Kyle Larson stomped the NASCAR Cup Series field Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but didn’t have enough when he needed it to claim the trophy.
Larson was the class of the field early in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, taking the lead for the first time on lap 28 and leaving the field behind. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team swept both stages, and Larson led 269 of the race’s 325 laps only to be passed by Ryan Blaney for the win with eight laps to go.
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“I was pushing the whole time, every lap since I left pit road (for the last time) I was trying to get out to a big gap, but I never really did,” Larson said. “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 run before, but after the (last) green flag stop, he was just really good, and I couldn’t get out to that gap that I could earlier in the race. Ultimately, I just had to run my tires too hard to try to get that gap, and then I didn’t have anything there at the end.”
Your leader Kyle Larson ripping the high line with 35 to go!#FOHQT500 pic.twitter.com/Me5C6Y5QEJ
— Atlanta Motor Speedway (@amsupdates) March 21, 2021
Larson led, ironically over Blaney, by as much as 10 seconds during the afternoon. Excluding pit stop cycles, only twice did Larson lose the lead in the heat of competition.
The first was on pit road under caution for possible fluid on the track after Chase Elliott had a mechanical failure on lap 221 and exited the race. Larson was beaten off pit road by Blaney, but Blaney’s lead was short-lived due to having trash on the grille, and Larson went back to being in control.
Larson maintained his place out front after the last round of green-flag pit stops with just under 60 laps to go, but then he came across Joey Logano. Larson’s lead on Blaney shrunk the most when he tried to put Logano, running 15th, a lap down, and Blaney had caught him with nine laps to go.
“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.”
🔊 “I hate Joey Logano, man.” — @KyleLarsonRacin pic.twitter.com/xNekq9KdbX
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 21, 2021
Larson admitted that initially, he wanted the race to stay green because he was better on longer runs. However, that thought process changed with how strong Blaney was coming on and changing the flow of Larson’s race.
“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.”