FORT WORTH, Texas — The saying “everything’s bigger in Texas” has been used aplenty, but describes the extent of the heartbreak for playoff drivers Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace after Sunday’s Round of 12 opener.
The pair of drivers dominated through the intense heat clutching the 1.5-mile facility, splitting 210 circuits out front of the 267-lap event.
When it came time to decide who would be rewarded for their efforts, it ended in calamity and a totaled No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as Larson spun on the inside of Wallace as the two were side-by-side for the lead after a restart with 20 to go.
The 2021 Cup Series champion took blame for the dramatic result.
“Just a bummer. I wasn’t expecting to get loose in like that underneath the 23,” Larson said. I was trying to get my shape into [Turn] 1 and should’ve gave a little more space.
“If I could just replay it again, I would just give me more space into [Turn] 1 and race it out off of 2 and eventually the bottom would’ve won out so I was just trying to get it all too quickly and should’ve just worked for another corner.”
Larson left Texas with a 31st-place result but remains above the Round of 8 elimination line by a slim two-point margin.
The inside appeared to have the advantage on restarts throughout the day, but Wallace made his 23XI Racing Toyota stick on the outside on the penultimate restart that even bewildered him.
“I was like ‘oh damn! It actually stuck on the top,’ and I think he was like ‘oh, it stuck on the bottom,’ and so I was thinking it was going to be a dogfight all the way to the end,” Wallace said.
“But we both sent it down in there, Turn 1 is a little bit better opportunity for a slide job and I wasn’t lifting, so he lifted. I was listening to his throttle application and brake application and matching downshifts and next thing you know, we were almost wrecked so just fighting hard for a win.”
If you ask Wallace, that was the only restart of the day where he would pat himself on the back.
After starting on the pole, Wallace found himself in precarious moments on the track after losing the lead, including getting trapped in the middle of a three-wide battle after a restart.
MORE: At-track photos: Texas
Despite losing track position and his car handling worse and worse through the race, Wallace managed a third-place result, his best at Texas and of the 2023 season so far, but there was no cause for celebration in his eyes.
“Can’t have the worst restarts when you’re the best restarter and that’s what happened,” Wallace lamented.
Amid a chorus of boos from fans behind him, Wallace felt in sync with the grandstand gibe.
“Oh, I’m booing myself too, so we’re good. I’m one of y’all today. Giving it up like that is heartbreaking for sure, devastating.”
After grasping the lead following Larson’s incident, Wallace looked to be the man of the day, but another caution in the closing laps forced another reset of the field and for a third consecutive time, Wallace chose the outside with Chase Briscoe to his inside.
In a reversal, a third time proved not the charm for the No. 23 team as William Byron scooted by both Briscoe and Wallace to take his sixth victory of the season.
“Briscoe got tight underneath me and I just lost all my momentum,” Wallace said of the final restart. “The best defense mechanism is to pack air on somebody’s left-rear and that shoves the outside car up and it just gave Byron a massive run so I should’ve just held my line into [Turn] 3 instead of chasing down and just gave it away there.”
Wallace entered Sunday 14 points below the elimination line and earned a +12-point boost toward it as he heads to Talladega Superspeedway as the first car out and just two points below, by coincidence, Larson.
Despite continued growth in his Cup career and still in the hunt for the Bill France Trophy, Wallace leaves Texas snookered after not solidifying a guaranteed berth to the Round of 8.
“All I’m thinking about right now is those last three laps, last five, six. Whatever it was. Part of growing and learning and being a part of the playoffs but you can’t [expletive] give races away.”