Kyle Larson rallied from a two-race slump that vanquished his hopes of defending his NASCAR Cup Series championship by grabbing a dominant victory in the Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, October 23.
The 2021 Cup Series champion from Elk Grove, California, led five times for a race-high 199 of 267-scheduled laps as he also rallied from making late-race contact with Martin Truex Jr. on pit road during a late caution period that knocked Truex out of contention to fend off Ross Chastain and the field during a 17-lap dash to the finish. The victory was Larson’s first at Homestead in NASCAR’s premier series along with his third of the season.
Mired within Larson’s dominant victory at Homestead was the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs as no Playoff competitor was able to win at Miami nor join Joey Logano with early automatic passes to the Championship 4 round. With that, three spots remain vacant approaching next weekend’s Round of 8 finale at Martinsville Speedway, which will determine the four finalists who will contend for this year’s title.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Playoff competitor William Byron captured his first pole position of the 2022 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 166.389 mph in 32.454 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Playoff competitor Christopher Bell, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 166.139 mph in 32.503 seconds.
Prior to the event, rookie Todd Gilliland and Corey LaJoie dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective cars.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Byron pulled ahead and managed to clear Bell entering the first turn to assume full command of the field through the backstretch. As the field behind fanned out and jostled early for positions, Byron proceeded to lead the first lap. As John Hunter Nemechek, who was filling in for the suspended Bubba Wallace, challenged Bell for the runner-up spot, a three-car battle for fourth place between Ty Gibbs, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott ensued while Ryan Blaney started to join the battle.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Byron was leading by nine-tenths of a second over teammate Larson followed by Bell, Nemechek and Elliott while Blaney, Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger, Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Tyler Reddick was in 11th ahead of Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick while Martin Truex Jr., Chase Briscoe, Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell battled in the top 20 on the track.
At the Lap 10 mark, Byron retained the lead by nine-tenths of a second over teammate Larson followed by Bell and Nemechek while Allmendinger moved into fifth place over Elliott. By then, five of the remaining eight Playoff competitors were running in the top 10, minus Chastain, Hamlin and Chase Briscoe.
Fifteen laps later, Byron continued to lead by nearly half a second over teammate Larson followed by a hard-charging Reddick. Nemechek and Allmendinger were scored in the top five while Bell, Elliott, Logano, Chastain and Blaney were running in the top 10. With six of eight Playoff competitors running in the top 10, the remaining two that included Hamlin and Briscoe were running in 13th and 20th, respectively.
Two laps later, Larson muscled his No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the lead over teammate Byron’s No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. By then, both Hendrick Motorsports competitors were more than five seconds ahead of third-place Reddick’s No. 8 3Chi Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Another four laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Nemechek, who was running in fourth place, got loose while running close towards the outside lane entering the backstretch and slipped sideways before spinning the No. 45 Columbia Toyota TRD Camry across the track and towards the infield before making contact with the inside wall and continuing. During the first caution period, the leaders led by Byron pitted early for tires, fuel and adjustments. Following the pit stops, Byron reassumed the lead after exiting in first place followed by teammate Larson, with Reddick, Bell and Elliott in the top five spots.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 35, Byron retained the lead over Larson, Reddick and Elliott as the field fanned out through the first two turns and through the backstretch before returning to the frontstretch. Three laps later, the battle for the lead intensified as Larson reassumed the top spot over teammate Byron while Reddick remained in third ahead of Elliott and a hard-charging Allmendinger. Meanwhile, Keselowski was in sixth ahead of Blaney, Chastain and Bell while Truex trailed behind in 10th.
By Lap 45 and with a series of on-track battles occurring around Homestead, Larson was leading by more than a second over Reddick, who prevailed in a battle against Byron for the runner-up spot, while Allmendinger was battling Elliott for fourth place. Behind, Keselowski remained in sixth ahead of Blaney, Truex, Chastain and Logano while Bell, Austin Dillon, Buescher, Gibbs, Justin Haley, Daniel Suarez, Aric Almirola, Harvick, Hamlin and Briscoe occupied the top 20 ahead of Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Corey LaJoie and rookie Harrison Burton. Meanwhile, rookie Austin Cindric was in 27th, Noah Gragson was in 29th while filling in for Alex Bowman and Nemechek was mired back in 31st.
Fifteen laps later, Larson extended his advantage to more than five seconds over Reddick while Byron, Allmendinger and Truex were scored in the top five. By then, Austin Dillon was in the top 10 in seventh place behind Elliott while Keselowski, Logano and Blaney occupied the top 10 on the track.
