By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
For 248 laps, Saturday’s KC Masterpiece 400 was stage winners Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson’s playground, leading a combined total of 154 laps. That all changed with 20 laps to go after the two battled door-to-door for second until Blaney’s car collided with Larson at the entry of Turn 1, damaging both cars and their chance of winning.
While Larson rallied back to a fourth-place finish for his fourth top-5 this season, Blaney wasn’t as fortunate as he brought his battered No. 12 Fleetwood RV Ford to the garage and ended up with a dismal 37th place out of the 38-car field.
The tangle resulted Blaney’s second retirement this season. His first since Bristol where he was also the class of the field until being wiped out in a multi-car crash.
Blaney held himself accountable on the hard racing turned crash that dropped him from seventh to ninth in the regular season standings.
“I don’t know. It was hard racing. I definitely take the blame on that one,” said Blaney. “I was just trying to side draft hard and the car was kind of light down the frontstretch there and it was just hard racing at the end. I got about spun out in one and two on the restart, getting sucked around. We were making some spots back up and just trying to get back up to the front and tried too hard. That stinks.”
Larson’s take of the incident was Blaney used the side draft and went up high the track to prevent any possible contact.
“Blaney was side-drafting really hard and I was as high as I could get and we made contact, whatever, and we had a bunch of damage,” said Larson. “I hate that we didn’t turn today into a win, but it’s satisfying to see how much speed our car had tonight.”
Four laps earlier, it was Blaney who pushed Larson on the restart, giving Larson the advantage over Kevin Harvick. Entering Turn 2, Harvick made his that he’s the true car to beat and it became a three-car battle for the lead.
Shortly thereafter, Harvick and Larson pulled away from Blaney and squared off for over a lap, not giving each other room. Harvick won the battle and quickly checked out from the rest of the field.
Joey Logano took second away from Larson, making the battle for third the main battle on the 1.5-mile circuit as Blaney had his eyes set on Larson.
Blaney went low and used the side draft to make a pass at the frontstretch, and in a heartbeat, their chances of scoring win No. 1 in 2018 went awry. Larson tried to go low, but ended up running into Blaney.
After the initial contact, Blaney then rubbed fenders with Larson’s left rear quarter panel and the two lost momentum. As the two separated from each other, Larson’s No. 42 Clover/First Data Chevrolet Camaro had tire rub and Blaney shot across the track, slamming the wall to bring out the sixth caution of the night.
Back in the pits, Larson’s owner Chip Ganassi was disgruntled as another victory was taken away due to unfortunate circumstances.
In the heat of the moment, Blaney felt the side draft was the only way to get by Larson, but realized after his night was over there was multiple options.
“Yes, that’s the only option. If I didn’t side draft him and get some position on it he would have sucked me around into one, so I feel like that was my only option,” Blaney explained. “Looking back on it now, it probably wasn’t my only option, but in the moment I thought it was. Yeah, the cars are really edge and hard to handle.”
After the race, NASCAR officials began investigating Larson’s rear window to see if the contact caused any sag. Larson said the contact had everything to do with the damage, and hopes no penalties will be handed to him.
“Oh, definitely, because I didn’t have it until after Blaney and I got together. So, I’m glad to see that we have a lot of damage back there because obviously if there was no damage back there we would probably get a penalty and who knows, we might still. But I’ve got a ton of damage back there,” said Larson. “These cars are pretty rigid and one piece of damage can affect the whole rest of the car, as you can see. So, we’ll see what NASCAR says about it, but I think it’s pretty obvious that we have a ton of damage back there.”
Harvick went on to be triumphant for the fifth time this season, now trailing points leader Kyle Busch by 19 points. Both Blaney and Larson will look to put their incident behind them and focus on the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway May 27th.