (9) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267.
- (12) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267.
- (14) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 267.
- (16) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 267.
- (11) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267.
- (23) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 267.
- (2) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 267.
- (1) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 267.
- (8) Chris Buescher, Ford, 267.
- (3) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 267.
- (27) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 267.
- (18) Michael McDowell, Ford, 267.
- (13) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 267.
- (17) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 267.
- (26) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 267.
- (21) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 267.
- (28) Aric Almirola, Ford, 267.
- (6) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, 267.
- (31) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 267.
- (25) Cole Custer, Ford, 266.
- (24) Noah Gragson(i), Chevrolet, 266.
- (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 266.
- (4) John Hunter Nemechek(i), Toyota, 266.
- (15) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 266.
- (33) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 266.
- (22) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 264.
- (29) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 264.
- (34) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 263.
- (35) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 262.
- (36) Cody Ware, Ford, 262.
- (7) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, Accident, 242.
- (19) Chase Briscoe (P), Ford, Accident, 160.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 129.612 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 5 Mins, 24 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.261 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 30 laps.
Lead Changes: 11 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: W. Byron (P) 1-26;K. Larson (P) 27-32;W. Byron (P) 33-37;K. Larson (P) 38-87;W. Byron (P) 88;K. Larson (P) 89-122;C. Bell (P) 123-126;K. Larson (P) 127-213;M. Truex Jr. 214-216;D. Hamlin (P) 217-220;M. Truex Jr. 221-245;K. Larson (P) 246-267.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Larson (P) 5 times for 199 laps; William Byron (P) 3 times for 32 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 2 times for 28 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 1 time for 4 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 1 time for 4 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 5,24,19,8,3,16,6,9,12,22
Stage #2 Top Ten: 5,19,24,12,6,9,99,1,22,11