Another 10 laps later, Larson stabilized his advantage to more than nine seconds over runner-up Reddick and nearly 10 seconds over teammate Byron while Allmendinger and Truex battled for fourth place. Soon after, Austin Dillon started to close in on Elliott for sixth place while Playoff competitors Chastain, Hamlin, Bell and Briscoe were mired outside the top 10.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 80, Larson captured his fifth stage victory of the 2022 season with an advantage of more than eight seconds over teammate Byron, who managed to hold off Truex in the closing stages of the first stage. Reddick, who briefly fell off the pace a few laps earlier, settled in fourth ahead of teammate Austin Dillon, Allmendinger, Keselowski, Elliott, Blaney and Logano. By then, four of eight Playoff competitors were scored in the top 10 and received the first round of stage points while the remaining Playoff competitors that included Hamlin, Chastain, Bell and Briscoe were mired in 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th, respectively. In addition 29 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the leaders led by Larson returned to pit road for service and Larson retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by teammate Byron, Truex, Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Elliott.
The second stage started on Lap 87 as teammates Larson and Byron occupied the front row. At the start and as the field fanned out entering the first turn, Byron and Larson dueled for the lead and they remained dead even through the frontstretch and back to the backstretch during the following lap. Soon after, Larson cleared Byron to retain the lead as Truex initiated his challenge for the runner-up spot over Byron. Behind, Elliott was in fourth ahead of Keselowski and Blaney while Allmendinger, who endured a slow pit road during the first stage break, made his way to seventh in front of Chastain, Austin Dillon and Logano.
Through the first 100 scheduled laps, Larson was leading by more than a second over Truex, who overtook Byron two laps earlier, while Blaney and Elliott were scored in the top five ahead of Keselowski, Chastain, Austin Dillon, Logano and Allmendinger. By then, Suarez was in 11th ahead of Reddick, Harvick, Bell and Hamlin while Kyle Busch, Haley, Cindric, Stenhouse and Buescher were scored in the top 20. In addition, 30 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.
Fifteen laps later, Larson extended his advantage to nearly three seconds over Truex while third-place Byron, who was the highest-running Playoff competitor on the track, trailed by more than six seconds. By then, four of eight Playoff competitors were running in the top 10 while Logano, Hamlin, Bell and Briscoe were mired back in 12th, 14th, 18th and 20th.
Nearly five laps later, the first round of green flag pit stops commenced as Cindric pitted along with Cole Custer, Briscoe, Logano, Harrison Burton and a bevy of competitors. Not long after, Larson surrendered the lead to pit as he nearly made contact with Landon Cassill as Cassill got sideways while trying to pit. In the process, Larson nearly got hit by Hamlin, who was exiting his pit stall while Larson was trying to enter his. Following the pit stops, Gragson was penalized for speeding on pit road.
By Lap 125 and with nearly the entire field having made a pit stop, Bell, who had yet to pit, was leading by more than seven seconds over Nemechek followed by Larson, the first competitor on four fresh tires and fuel. Another two laps later, Larson reassumed the lead once Bell and Nemechek pitted.
At the halfway mark between Laps 133 and 134, Larson was leading by more than five seconds over Truex followed by Byron, Blaney and Keselowski while Elliott, Chastain, Suarez, Harvick and Logano were in the top 10. Allmendinger was in 11th ahead of Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Stenhouse and Cindric while Buescher, Haley, Burton, Briscoe and Bell occupied the top 20. Meanwhile, Almirola was mired in 21st followed by McDowell, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie, all of whom were scored on the lead lap, while Ty Gibbs was the first competitor mired a lap down in 25th. Reddick, who missed his pit box during the green flag pit stops, was strapped in 26th, Gragson was in 28th ahead of Erik Jones and Nemechek, who endured a slow pit stop to tighten a loose left-front wheel, was in 30th.
By Lap 150, Larson stabilized his advantage to more than four seconds over runner-up Truex and more than nine seconds over third-place Byron while Blaney and Keselowski were running in the top five.
Eleven laps later, the caution flew when Playoff competitor Briscoe, who made contact with Nemechek on the frontstretch a few laps earlier, briefly got loose before getting into the outside wall hard in Turn 1 and fell off the pace with damage to the right side of his car. Briscoe’s incident was enough to terminate his day in the garage due to suspension damage to his No. 14 Magical Vacation Planner Ford Mustang as he now faces a “must-win” situation next weekend at Martinsville Speedway to maintain his championship hopes. It was also enough for the second stage scheduled on Lap 165 to conclude under caution as Larson captured his sixth stage victory of the 2022 season and completed a stage sweep of the day. Truex settled in second while Byron, Blaney, Keselowski, Elliott, Suarez, Chastain, Logano and Hamlin were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, the leaders led by Larson pitted and Larson retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Truex, Byron, Blaney and Elliott.
