Kyle Larson Rallies to Charlotte ROVAL Win

Kyle Larson overcame a couple of incredible adversities to win at Charlotte. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson overcame a couple of incredible adversities to win at Charlotte. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

When it seems that Kyle Larson and his No. 5 team have their backs against the wall, they answer the bell emphatically.

A challenging layout with the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL presents enough problems for the best racers and teams in NASCAR. However, issues with the alternator belt and battery typically spell doom for most drivers.

In this case, Larson and his team embrace these obstacles with the hearts of lions. On a brisk, sunny Sunday afternoon, the regular season champion showcased why he and his hardy crew are the ones to beat.

Initially, Larson battled handling issues which relegated him a position from his 10th starting spot. After his 11th place finish in stage 1, Larson experienced a voltage issue.

Crew chief Cliff Daniels, car chief Jesse Saunders and and Steven Legendre, along with the No. 5 team, worked methodically on addressing the car’s issues. Their cool as the other side of the pillow approach paid off tremendously when it counted.

Despite problems about a quarter of the way into the Bank of America ROVAL 400, Larson and his No. 5 team refused to lose. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Despite problems about a quarter of the way into the Bank of America ROVAL 400, Larson and his No. 5 team refused to lose. (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

After replacing the battery on lap 35, Larson rallied to a sixth place result in stage 2. Not long after, Larson’s crew addressed the alternator belt issue with precision.

Despite the varying pit strategies and back of the pack restart positions from the repairs, Larson was a man on a mission. Much like Tom Brady leading the Buccaneers from a huge deficit, the 29-year-old Elk Grove, California native rewarded his crew in grand fashion.

Up to sixth with 26 laps remaining, Larson drove up to second just nine laps later. As Larson prepared for his battle with leader Denny Hamlin, trouble ensued in turn 1 for 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick with a Playoff ending accident with 11 laps to go.

Larson and Denny Hamlin waged in a rather exciting duel for the win. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Larson and Denny Hamlin waged in a rather exciting duel for the win. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Once the race resumed with eight laps remaining, Larson put the spurs to his unmistakable No. 5 car alongside Hamlin’s No. 11 ride in the infield portion of the ROVAL. Drawing even across with the Joe Gibbs Racing stalwart, Larson took the lead in the short chute prior to the final infield corners.

All things considered, Larson’s victory bid was far from assured. Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron and Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick waged in their war for second until the race’s penultimate lap.

With the competition all in the rear view mirror, Larson scored his seventh win of the season ahead of Reddick and Chris Buescher.

When asked about the pendulum swings throughout the race, Larson reflected with wonderment about his team’s hard work and goals.

“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.”

Moreover, Larson seemed as jubilant and stunned by the favoring circumstances leading to his win.

It takes two to make a ROVAL race go right. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

It takes two to make a ROVAL race go right. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

“Not that many people stayed out with him (Hamlin),” Larson shared. “I knew he was in trouble. I had just a lot of stuff work out for us. William having to go through the backstretch chicane that allowed us to get to second. From then on I was like, We really have a good shot to win now. Just a wild range of emotions all race long. Just crazy that I’m sitting here talking to all of you.”

As stunned as Larson was about his latest win, he expressed confidence with his car as chose his battles wisely.

“Yeah, I knew I had a car that was definitely capable of winning,” he said. “I was trying to be patient with it. I knew I had much better tires than Denny. But to a point I was too patient with him the first restart. I was able to somehow get past Reddick. I think him and Denny got battling. I was able to get him before we got back onto the oval, turn one over there. A caution came out shortly later.

“I told myself I still need to be smart and patient, but not to waste any time if I get an opportunity. I had a good restart, was able to get single file off of turn one. The restart before Denny had kind of entered low and washed really high in the center of three and four over here.”

Although Larson was squeezed on a few occasions in the backstretch chicane, the Californian kept cool and capitalized on the race’s final restart.

Larson celebrates his latest and most arduous win of the year. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Larson celebrates his latest and most arduous win of the year. (Photo: Stephen Conl | The Podium Finish)

“I knew that was going to be a good opportunity for me if I could get my angles right to get pointed and squirt in front of him and at least get in position on him off of four,” he reflected. “Yeah, that restart went really well for me. Kind of had to manage the gap and not make any mistakes.”

Larson advanced to the Round of 8 along with Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott. On the other hand, Byron, Harvick, Alex Bowman and Christopher Bell saw their championship hopes end at the ROVAL.

One of the pivotal catalysts for Larson’s success is crew chief Cliff Daniels, The former late model short track ace acknowledged the significance of the ROVAL win given the hometown atmosphere.

“To be in the backyard of Hendrick Motorsports, our company has such a legacy and history here,” Daniels said. “A lot of our teammates were either here in the infield or in the grandstand from all different areas of our company. To have that much support here, to be able to bring the trophy home tonight, them being able to see it tomorrow morning makes it that much more special.”

Like many great Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs, Daniels, who worked ardently with his team in addressing the car’s early race issues, believed in his driver and crewmates.

“I could tell at moments through the race, other than the first run, we just weren’t very good the first run,” he remarked. “But, then we went to work on the car. I knew we had the pace that if we could ever get up front, we could run the top five. It’s tough to know if you’re not leading what you’re going to be out front, vulnerable, have the pace to stay up there. We knew our car was going to be top five capable.

“Once we got it up there, Larson told me he was amped up. His hand was shaking on the wheel he was so excited for the last few restarts. It doesn’t matter what he’s in, when you get Kyle Larson in that kind of mode, he’s lights out.”

Ultimately, Larson demonstrated his team’s might and place as the championship favorite. Equally as important as sweeping the Charlotte races was overcoming the dramatic and heartbreak from 2018 at this venue.

Kyle Larson continues to build to the No. 5 team's winning legacy. (Photo: Michael Guargilia | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson continues to build to the No. 5 team’s winning legacy. (Photo: Michael Guargilia | The Podium Finish)

“No doubt,” Larson said when asked about conquering the ROVAL. “That moment of 2018, I can guarantee you it’s on my mind every restart of every ROVAL race I’ve ran since then. That’s all I can think about. Coming to the restart zone, lining up next to Denny in the right lane, like don’t do that again. I don’t even know how that happened last time because I don’t feel like I drove in that much deeper then as I would have today. But it happened.

“It’s on my mind. Yeah, cool to overcome and make it into the next round that day, then to get two Charlotte wins this year.”

Bank of America ROVAL 400 Top 10 Finishers

Larson-Reddick-Buescher-Kyle Busch-Hamlin/DiBenedetto-Logano-Bell-Blaney-Bowman

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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