Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Homestead: Welcome Back Championship-Form Kyle Larson, You’re a Little Late

What happened?

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Kyle Larson put on a clinic to win his third NASCAR Cup Series victory of 2022 over Ross Chastain and AJ Allmendinger at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 23. Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski both finished behind them to round out the top five.

Larson’s victory guarantees the No. 5 team a spot in the Championship 4 in the Cup Series owner points battle when the series heads to Phoenix Raceway for the season finale.

How did it happen?

Pure domination.

The Larson seen on Sunday was the same one the NASCAR world watched win 10 races en route to a NASCAR Cup championship one year ago.

The Californian dirt racer took the lead early on lap 27 in the 267-lap event, and through late-race cautions, green flag pit stops and varying pit strategies, he still managed to win both stages and lead a whopping race-high 199 laps, the most led by anyone since Joey Logano led 222 laps at Richmond Raceway in August.

The performance came with its challenges, though.

Larson was leading easily in the final stage when the caution waved on lap 212 during what was meant to be the final green-flag pit stop cycle of the day.

The No. 5 had yet to pit during the cycle, which allowed Martin Truex Jr. and Chastain to take the front row on the ensuing restart as the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet visited pit lane to change tires.

While dropping back for a moment, Larson quickly recovered once racing resumed. After clearing traffic, he found himself in second and chasing Truex down for the lead.

That was when one last caution flew with only 21 laps to go, forcing the field to pit one more time.

While there, Truex braked too late before heading into his pit box, and Larson tagged him from behind, sending the No. 19 careening into his own pit stall.

Truex took most of the blame, and Larson inherited the lead as a result.

With only 17 laps of racing left, Larson was on cruise control from there. He held off a hard-charging Chastain and Allmendinger on the way to his third win of 2022.

Who stood out?

Larson commanded the race lead from the near beginning, but at the end, it was the dueling Chastain and Allmendinger that captured everyone’s attention.

On the final restart, Larson broke away from second place somewhat easily after a few laps, leaving the Nos. 1 and 16 to fend for themselves.

With no leader in reach, the two drivers did what they could do: race each other as hard as possible for second.

The former NASCAR Xfinity Series teammates swapped lanes and cut each other off, lap after lap, both of them looking for any kind of advantage they could possibly find over the other. For Chastain, a second-place finish meant just another point to have heading into the Round of 8’s final race at Martinsville Speedway next weekend. For Allmendinger, it was all about pride.

Heck, it was pride for both of them. It was racing.

Eventually, Chastain cleared the road racing specialist and had set his sights set on the ever-shrinking Larson.

Of course, the effort was to no avail. Chastain came home to a second-place finish with Allmendinger in tow.

However, it wasn’t only what happened on the track that mattered, but also what was said after. In a year where Chastain has seemingly made an enemy in almost every Cup Series race, one would think the hard racing would leave Allmendinger steamed. After all, Chastain was the same driver that had punted the Kaulig Racing veteran out of the way for the win at Circuit of the Americas earlier this year.

But in actuality, Allmendinger had a blast.

It marked a turning point for Chastain. Only a few months ago, the Florida watermelon farmer could not make a friend on the racetrack to save his life. However, on Sunday, he seemed to earn some respect one week after Logano stated he, too, enjoyed racing with the Melon Man after their late-race duel at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

For Chastain, it appears as though everyone’s opinion of him is starting to change as he still racks up top-five results. To make things better, it couldn’t have happened at a more opportune time. He sits second in the playoff standings with a very comfortable 19-point cushion underneath him heading to Martinsville.

Who fell flat?

With some drivers feeling optimistic heading to Martinsville Speedway, that also must leave some in disdain.

After a tough finish put him in an 18-point deficit under the playoff cut line heading into the paperclip-shaped track, Ryan Blaney is one such driver. The worst part of it? It’s his own fault.

See also
Homestead Mishaps Continue Snake-Bitten Year for Ryan Blaney & Martin Truex Jr.

Blaney was running well in third when the final green flag pit stop cycle began around lap 208. The Team Penske driver joined the parade of cars venturing to pit road to perform the usual Homestead special of four sticker tires. If it went well and there was a caution, he would find himself within arm’s reach of the lead and a ticket to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

The good news for Blaney was there was another caution.

The bad news? It was for him.

The driver of the No. 12 made a simple mistake. He shifted gears the wrong way. Instead of going into third, Blaney transitioned from second back into first gear, sending the car spinning on the access road.

The incident caused a caution and a drop in the race standings Blaney never recovered from. The Team Penske driver finished 17th.

What did this race prove?

Larson proved on Sunday that yes, he still has the ability to whoop the field like he did almost every week one year ago.

He just did it too late.

