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Kyle Larson Aims to Defend Kansas Playoff Race Win

Kyle Larson hopes to repeat his Kansas victory on Sunday. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson hopes to repeat his Kansas victory on Sunday. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

When Kyle Larson rides the high line on race days, he typically doesn’t mean to scuff up the right side of his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro.

Like most drivers, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series driver tries to extract the most out of his car, searching for the optimum lane. In some cases, it might mean earning a stripe in the early going.

“I think in the Playoffs, you have to be extra careful about everything, for sure, in this first round,” Larson said in a midweek teleconference. “I think if you can get through each race somewhat safely, you should make it to the next round safely. I think being cautious and not super aggressive, unless you have to be, is the objective.

“I don’t ever plan on going to a track and running the wall and hitting the wall; but it happened more than a few times earlier this year. So just try and learn from the mistakes that I made to get me into the wall, and maybe the positions that I got put in that I overstepped the line and got into the wall. Just try to be more aware and not put our car in harm’s way.”

Perhaps the concern for Larson’s high line ways was born out of his entertaining but breathtaking driving during the Kansas spring race. Larson had one of the cars to beat but found himself battling more than a familiar foe.

The old, dreaded aero push reared its ugly head for Larson in his pursuit of a second Kansas Cup win.

“There were a couple of times when Kurt (Busch) and I were racing that where he positioned his car had an effect on me,” he recalled. “I had kind of known that up to that point, but it was very apparent that what I was feeling was a thing. Every single driver in the field has learned a lot about aero and the differences around cars compared to last season or other seasons in the past.

“I think each week that you go on; you put yourself in better spots because of it and not put yourself in bad situations that you have in the past. Going back to Kansas (Speedway) this week, all that stuff will be on my mind like it is every week, and hopefully me being better prepared will keep me away from making any mistakes like I did last time.”

Preparation and a cool headed leader in crew chief Cliff Daniels proves to be a potent combination for Larson during most race weekends. Last weekend, his veteran presence seemed to pay dividends especially with the mysterious mechanical issues in the early going at Darlington.

Larson makes it clear that he is as driven as can be even when the pressure ramps up on race day. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

Larson makes it clear that he is as driven as can be even when the pressure ramps up on race day. (Photo: Mike Moore | The Podium Finish)

“Cliff has had a very competitive upbringing through his childhood; through racing and sports,” he shared. “And then yes, I think him being with Chad Knaus on the leadership side of it and the crew chief role, I think all of those together has molded him into a great crew chief. I love having him on top of our pit box, especially for situations like we’ve been put in like this past Sunday, as well as what feels like many other times this year and even some races last year with how he keeps everyone calm.

“He’s very direct with the questions that he asks, the answers that he gives and the picture that he paints. I think it’s just the way he’s wired. He’s very good at keeping everyone calm and leading the team; to follow his lead to be focused and not too down or depressed and let your mind wander.”

Daniels’ levelheaded mindset along with Larson’s shrewd driving and the No. 5’s talented crew continually prove why they are among the best in the Cup Series. Sure, last Sunday night’s scoreboard showed the combination placing 12th and without any stage points.

However, overcoming adversities can prove as meaningful as dominating and earning wins in the Playoffs. Starting seventh for the second consecutive week, Larson intends to give it his best and with an equally determined effort as the man atop his team’s pit box.

“I know sometimes, like when things aren’t going well for me, I might sound negative and mopey on the radio,” he observed. “But inside the helmet, inside the car; I’m just as driven as he is to get ourselves out of that situation. I never give up with or without words of encouragement from him.

“I don’t know if it gives me any more desire or that 10 percent; it just kind of refocuses me a little bit quicker and allows me to focus on trying to get the best finish that I can.”

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 Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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