NASCAR Cup Series Recap: Homestead
The middle of race of the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 in the Playoffs provided an opportunity for one of the seven remaining championship contenders to join Joey Logano in the Championship 4 at Phoenix.
But the defending champion of the series had other plans, as Kyle Larson swept both stages and dominated the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to play spoiler to those who were looking to lock themselves in.
Playoff contender William Byron, who entered the race six points below the cut line, won the pole for the event and led the first 26 laps before Larson took away the top spot for the first time.
The race’s first caution came on lap 30, when John Hunter Nemechek – filling in for a suspended Bubba Wallace – spun in turn 2 while running amongst the top five.
The restart saw Larson and Byron continue their battle for a few more laps at the front before Larson took command on lap 38 and never looked back en route to scoring the Stage 1 victory.
While Larson continued to dominate in the second stage, the focus shifted to one of the playoff contenders in Chase Briscoe, as he became the first of the eight drivers to find trouble.
After a big save a few laps prior, Briscoe got loose again and overcorrected, pounding the wall through turns 1 and 2. The heavy contact caused too much damage for Briscoe to continue, forcing him out of the race and putting him in a must-win scenario entering the Round of 8 finale.
The caution for Briscoe’s incident led to Stage 2 ending under the yellow flag, with Larson taking the victory once again.
As green flag pit stops unfolded over the last 60 laps, more playoff drivers found issues. Byron had a disastrous stop after having to tighten a loose wheel and stalling his vehicle. Playoff contender Ryan Blaney then spun on the access road coming out of the pits, bringing out a race-changing caution with 57 laps remaining.
The ensuing restart had Martin Truex, Jr. and Ross Chastain sharing the front row, as they cycled to the front thanks to the yellow in the middle of their pit sequence. Larson restarted in row two with Denny Hamlin, and Hamlin made a three-wide move to grab the top spot while Larson dropped to fifth.
Hamlin’s time at the front was short-lived, as Truex, Jr. recaptured the top spot a few laps later and looked poised to grab his first win of the year. Larson was able to rally back to the runner-up position, but ran several car lengths behind Truex, Jr. before a Tyler Reddick crash brought out the race’s final caution with 23 laps to go.
The caution set up the final round of pit stops for the day, and as Truex, Jr. attempted to turn into his pit stall with Larson directly behind, contact was made, sending the No. 19 spinning backwards into its pit. The mishap took Truex, Jr. out of hunt for the win and allowed Larson to inherit the lead.
From there, it was a lead Larson would not relinquish, as he pulled away on the final restart and left Chastain and Hamlin to battle with A. J. Allmendinger for second. Despite being out of the playoffs, Larson was able to grab his third win of the year.
Entering the Round of 8 finale at Martinsville, Chastain, Chase Elliott, and Byron all sit above the cutoff line, with Byron holding a five-point advantage over Hamlin for the last spot in the Championship 4.
Blaney sits 18 points back of Byron, while Christopher Bell and Briscoe are likely too far back to point their way in, and will need to find a way to claim a victory on Sunday in order to advance.
Kasey Kreider is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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