Drivers react the the video game style move in the NASCAR Playoffs at Darlington Raceway
On Sunday, the NASCAR Playoffs opened at Darlington Raceway. The 1.366-mile oval is one of the few endurance races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
Larson was the car to beat for most of the day. However, a late race strategy by Denny Hamlin fell into their lap.
With a lengthy stage three, most teams were pitting three times in the stage. Hamlin elected to run ten extra laps on each set, cutting it from three stops to just two.
With 52 to go, most of the race leaders had pitted. Hamlin was the race leader, running long on old tires and soon to head for the pit lane.
50 to go, Ryan Blaney lost brakes. He spun to slow the car down and brought out the caution.
Under caution, everyone pitted for the final time, including the car that just pitted. This gave Hamlin the legitimate lead.
Denny Hamlin vs Kyle Larson
With 30 to go, Larson kept Hamlin in his tire tracks. Larson was running the wheels off it, inches from the wall, lap after lap.
With 2 laps to go, Larson had closed to within three car lengths. But, he was too far back to make a move.
1 to go, Larson entered turn three and never lifted off the throttle. He rode the wall, closing the gap right to the bumper of Hamlin as the sparks flew.
Larson was expecting Hamlin to diamond the exit of the corner and turn off the wall. If he did, Larson would have worked to his outside. Instead, Hamlin stayed in the upper groove and left Larson no lane.
Larson drove into the rear bumper of Hamlin. Hamlin held him off and cruises to victory lane off turn four as Larson dragged dangling sheet metal across the finish line.
Kyle Larson comments on the wall ride
It’s a move that has been attempted in the past. Most notably with Carl Edwards, who didn’t ride the wall but slammed into it.
“Decided I would try to wall-ride and see what would happen,” Larson said.
“He (Hamlin) started running a little bit safer line the last few laps and getting back to diamonding (the corner). I thought if I rode the wall, I could squeeze to his outside and who knows what would have happened after that down the frontstretch. I actually got to his bumper a little too early and he kind of protected the wall.”
“It was wild and I hope the fans enjoyed the desperation. Just came one spot short.”
Larson rolls into the Playoffs as the favorite. However, he and Hamlin has been neck and neck for months.
“Knowing how far above the cutline we were to start the race and finish in the top two in the stages and finishing second there at the end, I knew that I could go for broke a little bit more there the last handful of laps,” Larson said.
“I was kind of hitting the wall every lap in (Turns) 3 and 4. Felt like if I got a flat and finished 25th, I was still going to be good in points. I would say I was a little bit more brave because of that.”
NASCAR drivers comment
Denny Hamlin stated, “Coming to the white, he got a great run off of four. It didn’t get that good of a run and he closes to four car lengths. I’m like, ‘still manageable, as long as I din’t mess up.’ “
“Then, they said he got all the way to me. I felt him bump me into turn three. I’m like, ‘Where’d he come from? He must have did something crazy to drive in that deep’ “
Hamlin added, “I’m sure it was very exciting from everyone else’s standpoint. He said he had run out of options and wanted to try it. And, it nearly worked.”
“I was asking him (Larson) if it was Nintendo or PlayStation,” Martin Truex Jr said with a laugh. “He definitely, the wall glue got him. Got stuck to the wall. … He got close. It was a valiant effort.”
“I don’t know that there’s really a better way to look at it than that,” Larson’s crew chief Cliff Daniels told NASCAR.com. “He (Larson) knew how many laps were left in the race, so he knew that if he had a flat tire, he could probably ride it out to the end. I’m sure all that was going through his mind.”