There have been signs of the reigning champion’s ability to win in some moments this year, and it wasn’t only when he won. Larson put on a legendary performance during this year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after that day started off with an abysmal series of unfortunate events including, but not limited to, literally catching on fire.

Despite that, Larson had rallied back and was fighting for the lead when he was caught up in a late-race crash with Chase Briscoe. Had it not been for that, it would’ve been another win he could’ve added to the now three earned in 2022.

In fact, the extra points would’ve likely seen Larson have enough to clear Briscoe in points, saving him from playoff elimination when the two eventually returned at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL a few weeks ago.

Heck, there were plenty of times Larson could have grabbed an extra point here and there that could’ve helped him when it came to clearing the Round of 12.

But more often than not, those points were left on the table.

In a year that has seen one of the most competitive Cup Series fields in the modern era, it isn’t fair to claim Larson should have matched the dominating 10 wins he earned one year ago on his way to a championship. In fact, that was really the excuse everyone was using for the No. 5 team up to this point; the field is simply too darn competitive right now.

However, on Sunday, that excuse is no more. Larson was the class of the field on par with what he was in 2021. You can’t chalk it up pit strategies or high attrition rates, either. When the green flag dropped, he drove from fifth to first in a little over 20 laps and stayed there.

So, what changed? And why did it have to be after being eliminated from the driver playoffs?

Larson’s sudden display of speed comes during this year of parity, and one can’t help but wonder what the playoffs would look like if we had seen it earlier in the season.

Even if it was only for one more race.

Better than last time?

As much as we want to complain about how spread out the field was, isn’t that what Homestead has always been like?

No, Sunday’s race didn’t feature some wild amount of lead changes or tight pack racing. In fact, from the beginning, the 400-mile event appeared as many 1.5-mile circuits have in the last few years. Spread out, multi-lane track position racing was the order of the day.

But unlike what the mile-and-a-half tracks have been in the last few years, drivers still had to actually rely on talent and car control rather than mashing the pedal to the floor.

Or, more specifically, anyone that could run close to the wall without hitting it was rewarded. You know, kind of like how Homestead has always been?

Larson stomped the field, but it can at least be a little appreciated considering it was only because he’s arguably the best rim-riding driver in Cup. In other words, his talent was rewarded, and isn’t that what we want?

Of course, that does mean a drop in competition compared to early 2021, where we saw 20 lead changes among nine different leaders. That’s a big gap between Sunday’s 11 lead changes and five leaders.

No, there weren’t any fights or Next Gen car controversies this week. Instead, Homestead was good old multi-lane, tire degrading, strategy-making, talent-showcasing Homestead. That’s how we like it.

Paint scheme of the race

There is a certain aesthetic to be admired when it comes to the Miami area.

When you think about it, the Homestead-Miami Speedway racetrack itself captures that aesthetic with its light blue walls and palm trees scattered throughout. That being said, it’s only fitting that we feature a Miami-style paint scheme this week.

Even though the fisherman in me really liked John Hunter Nemechek‘s Colombia sportswear Toyota that featured a marlin fish on the sides, there’s no doubt Cole Custer‘s Dixie Vodka Miami-style livery was a bit more eye-catching.

It’s almost like a scheme you’d expect to see on a car owned by Pitbull. Instead, the Stewart-Haas Racing car featured a vibrant display of colors with that Homestead-like light blue being the most used on the front. The palm tree pattern featured all over the Ford gives a bit of a beach party vibe, too.

It does make sense Dixie Vodka pulled out the stops for its titled Cup race, and it seemed to steal the show.

But hey, there’s still some honorable mentions.

What’s next?

We’re almost there.

The Cup Series heads to the paperclip-shaped Martinsville for their penultimate race of 2022 and the playoff field’s last chance at qualifying for the Championship 4. Cup qualifying for the Xfinity 500 begins on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12:45 p.m. ET with the race televised live on NBC on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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Yes Budda I was so happy for you that you got to see your best friend win. It must have been a big celebration on the couch. Sorry Marty but Larson took Bubba’s advice “I don’t Lift”


Somewhat overlooked, beyond the obvious attention on Larson, Chastain, & the Dinger. Were the runs that Austin Dillon, & Kez had. Particularly, with Kez, & with the off-season looming. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him regain the form we’re used to from he, & the team. From where Roush had been, Buscher’s win, was a really big step, & I look for more in ’23 from both.

Kurt Smith

I felt bad for Truex. Dude can’t buy a break all year and then he gets spun on pit road, which I’m positive was not intentional on Larson’s part.

Larson was badass all day. Was glad to see that after he got hosed last week. I can’t think of any race this year where one driver has had that good of a car. If that team is finding it, he may be on top again in 2023.


Ohhh….the sweet irony. Bubba having to sit on his couch watching a real race car driver; one that he physically accosted last week, go on and smoke the field. Probably had to pop a few extra anti-depressants.

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