Incredible to Think How Kyle Larson Might Miss Out on 2023 Cup Series Championship Because of JJ Yeley
Kyle Larson won the NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2021. This season, the No. 5 has been one of the top cars, and many believe he will be in the Championship 4 in Phoenix, battling for his second title. However, the Hendrick Motorsports driver likely isn’t thinking that far ahead after he learned a valuable lesson over the weekend at Texas Motor Speedway — don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Nothing is guaranteed.
That became quite clear late in the race when the 31-year-old appeared destined for Victory Lane, and an automatic advancement into the next round awaiting when JJ Yeley changed everything. Not only did Larson fail to win, but he finished 31st and fell perilously close to the playoff cutline.
Kyle Larson builds big lead and appears destined for victory at Texas
Kyle Larson started 11th at Texas in the blazing-hot conditions and made his way forward. He showed just how good his car was when he passed leader Bubba Wallace with 22 laps to go in the second stage of the 400-mile race, pulling away and winning the segment by more than six seconds.
In that third and final stage, he had already led more than 60 laps in the Round of 12 Playoff race when he restarted on the inside of the front row next to Erik Jones with 54 laps to go.
On the drop of the green, the No. 5 car, once again, pulled away from the No. 43 and the rest of the field. With 26 laps to go, the HMS car had extended its lead close to five seconds. Most watching couldn’t imagine anything besides a Larson win.
The only real hope for any other Cup driver was a caution.
Accident changes everything for Larson
Enter JJ Yeley.
The No. 15 car exited Turn 2 and got sideways before turning, and the rear hitting the outside wall. NASCAR put out a yellow.
On the subsequent restart, Larson again lined up on the inside, this time with Bubba Wallace to his outside. Two of the best restarters in the Cup Series led the field across the start-finish line. After one trip around the 1.5-mile track, where the No. 23 car stayed glued to the door of the No. 5, the duo headed into Turn 1.
Before reaching the center of the turn, the HMS car got loose, the back-end appearing to get sucked around by the 23XI Racing car. The Chevrolet slid up the track for a big rear hit into the wall. The Toyota avoided contact and crashing, but did lose momentum. However, he was still declared the leader when the caution came out.
Larson’s pit crew went to work on the car but was unable to meet the required time on the damaged vehicle policy. He was out.
With the format resetting the playoff points each round, the No. 5 team came into the Texas race fourth in the standings, well above the playoff cutline. After the race, it had dropped to eighth and two points above the cut, ironically enough, over Wallace.
If Larson somehow misses the Championship 4, his fans can look back on the hot day in Texas. It will be easy to point to his crash while battling Wallace as the reason for his exit, but if taking the whole scenario of events into account, it was actually Yeley’s crash six laps earlier that ended what appeared to be an almost-certain win for the team that changed the course of the race and possibly his whole season.