By Holly Cain
NASCAR Wire Service
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.