With 97 laps remaining, the final stage started as Larson and Truex occupied the front row. At the start, Larson and Truex dueled for the lead until Larson managed to fend off Truex and Byron to retain the lead through the backstretch as the field fanned out. Through the frontstretch, Blaney muscled his No. 12 Pennzoil/Menards Ford Mustang into third place over Hamlin, Elliott and Truex while Larson remained as the leader ahead of Byron.
Seven laps later, Larson was out in front by more than a second over Blaney, who continued to rocket his way towards the front, while Hamlin, Truex and Byron were in the top five. Meanwhile, Elliott was in sixth ahead of Suarez and Logano while Chastain and Keselowski occupied the top 10.
Another four laps later, Hamlin got loose entering Turn 1 and made contact with the wall while battling Blaney for the runner-up spot. Despite falling back to fifth, Hamlin managed to continue running straight and the race proceeded under green.
With 75 laps remaining, Larson extended his advantage to more than five seconds over Blaney followed by Truex while Elliott was running in fourth ahead of Hamlin, Logano, Suarez, Chastain, Harvick and Byron.
Then with nearly 60 laps remaining, another round of green flag pit stops commenced as Byron pitted, though he endured a slow pit stop to tighten a loose wheel, along with Logano, Blaney, Reddick, Elliott, Truex, Chastain and others. A few laps later, however, the caution returned when Blaney, who had just made a pit stop, spun on the access road while exiting pit road.
During the caution period, the remaining competitor who had yet to pit, including the leader, Larson, pitted. With 19 competitors scored on the lead lap, Truex cycled his way into the lead followed by Chastain while Larson, who was the first competitor to exit pit road, lined up in third place alongside Suarez.
When the race restarted with 51 laps remaining, Hamlin made a bold move beneath Chastain and Truex to assume the lead entering the backstretch as the field fanned out and scrambled for late positions. As Hamlin remained out in front while navigating his No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry back to the frontstretch, Chastain and Truex battled for second while Larson was trying to navigate around Keselowski for fourth. With 46 laps remaining, however, Truex, who was riding a one-year winless drought, muscled his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota TRD Camry into the lead.
With 35 laps remaining, Truex was leading by more than a second over Chastain followed by Larson, Hamlin and Allmendinger while Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Harvick, Stenhouse and Logano were running in the top 10. By then, three of seven Playoff competitors running on the track were running in the top 10 while Bell, Elliott, Byron, and Blaney were mired back in 12th, 14th, 15th and 17th.
A few laps later, Larson rocketed by Chastain for the runner-up spot as he commenced his charge on Truex for the lead.
With 23 laps remaining, the caution returned when Reddick slipped sideways while running towards the outside wall entering the backstretch before he spun his No. 8 3Chi Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 below the track and hit the inside wall hard as his race came to an end. During the caution period, the leaders led by Truex peeled off the track to pit. As the field approached their respective pit stalls, a bump from Larson sent Truex spinning and sliding into his pit stall as Truex came to rest in his stall backward. The issue, which forced Truex’s pit crew to service the car while the No. 19 Toyota was backward, plummeted Truex below the leaderboard as Larson, who did not sustain any damage to his No. 5 Chevrolet, rallied to exit pit road first followed by Hamlin, Chastain, Austin Dillon, Keselowski and Harvick.
Down to the final 17 laps of the event, the race proceeded under green. At the start, Larson fended off both Hamlin and Chastain to retain the lead through the first two turns. With the field jostling for later positions, Hamlin and Chastain dueled for second in front of Harvick, Allmendinger and Austin Dillon while Larson was trying to pull away with the lead.
A few laps later, a three-car battle for the runner-up spot commenced as Allmendinger overtook Hamlin for the spot followed by a hard-charging Chastain, who squeezed his No. 1 Kubota Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into third place over Hamlin in Turn 3, as they were all within less than a second behind the leader Larson.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Larson was leading by three-tenths of a second over Chastain, who was being attacked by Allmendinger for the spot, as Austin Dillon moved up to fourth. Meanwhile, Hamlin was back in fifth while being closed in by Keselowski.
Another few laps later, Chastain and Allmendinger continued to duel for the runner-up spot, with the former prevailing, while Larson extended his advantage to nearly a second.
With five laps remaining, Larson continued to lead by a second over Chastain as Allmendinger kept Chastain close within his front windshield.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Larson remained as the leader by more than a second over Chastain and Allmendinger. Having no challengers closing in for a final lap, Larson was able to maintain his ground and advantage as he cycled back to the frontstretch and streaked across the finish line in first place for his third checkered flag of the 2022 season.
With his victory, Larson, who achieved his 19th Cup Series career win, secured a spot for his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team to contend for the 2022 Cup Series owners’ championship at Phoenix Raceway in early November.
