Kyle Larson Takes Third at Vegas, Seeks Phoenix Win

Kyle Larson rarely looks back, intent to progress onward in 2018. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Kyle Larson rarely looks back, intent to progress onward in 2018. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Heading into the 2018 season, Kyle Larson looked to build on his strong 2017 campaign.  After all, he logged three wins and scored a strong eighth place points finish.

Nevertheless, the 25-year-old entered this year with a lot of new ingredients. From a pristine car in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the fresh, colors of Credit One Bank, DC Solar, and First Data, Larson and his No. 42 team took on a fresh identity.

However, the season opening Daytona 500 did not treat Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team kindly.  A lap 60 crash all but assured for a long day at “The World Center of Racing” with a 19th place finish.

Oddly, Larson ran the bottom line en route to ninth at Atlanta. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

Oddly, Larson ran the bottom line en route to ninth at Atlanta. (Photo Credit: Zach Darrow/TPF)

On the other hand, Atlanta was somewhat kinder to the young racer. Starting eighth in the rain delayed race, the Elk Grove, CA native hovered inside the top-five before placing ninth.

All things considered, Larson showcased some potential but needed the speed to challenge his on-track peers.  In this case, a visit to Las Vegas Motor Speedway would be the first, real test for the front runner.

At the same time, Las Vegas marked the first of three races for NASCAR’s annual West Coast Swing.  While the glitz and glamour of the Sin City could distract some, championship contenders like Larson remain focused.

By the same token, LVMS would be a good barometer for Larson’s intermediate track program.  A good day at the 22-year-old track, which gained a second NASCAR race weekend this year, could set the tone for this month.

In any case, Larson backed up his solid starting spot of fifth with a terrific third in the Pennzoil 400.  Despite lacking the speed that race winner Kevin Harvick showcased on the track, it was a good points day for the No. 42 Credit One Chevy team.

Kyle and Owen Larson get a lucky Las Vegas high five prior to the Pennzoil 400. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Kyle and Owen Larson get a lucky Las Vegas high five prior to the Pennzoil 400. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

“Our CreditOne Bank Chevy was fast,” Larson said.  “Nowhere near Harvick’s level, but I felt like for most of the day we were second or third best, so happy about that, and yeah, you know, with coming back later in the year for a playoff race, it’s nice to know that you’ve been fast here now the last two years and hopefully can continue that.”

Arguably, Larson was the best Chevrolet racer for the second straight week, hovering inside the top-five all race long.  As a run would progress, the No. 42 car would pick up speed as evident in the final laps of the race, going from fifth to third.

Even so, like with most sports, teams often determine their fate during crunch time.  Some slow pit stops proved costly for Larson, finding himself outside of the top-10 during some restarts.

All told, Larson looks to capitalize on pit stops this year. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

All told, Larson looks to capitalize on pit stops this year. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

“Had to fight pretty hard there a few times throughout the race just from losing a lot of track position on the pit stops and stuff,” he observed.  “I don’t honestly know what was going on yet with the pit stops, but we’ll watch some tape, and if it was something I was doing wrong, we’ll fix that up.”

Furthermore, being best in class won’t cut it for Larson and his Ganassi crew.  Despite a second straight top-10 finish and a victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ race at LVMS, there’s still work left to do.

“I feel like we’re probably actually a little bit better than we were last year,” he pointed out.  “I say that, but Atlanta I felt like maybe we ran one or two spots worse than we did all day, and then here, I felt like we ran probably three or four spots better than we did all day last year.

If we are better, it’s barely anything.  But it’s good that we’re not any worse than we were last year.”

With a NASCAR Xfinity Series race win collected, Larson aims to take his first Cup win of 2018. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

With a NASCAR Xfinity Series race win collected, Larson aims to take his first Cup win of 2018. (Photo Credit: Jose L. Acero Jr/TPF)

Entering Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500(k) at ISM Raceway sitting sixth in points, Larson looks to improve on his 15.1 average finishing position.  Moreover, he’d like to put his 40th place finish last fall in the rear view mirror.

Naturally, the odds may be favoring points leader Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion team.  Ultimately, if there’s a driver and team who could challenge the pride of Bakersfield, CA, it’s Larson and his No. 42 brigade, prepared to return to Victory Lane for the first time since last fall at Richmond.

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by me or by one of my talented columnists who absolutely have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication. Proud to be from Massachusetts, just as happy to be a Texan.

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