Kyle Larson Prepares for Championship 4 Battle

Kyle Larson sets his sights on the championship battle at Phoenix. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson sets his sights on the championship battle at Phoenix. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

In the midst of a career year, Kyle Larson tallied one of his most dominant wins in his Cup career last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Following a comeback win at the Charlotte ROVAL on Oct. 10, Larson and his No. 5 Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet team focused on the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas. Despite their NASCAR All-Star Race win on June 13, Larson sought for improvement from their decent showing at the 1.5-mile speedway.

Ahead of the Charlotte ROVAL and Texas races, Larson considered his evolution as a driver in NASCAR. Suffice to say, the 29-year-old Elk Grove, California native expressed genuine confidence.

Overcoming a couple of issues, Larson nabbed his seventh win of 2021 at the Charlotte ROVAL. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Overcoming a couple of issues, Larson nabbed his seventh win of 2021 at the Charlotte ROVAL. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

“I don’t know, I’m not really sure,” Larson said. “I mean, I feel like I’ve always had that belief in myself that I could do it, just needed the right things to line up for me. So I’m not really sure how to answer that. I think, as long as you have that belief in you and have a team around you, you can show it.”

Of course, Larson has shown confidence in his team and himself. Particularly this year, Larson parlays his youth and enthusiasm with his experienced Hendrick Motorsports crewmates.

Still, the ninth year Cup racer appreciates his journey as it coincides with a renewed interest with new teams vying to compete in NASCAR. Specifically, Larson points to a few notable aspects.

“Yeah, I think it’s good,” he said. “I mean, it’s kind of been in a process for the last, I feel like, since I got into the sport, maybe before that. So, I mean, probably 2014 on, I feel like you’ve seen a big youth movement. So yeah, that’s good. And I think the new car next year will hopefully can make things exciting and help with the costs and teams. NASCAR’s always trying to figure out ways to improve and I think they’ve got a good crop of drivers and teams to help do that.”

Prior to the start of the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte, Larson expressed optimism with his No. 5 Chevy and team.

Before the sleighride experience at the Charlotte ROVAL, Larson obliged for a selfie with a fan. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Before the sleighride experience at the Charlotte ROVAL, Larson obliged for a selfie with a fan. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, I mean, I think hopefully,” Larson quipped. “We have a fast car and (if) the stages go well for us and we can get some points or just end up getting track position or whatever I mean, I don’t believe we have a set plan yet, but as long as we have a fast race car, things will work out.”

After starting 10th at the Charlotte ROVAL, Larson overcame handling issues and issues with his alternator belt and battery just a quarter into the race. Following methodical repairs and adjustments, Larson charged his way to a sixth place result in stage 2.

Moreover, Larson rallied to an impressive seventh win of the year with a patiently aggressive drive in the final stage. Typically calm and collected, Larson was jubilant and beaming after his comeback victory.

Perhaps the gratification was born out of Larson’s up and down afternoon at the Charlotte ROVAL.

Perhaps Larson is a Lovin' Spoonful fan, particularly with their hit song "Do You Believe In Magic?" (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Perhaps Larson is a Lovin’ Spoonful fan, particularly with their hit song “Do You Believe In Magic?” (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, it’s so satisfying because I really did not think that we were going to have a shot to win today,” Larson said. “Had a lot of different emotions throughout the middle portions of that race, thinking that this is so depressing and sad and crazy that I’m going to lose my shot at a championship because of an alternator issue, to, okay, now we got it fixed, let’s try to get away with a top 15 finish, keeping all the fenders on it.

“I was passing some cars. We had a really good green flag cycle. I’m trying to look at the big screen. I see Denny coming up on my mirror. I’m like judging off of that, Okay, I think I’m towards the front here now. Man, I’d love to see a caution come out. Then it all worked out.”

One week later, Larson set his sights on logging his eighth win of the year. Starting from the pole due to metric qualifying, the championship favorite rarely showed any weaknesses at Texas.

Even after a late stage 1 pit stop, Larson logged a third place finish before taking the lead for good on lap 117. After winning stage 2, Larson held point on several late race restarts as he nabbed his eighth win of 2021.

Locked into the Championship 4 race at Phoenix, Larson expressed relief and elation. After all, he avoided the dark clouds that bewildered Kevin Harvick, last season’s dominant racer.

Larson enjoyed a Texas Motor Speedway sweep. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Larson enjoyed a Texas Motor Speedway sweep. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, it’s awesome,” he said. “I mean, we had a good points lead or whatever from the cutoff going into it, but still, you know, Harvick had his issues last year and didn’t make the Final Four. That will always be on my mind.”

Following crew chief Cliff Daniels’ focus on hitting singles in the Round of 8, it’s safe to say Larson and his team hit a skyrocketing homerun.

“We had a fast, fast car today, and we had a good couple stages, so even if I didn’t come out with the lead or the win or whatever, I wanted to play it smart and take what I could get,” Larson shared. “I got good shots from behind me every restart and allowed me to get clear into 1 every time and then do some blocking for a few laps. Fine on all those restarts and we had a great race car to allow me to be aggressive with the blocks, and fast, too, to stay out in front of William (Byron).”

With 16 days looming before the season finale weekend at Phoenix, Larson considered the benefits of practice and qualifying sessions.

One of the keys to Larson's eight win season is his extraordinary pit crew. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

One of the keys to Larson’s eight win season is his extraordinary pit crew. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“Well, I could kind of take it either way, really,” he realized. “We had practice at the 600 and Nashville, and we won those two. I can’t remember what all races we’ve had practice at. But as far as the ovals go for practice, I think we’ve won those.

“It kind of doesn’t — like I said, it could go either way for me. I think yes, I’m probably — I like having practice to give yourself — it kind of helps your confidence out, whether it’s good or bad, leading into the race with practice. But it also gives — if your car is great or whatever, it gives other people an opportunity to make their car better.”

In the meantime, Larson can race full out this Sunday at Kansas and Halloween afternoon at Martinsville. Without any concerns about points and a Playoff seed, it seems as though “Yung Money” can throw Hail Mary passes into the end zone, or in NASCAR’s case, victory lane.

On the whole, Larson and his No. 5 team plan to bring it these next two races. Ultimately, with relatively smooth races at Kansas and Martinsville, the sky is the limit for Larson in terms of his wins total this year.

Absolute victory. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Absolute victory. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, it’ll be cool,” he shared. “I don’t think we’re going to lose focus on Kansas or Martinsville, but I definitely think we can shift a little bit more to our Phoenix car and I really look forward to that.

“I love the West Coast. I love Phoenix. We’ve always been fast there. At least I was really fast earlier this year in the No. 5 and made a lot of mistakes. But I think we should have a good shot. Our team has been so strong all year long and we might as well close it all out.”

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 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 his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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