Ryan Blaney had nothing to lose by taking two tires on his last pit stop while Kyle Larson only got half of what he wanted for the final restart.
Blaney (photo above) finished third at ISM Raceway and failed to advance into the Championship 4. Larson finished fourth and was also left looking toward next year. Given how the first two stages of the Bluegreen Vacations 500 shook out, both drivers needed to win Sunday afternoon to compete for the championship.
“What did we have to lose?” stated Blaney about his two-tire call and lining up second on the race’s final restart. “We had to win the race. You don’t know if everyone is gonna do four, and if you do two, you’re gonna get the lead and be on the top on the restart and hold some guys down and be controlling of it.
“I didn’t even think second was an awful place on two tires. It’s hard restarting on the bottom — especially with guys on four behind you — but it’s a shot.”
While he thought his No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang improved throughout the day, Blaney said his team has some homework to do as they weren’t in the league of winner Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates.
“I’m really proud of the whole group, not only today, but the whole playoffs as well,” said Blaney. “It stinks that you miss it, but it was a solid day.”
Larson lined up seventh on the final restart. The No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team took four tires for the run to the finish, which Larson thought was his best shot at putting up a fight for the race win. However, he also wanted to be on the outside lane and he restarted on the bottom.
“The 11 (Hamlin) had an amazing race car there,” said Larson. “So, he would have had been tough to beat. But obviously, with that final restart, everybody felt like they had another chance to try and beat him. I just felt like if I could have lined up on the outside row, I would have had a really good shot. Had I lined up sixth or eighth even, I felt like I would have been in a much better position than starting seventh. It didn’t work out. I restarted on the bottom every time but one today, so that was unfortunate.
“It’s still a good year for us,” Larson continued. “It was a little rough in the beginning of the season, but we have rebounded, worked hard, got our cars better and our team better. We were battling for a championship. We’ll go to Homestead next week, race, and try to get a win.”
Larson praised his team’s performance in the playoffs, which included advancing into the Round of 8 for the first time and a victory at Dover. Saying they didn’t get too anxious and stayed consistent, Larson said, “We’ve learned a lot.”