For a driver who dominated and won last year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship, Kyle Larson lives in the present.
Sure, the 29-year-old Elk Grove, California native compiled a season for the ages, leading 2,581 lap, tallying 10 wins, 20 top fives and 26 top 10s, good enough for an average finish of 9.1. Without a doubt, Larson put on a season similar to legends like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
Although the 2022 season has some inconsistent moments, the reigning Cup champion appreciates his current opportunity while reflecting on his former Cup team fielded by Chip Ganassi from 2014 to 2020.
“I don’t really think too often about it,” Larson said. “But yeah, I’m in a great situation with Hendrick Motorsports. And I’m proud of the years that I have at Ganassi to being the driver that I am today. And last year was great. This year, we’re starting to get into a rhythm. So yeah, just keep trying to build on the runs, and hopefully get another win here shortly.”
Kicking off the season with a crash induced 32nd, Larson won at Fontana and placed second at Las Vegas. However, “Yung Money” finished 34th due to an engine failure at Phoenix, 30th due to a crash at Atlanta and 29th due to a late race accident at COTA in Austin, Texas.
Losing the points lead and dropping to a season low 16th, other than tallying a 19th at Martinsville, Larson has finished fifth or better in three of the past four races. As a result, Larson has worked his way up to seventh, 69 markers behind points leader, Chase Elliott, his Hendrick teammate.
Without a doubt, Larson and his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy team are righting their ship. Considering the tough stretch in March, Larson is a few positions better than his ranking at this time last year.
Still, even a driver like Larson will take advantage of any opportunity to strengthen his efforts as the reigning Cup champion. Later this year, Larson will race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports’ No. 88 HendrickCars.com Chevy entry at Watkins Glen International and Darlington.
Naturally, Larson, who loves motorsports, appreciates the chance to race in the competitive Xfinity Series in efforts to acclimate for the challenging, grueling Cup race weeknds.
“I couldn’t even tell you the last time I ran an Xfinity race,” he observed. “So yeah, I’m excited to get out there. I felt like at COTA, I felt like the guys who did double duty kind of had the upper hand until probably at least the first stage of the Cup race.
“So I felt like it’s a good opportunity to just get familiar even though we’ve raced a lot of these tracks, just get up to speed and get your visual stuff together. So, that’s why I wanted to run a couple, with the road course and then at Darlington.”
Before Larson returns to the Xfinity Series, he’s got a monster of a task awaiting him as he looks to conquer “The Monster Mile.” Sunday’s DuraMax Drydene 400 has traditionally treated the Californian kindly considering his third place result in 2019 and runner-up last spring.
In Larson’s past three starts, he’s logged finishes of third or better and led 417 of the 1,200 possible laps, or about 34.75% of the laps run between 2019 to 2021. Surely, the versatile racer has a great understanding of Dover Motor Speedway as he leads all active drivers with an average finish of 7.0.
Qualifying third and with one of the fastest cars in a long, green flag run, Larson and his unmistakable No. 5 car have the makings to contend for the win. Outside of a great winning opportunity at Dover, he’s creating winning moments with his outreach efforts in the past two years.
“Yeah, it’s great,” he said. “It’s always nice to feel like you’re doing a part to do good things out the community. So, over the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve done quite a bit.
“So I’ve enjoyed it. And, you know, I made a lot of new relationships through doing different outreaches and stuff. So yeah, it’s been good to, like I said, it just makes you feel good to do good things for others.”
One of those outreach programs includes the Urban Youth Racing School from Philadelphia. Beyond the possibilities of winning his second Dover race of his career, the 10 year Cup racer appreciates his support system, on and off the track.
“I’ve been able to grow my relationship with Urban Youth Racing School over the last few years now,” he shared. “And I’m excited because Anthony and Michelle [Martin], they’ll be here with a big group of people this weekend. So it’s good to see them.
“I see them every couple months. So, it’s nice that they’re they’re getting to come and get to spend more time with them.”
Perhaps Larson will spend some time with them in victory lane, especially if his car’s great pace carries over for Sunday’s 400 lapper at Dover along with the patented solid, teamwork from his No. 5 team.
Nathan Solomon and Courtney Horn contributed to this report respectively from Dover, Delaware and Talladega, Alabama.