CONCORD, N.C. – Following an improbable victory in last year’s Bank of America ROVAL 400, Kyle Larson seemed set on a respectable finish in Sunday’s race.
Although Larson was not likely to win another Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race, he seemed prime on a comfortable result to advance into the Round of 8.
Instead, a series of events in Stage 3 set the stage for a dramatic, disappointing finish for Larson.
While track position was not on their side in Stage 3 after placing sixth in Stage 1 and third in Stage 2, he was slowly working his way up the scoring order. Running 13th inside the final 15 laps, Larson hit the Turn 7 wall, damaging the right side of his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro.
Moreover, he broke the right rear toe link, necessitating a lengthy pit stop to repair this vital component. Larson lost five laps and dropped from 13th to 35th, leaving little wiggle room to make up for lost ground.
Still, Larson was in position to advance into the Round of 8, albeit by a slender margin. A Lap 105 caution period bunched up the field and made an already flimsy tightrope on the verge of snapping into two.
During one of the race’s final restarts, Larson’s crew chief, Cliff Daniels, radioed to his driver that he needed to stay ahead of Daniel Suárez, one of their Playoffs rivals, as he was on the same lap due to power steering issues.
Larson remained ahead of Suárez in the final laps.
However, two of his Playoffs competitors rocketed past him in the points standings.
As Christopher Bell made like David Ortiz with a Game 7 like win, Chase Briscoe rallied from late race bumper cars with Austin Dillon en route to a ninth place finish, more than enough to bounce Larson out of the Playoffs.
Rather than bask in another Playoffs battle that will kick off next Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC), Larson was left pondering about some lost opportunities.
“You just give up that many spots, you know it’s going to be close and then the caution there,” Larson reflected. “So, yeah, I just made way too many mistakes all year long. Made another one today and it ultimately cost us a chance to go chase another championship.”
Understandably, Larson was upset as his No. 5 team put him in a solid position to continue his championship quest. Instead, a late race, unforced error proved to be one of the differences between a chance at a second championship and vying for fifth in points.
“Just extremely mad at myself because I let the team down a number of times this year and let them down in a big way today,” he said. “We will keep fighting and we will come back stronger. I will definitely come back stronger, smarter and make better moves out there. Just mad at myself. Bummer.”
Despite being eliminated from the Playoffs, Larson tried to look the road ahead, particularly with how he could make it up to his team.
“Go race hard,” he offered. “There is no other person to blame than myself for today. I feel like our team put ourselves in a position as well as we could on points today.
“We got as many stage points as we could and I think we were plus 27 or 28 at the time when I screwed up. Just for no reason either. I wasn’t even pushing all that hard at that moment. It got loose and caught me off guard.”
Champions revel from the fruits of labor after an arduous but rewarding journey.
Equally so, champions rise from defeat as Larson hopes to realize after a Sunday setback in stock car country.
“Just keep working on my craft, get better and make a lot less mistakes,” he opined. “Like I said, I made way too many mistakes this whole year and you can’t win a championship like that.”