How Ryan Blaney Beat Kyle Larson Much Sooner Than 10 To Go at Atlanta

The box score shows Kyle Larson losing the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with nine laps to go but the decisive moment may have occurred 100 laps sooner.

Approaching the end of the second stage, Larson held an 11-second lead over Ryan Blaney and had lapped up to 15th-place Joey Logano. Next up was Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.

Larson cut the No. 9 team a break, slowed his pace and allowed Elliott to remain on the lead lap. That also kept Logano as the first driver one lap down — earning him the free pass back onto the lead lap.

You couldn’t script what happened next.

That engine is a [email protected] will have to wait until next time for a chance at a hometown win. pic.twitter.com/rqvgg9lJvU

Elliott immediately suffered what appeared to be an engine failure and Logano regained his track position closer to the front of the field. The remainder of the race stayed green and Logano again caught Logano at the tail-end of the lead lap with 20 laps to go.

This time, Larson was unable to place the 2018 champion a lap down, and Blaney was able to take advantage of his teammate’s mirror driving to complete the winning pass to become the sixth different winner in six races to open the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.

“I’m happy we’re one of them,” Blaney said with a laugh. “I’ll tell you what.”

It’s that final stint that Larson surely wants back, especially after leading 269 laps of the scheduled 325. Larson would start to fall-off after 20 laps and he just didn’t have enough right-front rubber remaining when Blaney started to reel him in over the final 20.

Larson vs Blaney’s lap times in the run after the final pit stop. Looks like 20 laps into a run was the crossover point, then they traded for a bit before Blaney started getting an edge.

I read the 5 had the most lap time fall off at Homestead. Same situation today perhaps. pic.twitter.com/WCE7RuROKE

For much of the day, Larson would build 10 second leads to mitigate the fall-off, something he just wasn’t able to do over the final 50 laps.

“I was pushing the whole time, every lap really from when I left pit road,” Larson said. “I was trying to get out to a big gap, but I never really did. I think I extended it a little bit, but not nearly enough. …

“I thought me having to race him and pass him was what used my tires up the little run before, but after the green flag stop, he was just really good. I couldn’t get out to that gap that I could earlier in the race. Ultimately just had to run my tires too hard to try to get that gap, and I didn’t have anything there at the end.”

Logano certainly contributed to the finish, even if it wasn’t the primary factor.

A feature of the high downforce, low horsepower rules package is the 8” spoiler that can absolutely stifle passing opportunities if a leading driver is aggressive enough in his blocking — or simply trying to take a preferred line away from a trailing car.

Logano, who was still running 15th was certainly aware of which line Larson had been running over the final laps and that his teammate was rapidly closing the gap.

Closed the gap.

When Blaney completed the pass for the lead, his teammate finally conceded and allowed the leaders to pass. That elicited the “I hate Joey Logano” in real time from Larson over his team’s radio frequency.

But the truth ultimately came back to his tire wear over a 50-lap stint.

“I definitely would have had a better shot had I gotten by Logano when I got to him,” Larson said. “But it was just hard. My tires were pretty much gone at that point, and I was sliding around, and I just didn’t get through traffic good at the end.”

With 17 laps to go, deep down inside, Larson knew what was about happen. He asked spotter Tyler Monn and crew chief Cliff Daniels how many laps were remaining.

Two laps later, he asked which line Blaney was running behind him, hoping to dump dirty air into his path.

Trapped behind the dirty air from the No. 22 car, the only shot the No. 5 team had was a late caution and it didn’t come.

“When I realized he was better than me and he was catching me there at the end, yeah, I was definitely hoping for a caution just to get some new tires on it, and hopefully, come out the leader and control the restart and try to win that way because I knew I was in trouble,” Larson said.

“But it didn’t play out that way.”

Meanwhile, Blaney was able to stay just close enough to Larson over the final stint that he could capitalize once the fall-off began to take shape with 30 laps to go.

“I knew our strong area of our car was not the short run,” Blaney said. “We weren’t that good on the short run. We could just kind of maintain. Not with Larson. He would drive away but maintain with everybody else.

“After 15, 20 laps we’d start coming forward. Towards the end of the longer runs, we’d really start coming forward. … Looked like he was getting pretty free. Was just able to drive up, get a good run off of three and four and get by him.”

with a little help from his friends.

A friend that Larson inadvertently gave a lifeline to.


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