Matching the backdrop of the closing laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the sun is setting on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Kyle Larson dominated the field. Martin Truex Jr. blew his best chance at victory this season on the final pit stop. Moreover, with two races left, nobody’s a definitive favorite to win the championship.
So without further adieu, let’s dive into the Three Big Stories of NASCAR’s annual trek to South Florida and the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
1. Kyle Larson put on a clinic
Larson fell out of the driver’s championship fight two weeks ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he turned in a strong performance Sunday to win at Homestead.
Actually, that’s an understatement. Larson controlled the race Sunday and showcased all of his talent. He led 199 of the 267 laps, won both stages with ease, and if not for a late caution, nobody (likely) challenges him to win. Lason said afterward,
“We’ve been capable of it I feel like many weekends, we just haven’t quite put it all together. Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) gave a great speech this morning and got us all ready to go and focused and (I) did my best to keep it out of the wall. I got in the wall a few times but I could still make speed doing that.”
Of course, Ryan Blaney spun on the acceleration lane during a cycle of green flag pit stops that brought out a caution with just over 50 laps to go. This happened just as Larson ducked off the track to hit pit road. Lucky for him, however, the caution fell early in the pit cycle. So he lined up behind Truex, Ross Chastain, and Denny Hamlin on the Lap 217 restart. But with Larson’s car better on long runs, even as Truex overtook Hamlin and pulled away from the field, Larson was closing the gap before the final caution.
But just as untimely cautions take, they give as well. Tyler Reddick got loose off Turn 2 and hit the inside backstretch wall with 23 laps to go, everyone came down pit road for new tires. Thanks to a miscue on Truex’s end and some contact, Larson exited pit road with the race lead.
While Larson’s car wasn’t the best on short runs, Chastain and AJ Allmendinger‘s fight for second on the final restart gave him the chance to pull away and win at Homestead-Miami.
2. Truex blows his chance at victory
With just over 20 laps to go Sunday at Homestead, Truex had the race in check. Blaney’s spin during a green flag pit cycle on Lap 211 cycled him to the lead, while Larson restarted back in traffic. After overtaking Hamlin for the lead on Lap 221, Truex pulled away from the field and had the win in check.
Then Reddick hit the wall. So he led the field down pit road and this happened.
Blinded by the setting sun, Truex turned in for his stall too late, checked up, and got turned by Larson. Truex said after the race,
“It’s really hard to see through these windshields right now with the sun like that and all the stuff covering it. I did see my box late for sure, so I slowed down before I turned out of the way of (Larson) there.”
“I don’t know if fans and people realize, when you’ve got debris all over your windshield, the sun is shining straight in your face, it’s hard to see your stall.”
Of course, Truex had a strong enough car to rally back to a sixth-place finish, but it was no consolation prize for the 2017 Cup Series champion.
“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.”
Knocked out of the playoff fight in Daytona, Truex has just two races left to avoid his first winless season since 2014.
3. There’s still no title favorite
Two races remain. Only Joey Logano is locked into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway, and I can’t even say with confidence he’s the favorite. Most seasons, we’d have a short-list of drivers who’s got the best chance to win it all. In 2022, however, it’s that wide open.
Furthermore, thanks to Larson’s win on Sunday at Homestead-Miami, three spots remain up to decide next Sunday at Martinsville. Get your popcorn ready. It’s gonna be a chaotic final two weeks in NASCAR!