By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The often treacherous pit entry at Homestead-Miami Speedway proved to be the turning point of Sunday’s 4EVER 400 presented by Mobil 1.
Both Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson, who were the main front runners all day, were entering pit road to make their final scheduled pit stops where things went haywire.
As Blaney slowly blended down to pit entry, Larson was still going fast and on the verge of colliding into him. It lead to a mistimed accordion effect where Larson had to slow down, lock up the brakes and veer to the right just to avoid contact.
Consequently, Larson ran out of real estate and after making contact to Blaney’s bumper, his right side clipped the sand barrels to bring out the third caution of the race on Lap 214.
Larson brought his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet to pit road and the crew began assessing the damage. However, it was too severe for him to continue and he ended up 34th out of the 36-car field.
In a game of inches, Larson explained he was pushing it to its absolute limit to stay on par with Blaney, who admittedly felt he was going to be tough to beat.
Larson held himself accountable for the accident and misjudging Blaney’s pit entry pace.
“(Ryan) 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,” said Larson, who led a race-high 96 laps.
“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.”
Larson continued by saying how the replay showed how far off he missed the gap of safely entering pit road. It made the self-frustration more agonizing as he’ll hope to bounce back at Martinsville.
“It looks like I just missed it by a lot. I need to look at data,” said Larson. 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.
“I’m pretty upset at myself, more than anything. 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.”
Due to the sand barrels being damaged, the race was halted on Lap 217 to clean up the sand and repair the barrels. It stayed under the red flag for over 12 minutes before going back to caution conditions.
Sunday’s lone red flag marked the 12th overall stoppage this season in Cup and the fourth to have occurred in the playoffs.
As for Cup red flags at Homestead, it’s the first of its kind since 2020 when lightning halted the race twice. Overall, there have been six total red flags (2006, 2011, 2016, 2020 (2), and 2023) at the popular 1.5-mile oval.
Blaney would lose out on punching his ticket into the Championship 4 as Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and race winner Christopher Bell made it hell for the Penske driver. Specifically citing Hamlin for running him up the track in a half hearted attempt on a slide job.
A visibly frustrated Blaney finished second and had little to say about the ordeal involving Larson.
“I didn’t see anything. All I know is I got hit in the bumper,” said Blaney, who led 53 laps. “I don’t think it hurt it at all. I didn’t even know what happened until I saw him in my mirror. I don’t look at that stuff.”
Larson wasn’t the only driver who had a pit lane incident during the race as several laps before, Josh Bilicki lost control at pit entry. Bilicki barely kept his No. 78 Zeigler Auto Group Chevy from hitting the wall and eventually got it to his pit stall.
The single-car spin didn’t warrant a caution as Bilicki failed to finish the race due to right side damage from hitting the wall. Such damage bent the right rear toe link which resulted in the spin and subsequent retirement from the 400-mile race.
Fortunately for Larson, he’s already locked into the Championship 4 at Phoenix in two weeks with last Sunday’s win at Las Vegas.
As for Blaney, he holds the fourth and final spot by 10 points over Tyler Reddick with only the cutoff race remaining from either fighting for a Cup title or becoming a bridesmaid once again.
Live coverage of the Xfinity 500 begins Sunday, October 29 at 2:00 p.m. ET on NBC.