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Kyle Larson Drives from 36th to Bristol Runner-Up

Kyle Larson shares his thoughts with the press following a runner-up at Bristol. (Photo: Kyle Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Despite a subpar qualifying effort on Friday evening, Kyle Larson had the pace and power to contend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

After getting a bit greedy for maximum grip on the bottom lane, Larson only had one way to go in the field of 36 – up. Starting 36th in last Saturday evening’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol, Larson’s climb started off a bit slowly.

Larson drove his No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 from 36th to 24th in the opening 70 laps. Following a frontstretch accident involving Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger on Lap 70, multiple lead lap contenders, including Larson, pitted for tires and fuel.

However, Larson inadvertently ran over his team’s equipment on pit road, forcing him to restart toward the rear of the field on Lap 77. Save for a caution period for precipitation between Laps 107 to 113, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion worked his way up to a eighth place finish in Stage 1.

Despite being on older tires than those around him, Larson managed to take the lead on Lap 180, passing pole sitter Christopher Bell in the process. It was a short, 20-lap stint for the Elk Grove, California native, relinquishing the lead to Bell despite his best defensive driving efforts.

Still, Larson remained in the top three for the remainder of the race as he tallied a third place finish in Stage 2. Tallying 11 stage points in the process, the Hendrick Motorsports racer set his sights on pursuing leader Denny Hamlin in the final stage.

It was a hard fought battle for Kyle Larson at Bristol. (Photo: Kyle Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

At times, Larson seemed to have the short run pace to keep within shouting distance of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. As the race progressed to the final 132 laps, the 2021 Bass Pro Shops Night Race winner was unable to close the gap to Hamlin.

Nevertheless, Larson rallied from his 36th starting position to score a runner-up result. Likewise, he logged the best average finish of all the 16 Playoffs racers, 2.33, upping his season average finish to 14.6.

All things considered, Larson’s result proved impressive considering the hard work put to score a podium finish.

“I’m definitely happy to finish second,” Larson said. The race went a lot better than I thought it would. Thankfully, the No. 1 (Ross Chastain) and the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) went a lap down.

“They were pitted behind me and in front of me, and had they been on the same lap as us, that would have been very difficult for all of us. So got fortunate there, which made pit stops much easier.”

Throughout the 500-lap race, Larson’s over-the-wall pit crew delivered with stops consistently within the 9-second range. Along the way, crew chief Cliff Daniels and the No. 5 team dialed Larson’s ride in competitive fashion.

Impressively, Kyle Larson tallied a Round of 16 best average finish of 2.33. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

“Our No. 5 Valvoline Chevy was good, too,” he said. “I feel like we had the second-best car and we finished second with it. We just didn’t have the pace that Denny had.

“He was really, really fast and got through traffic really well. I thought maybe his balance was fading when we got to traffic, but as soon as he got clear of them, he took back off.”

Although Larson came up a position short, he scored six more Playoff points in the Round of 16. Moving from sixth to fourth in the Round of 12 re-seeded points standings, the 22-time Cup race winner hopes to return to Victory Lane as early as this coming weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

For now, he points out the areas of improvements needed to truly challenge Hamlin for another sword and victory at the 0.533-mile concrete arena.

“Just didn’t quite have the balance that I needed to really charge through the corners and be aggressive on the throttle and exit,” Larson said. “We made it better on that final run, but just not quite enough.”

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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