Blaney grabbed the lead with eight of 200 laps remaining thanks to a giant push from Kyle Busch and it appeared there would be plenty of time for Larson and Byron – or both – to mount a challenge to Blaney for the win.
After all, Larson led the most laps in the race (70) and Byron led 18 while Blaney had reached the front for just the first time all day.
Denny Hamlin tried to push the duo three-wide at one point and Larson admitted he may have had a bigger picture in mind.
With one race remaining, he is trying to beat Hamlin for the regular season Cup Series title and the 15 playoff point that come with it.
“Just made a couple bad moves, I guess. I think honestly just a little too patient behind (Blaney),” Larson said. “Could have made some later, you know, dives I guess to the inside. Who knows. I need to watch the replay.
“I was probably honestly a little too – I had points on my mind a little bit too much. I’m looking in my mirror. I saw (Hamlin) falling back some. I just didn’t want to screw it up really.”
Larson said the final lap came down to “risk versus reward.”
“I could risk going for the win, not having it work out, end up 30-something and lose the point lead going into Daytona,” he said. “Or I could be a little bit more cautious, beat Denny by a couple spots, which is what we did.”
Larson now leads Hamlin by 28 points in the series standings entering next weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway – the regular season finale.
Byron ended up putting together a late run on the final lap coming off Turn 4 and headed to the inside of Blaney but came up 0.077 seconds short – the closest finish at Michigan since the advent of electronic scoring in NASCAR.
“I needed (Hamlin) to stay with us. He tried to shuck us into Turn 1. I had to stay with him to not sacrifice my right-rear,” Byron said. “Once you get put three-wide middle, it’s game over.
“I gave up the lead trying to protect the top. Just didn’t have the loyalty there to kind of push me to the lead.”
With just over a lap remaining, Byron appeared to back up to Larson in hopes the two could put together a strong run on Blaney.
“He kind of ran the bottom, so he didn’t have any momentum to push me,” Byron said of Larson. “I don’t know what you do.
“You can only block so many lanes. I tried to block the top and cost myself first, but just part of it.”