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NASCAR's Kyle Larson Breaks Down His Sandy Slip-Up at Homestead-Miami
Jockeying for position with Ryan Blaney outside of pit road sent Yung Money on an early beach vacation that resulted in a 34th-place finish.
Sometimes, even the best of the best makes rookie mistakes.
After narrowly holding off Christopher Bell to steal a win during the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – one of his four wins of the 2023 season – Kyle Larson went into the 4EVER 400 presented by Mobil at Homestead-Miami Speedway with something that no other Cup Series competitor in the postseason field had: a guaranteed ticket to the NASCAR Cup Series championship race in Phoenix, Arizona.
Larson could’ve run the whole race in reverse at 30 mph with a burger in one hand and a slushy in the other, and that fact would remain the same. Knowing that he already had his early acceptance letter in hand, when you have nothing to lose, and competition is as core to your existence as it is for the 31-year-old from Elk Grove, California, why not go for broke? Well, clearly the Hendrick Motorsports superstar couldn’t pass up the opportunity – letting off the gas just isn’t what he does, literally.
During the eighth event of the 10-race playoffs, Larson was in second place while aggressively pursuing pack leader Ryan Blaney as they both exited the 1.5-mile, banked oval track for pit road in the 213th lap of the 267-lap event. Blaney’s entry into the pits in his No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang was fine, but Larson was slow to take his foot off the gas, and his No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro exploded through the initial entry barrier, shooting sand and particulate into the air. Had Larson not taken such an abrupt evasive maneuver, he would’ve undoubtedly caused a potentially race-ending collision for Blaney as well.
“I’m sorry,” notified Larson to his crew over the team radio. “I did not expect him to slow down that much.”
The race would resume after a caution, but even with some repairs, after a couple of laps, Larson and team decided to call it quits. Despite three different stints as the leader for a race-high of 96 laps led, the errant beach vacation cost him a chance at repeat Homestead-Miami victories.
While Larson took a majority of the blame, he did point out that Blaney may have slowed down too early before entering pit road.
“I was just trying to push it as much as I could,” explained Larson, according to NASCAR. “He [Blaney] had a great car, and I felt like if he was to come off pit road the leader, he was going to end up winning the race or beating me. I was just trying to maximize my pit-in, and honestly, I felt like I was doing a really good job. I just didn’t anticipate him slowing down as much as he did. But on the replay, it looks like I just missed it by a lot.”
“I need to look at data,” Larson emphasized. “I knew where the yellow line was and thought I was going to be under control getting there, and then yeah, he just slowed down – I locked the brakes up, slid to the right and clipped him and the barrels. … Whether he got to pit-road speed sooner than the yellow line or not, I could have just done a little bit better job judging it. I hope they are able to recover. I hope he can get a good finish or get a win and get the finish that he deserves. Just a bummer, but we had a great No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy today.”
In speaking with Kim Coon of NBC Sports, Larson reiterated his stance on the late-race incident with Blaney.
“I hate it for Ryan, more than anything; he was doing a super good job out front, and his team’s been doing a really good job throughout the playoffs, and that was not my intention,” noted Larson. “Even if he did slow down, I still should have not pushed that hard. Just a bummer, and hopefully his team can recover from it.”
For Larson, the ultimate competitive wheelman who’s always honing his craft to perfection, he says the key to not letting this kill his momentum as he and seeks his second NASCAR Cup Series championship is to focus and not let the small mistakes add up.
“I think we had a great car today, so speed-wise, that was good,” continued Larson. “I just gotta learn from little mistakes. Little mistakes just kinda compound throughout your whole race, and then you end up in the [NASCAR] care center because of it.”
Only this upcoming weekend’s Xfinity 500 event at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia remains in the Round of 8. Since Larson came up short after taking such big risks at Homestead-Miami, is it likely he sits back and coasts his way down easy street? Don’t count on it. After all, this is Yung Money. If there’s four wheels, a steering wheel and an engine, come hell or high water, he’s going to drive it. But that said, if he decided to toss it into reverse and play it safe this time around for the penultimate event, we wouldn’t hold his feet to fire because we all know he’ll be plenty gassed up for the championship.