“Yeah, definitely the best run we’ve had all year long,” Larson said on NBC. “We’ve been capable of it, I feel like, many weekends. We just haven’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. [I] Did my best to keep it out of the wall. I got into the wall a few times, but I could still make speed doing that. Amazing race car. I knew that last run was gonna be short enough where I was gonna be in some sort of trouble there, but thankfully, AJ [Allmendinger] and Ross [Chastain] were racing hard behind me. Happy for our team. We get to go race for an owners’ title at Phoenix in a couple of weeks. We’re still, technically, not out of it. I know I can’t win the championship, but it means more to me to win it as a team. We’re gonna go to Phoenix and try to get another championship.”
Chastain, who rolled off the grid in 20th place, fended off Allmendinger to finish in second place for the fifth time this season and to emerge as the highest-finishing Playoff competitor of the day. With that, Chastain leaves Miami 19 points above the top-four cutline to make the Championship 4 round and approaching next weekend’s Round of 8 finale at Martinsville.
“Not the way you would have scripted it,” Chastain said. “I feel like we had a top-three or four car all day, all weekend, and a little too tight in qualifying, and come behind that with a driver that chose the complete wrong lane in [Turns] 3 and 4, against everything I’ve ever trained for and prepared for. Qualified 20th, and it took us all day long. We need to get the car turning better from qualifying into the race. We were too tight. [Crew chief] Phil Surgen and his whole team got it turning better, and pit stops were incredible again. Our guys were just, they’re just rock stars on pit road, and I’m so glad to go to battle with them.
“At the end of the day, I know we didn’t score a ton of stage points. We put ourselves in position at the end and just keep executing. I almost spun off Turn 2 in front of Daniel [Suarez], and I had my arms all crossed up and I just took a deep breath down the back, and thought, what can I control here? I can control not spinning out, so let’s go a little slower next time, and had a shot at it.”
Austin Dillon and Keselowski completed the top five on the track followed by Truex, who rallied from his late-race pit road incident with Larson that spoiled Truex’s opportunity in claiming his first victory of the season.
“It’s really hard to see through these windshields right now 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 [Larson] there. Obviously, partly on me. I didn’t expect to get turned around. I’m glad nobody got hurt there. But overall, it’s 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.”
Hamlin, Harvick, Kyle Busch and Suarez finished in the top 10. Notably, Playoff competitors Bell, Byron, Elliott, Blaney and Logano finished 11th, 12th, 14th, 17th and 18th, respectively. As a result, teammates Elliott and Byron are above the top-four cutline in the Playoff standings along with Chastain as well as Logano, who is already guaranteed a spot for the finale after winning last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, while Hamlin, Blaney, Bell and Briscoe are left looking on the outside and with one last race to maintain their title hopes.
“Pit crew did a great job the second half,” Hamlin, who trails the cutline by five points, said. “I can’t get my car to go. I can’t get it to turn. We’re just too slow on the short runs. Something we have to work on for sure. We weren’t fast enough to really compete with those guys even when we got the lead, we were a sitting duck because I couldn’t go anywhere. Nearly crashed into [Chastain], that was exciting and just kept going. We’ve got to get stage points. We can’t be outside the top 10 the first two stages. That’s what has hurt us. We always have. We just have to go there and get it done and perform well. I think we can. We have to perform well and execute.”
Today’s event at Miami featured 11 lead changes for five different leaders. The race also featured five cautions for 30 laps.
1. Kyle Larson, 199 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
2. Ross Chastain
3. AJ Allmendinger
4. Austin Dillon
5. Brad Keselowski
6. Martin Truex Jr., 28 laps led
7. Denny Hamlin, four laps led
8. Kevin Harvick
9. Kyle Busch
10. Daniel Suarez
11. Christopher Bell, four laps led
12. William Byron, 32 laps led
13. Chris Buescher
14. Chase Elliott
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
16. Michael McDowell
17. Ryan Blaney
18. Joey Logano
19. Austin Cindric
20. Harrison Burton
21. Aric Almirola
22. Ty Gibbs
23. Corey LaJoie
24. Cole Custer, one lap down
25. Noah Gragson, one lap down
26. Ty Dillon, one lap down
27. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap down
28. Justin Haley, one lap down
29. Landon Cassill, one lap down
30. Erik Jones, three laps down
31. Todd Gilliland, three laps down
32. JJ Yeley, four laps down
33. BJ McLeod, five laps down
34. Cody Ware, five laps down
35. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Accident
36. Chase Briscoe – OUT, Accident
*Bold indicates Playoff contenders
1. Joey Logano – Advanced
2. Ross Chastain +19
3. Chase Elliott +11
4. William Byron +5
5. Denny Hamlin -5
6. Ryan Blaney -18
7. Christopher Bell -33
8. Chase Briscoe -44
Next on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff schedule is Martinsville Speedway, where the Championship 4 field will be determined. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, October 30, at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.