Connect with us

NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Larson Looks to Defend Richmond Win, Secures Pole

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson consults with crew chief Cliff Daniels before winning the pole for Sunday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond. (Photo: Daniel Rankin | The Podium Finish)

RICHMOND, Va. — For a driver who does not believe that Richmond Raceway suits his driving style, Kyle Larson took to the track with a quiet but measurable sense of confidence.

Then again, for a driver who prefers to do his talking behind the wheel, he was fast off the hauler on Saturday ahead of the Toyota Owners 400. Posting the fastest time in practice and fifth fastest 10-lap consecutive average, Larson advanced to the final qualifying round by being the third quickest in Group A’s session.

Although Larson lost 0.08 seconds in the final qualifying round to his initial Group A efforts, it was good enough for his 17th career NASCAR Cup Series pole and second overall at Richmond.

Naturally, Larson downplayed his expectations for a victory. Rather, he expressed belief in his team and their abilities to be a catalyst come Sunday night.

“Well it helps the confidence, for sure,” Larson said. “So yeah, I mean, practice went well and qualifying went good. I’m not expecting to win, but I think we have a No. 5 Chevy capable of contending. We have a pit stall to go along with it now, which helps. Just need to execute a good race and see where the results end up.”

As Larson and his peers adjust to this year’s short track and road course package, the Elk Grove, California, native has yet to finish in the top 10 in these types of races. Placing 14th at Phoenix, the 2021 Cup champion finished 17th at Circuit of the Americas last Sunday.

While Larson pursues pace and performance, it may be a bit surprising that he did not fully recall Richmond as the third race in the new package, the second on a short track oval.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson worked his way around Joey Logano during Saturday’s practice session for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond. (Photo: Daniel Rankin | The Podium Finish)

“Honestly, I’ve kind of forgotten that we had a different package,” he said. “I’d have to think about it a little bit more. I don’t know.. nothing really stood out to me. I passed (Joey) Logano. I think that was about it.

“I just kind of moved up and got out of his wake, so I never really followed anybody, necessarily, in the same tracks. So, I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll learn more when we get to racing.”

For the first time since Sept. 11, 2021, Larson and the Cup field will take to Richmond, going from dusk to nightfall in the 400-lap race. Despite it coming with a different iteration of the Cup car, Larson drove from the rear of the field to place sixth.

Based on Larson’s comments with Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions, handling and tire management will be key toward contending or pretending on Sunday night.

“No, I mean you always feel it here,” Larson observed. “I was surprised to start practice – which I was in Group A, but the grip was really high for 10 to 12 laps. And then it kind of got to a normal state, where yeah – you could spin your tires really easy. Your entry got really loose.

“So it turned into normal Richmond. But yeah, I think the pace – I don’t know what the pace will do. It’s been awhile since we’ve raced here at night. I would assume it would be a little bit quicker on the short run, but then fall off to a similar spot. We’ll see.”

Similar to racing at a place like Darlington Raceway, Larson considered how Richmond is about discipline and focusing on himself and his team versus the big picture  — the competition.

Kyle Larson

Although Richmond has not been Kyle Larson’s strongest track, he’s been fast off the truck twice in the past three years. (Photo: Daniel Rankin | The Podium Finish)

“I think, honestly, just try and focus on yourself, and focus on trying to put together the best race possible for you and your team,” Larson stated. “Yeah, we’re quick every weekend, which is great. But yeah, I think because of that, you’re not really losing too much focus.”

Before taking on the abrasive, 0.75-mile short track, Larson, the defending spring winner, anticipated a fresh slate with his unmistakable No. 5 car.

“It’s a tough place for me, so I don’t ever really come here with the highest of expectations.. more so just because of me,” he admitted. “Talking to my team and stuff – we won the spring race, but we were really bad in the fall race. So I think we’ve come here with a much different approach for car setup.

“I’m just excited to get on track in practice and feel if it translates and if we’re really quick or not. And then kind of evaluate from there and set goals for the race. As of right now, I just don’t know what to expect. But I’m excited for the challenge and ready to get going.”

Unlike most Cup teams, Larson’s No. 5 team has relatively remained intact. With little turnover in personnel, it is evident that Larson and his team have developed a strong bond since 2021.

Kyle Larson

Kyle Larson fist pumps his No. 5 team after winning the pole for Sunday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond. (Photo: Daniel Rankin | The Podium Finsih)

“As far as our team, it hasn’t really changed too much since I got there four years ago,” he observed. “We’ve had a couple of guys come and go, but overall, our team has been pretty much the same since I started there. The pit crew, there’s only one guy different. And then on our team, I think there’s two or three guys now that have changed.”

Above all else, Larson sang his praises for the man atop his team’s pit box. Typically steely-eyed on race weekends, this individual motivates and keeps his team on an even keel.

“Cliff Daniels, my crew chief, and the leader of the team – he does a great job of assembling people and leading our team,” Larson said. “I feel like our communication is great within the team, especially during the race. Every team is trying to improve every week.

“Look at how you did, whether it be good or bad from the race before, and try to improve on it. That’s our goal every week, and sometimes that looks different week-to-week on what needs to be improved. But I feel like our team knows the areas to work on.”

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.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in NASCAR Cup Series