LOS ANGELES – While Sunday evening’s Busch Light Clash is an exhibition race, Kyle Larson understands the importance of treating this event like a pivotal dress rehearsal for a new NASCAR season.
Last year, Larson was in the mix for the win after respectable showings in qualifying and heat race. As the 2021 Cup champion hovered inside the top five in the final 35 laps, he tangled with Justin Haley on the frontstretch.
Although Larson emerged relatively unscathed, Haley crashed into the inside retaining barrier, curtailing his afternoon to a disappointing 19th place result.
Meanwhile, Larson, who started from the eighth position, held on for a fifth place result.
The incident was a microcosm of Larson’s 2022 season. Despite three victories and a seventh place points finish, the driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro committed some unforced errors that derailed his race weekends.
Prior to qualifying 10th overall and third in the second qualifying heat race, Larson offered a glimpse into his mindset and approach for the first races of this season.
“I think it’s always important to start the year off strong,” Larson said. “There’s been years where I’ve struggled the first year, and kind of like you’re digging yourself out of a hole from the very beginning.
“Although it’s a long season, it’s definitely important to get off to a good start and shape the scope of your season and how you prepare for each race, and how you call each race. The goal is to win every race, but early in the year, you want to finish to get off on the right foot.”
Larson can take inspiration from Joey Logano, the defending Clash winner. Logano parlayed his Los Angeles victory with four points paying wins and his second Cup championship.
Beyond winning in front of new fans and the celebrities, Larson understands the importance of racing in a big sports market like Los Angeles.
“I think this is a great location for a race,” he said. “It’s good to introduce our sport to (fans), and hopefully get some fans out of it. I thought last year’s event was amazing. I thought NASCAR and everybody did a great job pulling it off.
“The show aspect of it, too, was really good. Glad to have it back again for a second year. There’s a lot of things I’m sure NASCAR could learn from and apply to this year. I’m excited to get on track in a little bit and see a good show.”
Much like the drivers, NASCAR gained valuable experience that has been applied into this year’s race. In their case, the sanctioning body has input and knowledge on perfecting a short track race inside a venerable football arena like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
As for Larson, especially with NASCAR’s 75th anniversary season kicking off this month, he cherishes the significance and magnitude of a historical race elevating into a blend of entertainment and gritty stock car event during a primetime setting.
“I thought last year was amazing,” Larson said in a team press release. “NASCAR and everyone else involved did a great job building the track, making it proper for racing, creating excitement around the event and making it fun for fans.
“It was great to be a part of that historical event. I’m happy that we’re able to come back and put on another great show. I’m sure that it will be even better than the inaugural race was.”