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Kyle Larson Hopeful About DAYTONA 500 Chances

Kyle Larson hopes to overcome his DAYTONA 500 debacle in 2024. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Larson still has plenty of chances to win a DAYTONA 500 before his NASCAR Cup Series career concludes. At age 31, the Elk Grove, California, native has showcased his abilities to run toward the front in “The Great American Race.”

However, like stock car greats such as Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip, Larson has endured frustrating results. Typically, the 2021 Cup champion is collected in late race accidents while running toward the front of the pack.

Last year, Larson was in a three wide battle in a pitched duel for the win before contact in Turns 1 and 2 sent him head onto the wall, winding up with a DNF in 18th place. Then again, luck may be on his side following Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duel No. 1.

On the final lap, Larson ran toward the front of the pack before getting loose between Turns 3 and 4 with Alex Bowman, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, behind him. Washing up the track, the 23-time Cup race winner finished ninth, resulting in a 17th starting position for Sunday’s DAYTONA 500.

Despite the less than ideal result, the 12th-year Cup racer looked at the bright side of his performance and effort.

Kyle Larson has a car capable of leading the pack in this year’s DAYTONA 500. (Photo: Jared Bokanoski | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, I felt really good about my car,” Larson said. “I haven’t seen the replay… I don’t think Alex (Bowman) touched me, but he got really close and it took the air off the back. I got sideways in the corner and thankfully was able to save it.

“Just bummed that I wasn’t able to finish up front. That sucks, but our No. 5 Chevy was fast, and I think we learned a lot. Honestly, every move we made was good, it just didn’t work out again. So, yeah, learned a lot and we will take it to Sunday.”

The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 knows the execution is there with his team led by crew chief Cliff Daniels. Mainly, it comes down to those split second decisions on positioning for an opportunity to win in those antsy packs.

“I think I feel like we do a good job, for one,” he said. “I think looking at the results on paper, we suck. Yeah, I really feel like I’m just like a small decision away from making the right move and putting myself in the right spot there at the very end.

“I feel like I do a good job of getting us to that point where so many times on the final restart we’re lined up on the first, second row, then I finish 28th, DNF, crashed, end up in the care center. Every circumstance is different, right? I feel like we’re not far off from being really successful here. Just got to keep getting after it.”

For all the talk about Larson not feeling too connected with winning NASCAR’s biggest event, he immediately squashed such notions during Wednesday’s DAYTONA 500 Media Day.

“No, no. I mean, I try every year, so…,” Larson began to say. “I mean, obviously I want to win this race really bad, just as bad as everybody does here on the property. Yeah, I’ve always accomplished a lot of good things in my career. I’m not anywhere close to being done. Whenever I am done, if I haven’t won this race, I don’t think I’m going to lose sleep at night.

“So, yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I love coming here. I love trying to win it. You want to win the big ones. It doesn’t get any bigger than this one for the NASCAR schedule. We’ll keep trying.”

Perhaps in response to an offseason interview in which Larson shared his thoughts on his future, the versatile racer wants to succeed in a stock car. Mainly, the return of a crown jewel race has him motivated to succeed and add to his trophy mantle.

Perhaps Kyle Larson is heeding Richard Petty’s advice of putting one self in a position win and letting circumstances dictating the outcome. (Photo: Jared Bokanoski | The Podium Finish)

“I think for my NASCAR career, I want to win a lot more races,” he said. “I’ve only won 20-ish races. So yeah, I want to win a lot more of ’em. I want to win the big ones, as well. I’ve been fortunate to win a lot of big ones. The Daytona 500, now that we’re going back to the Brickyard 400, those are the two that for me are next that I want to win.

“Hopefully, I feel like this is a great opportunity for us this weekend and would be amazing to win the Daytona 500, get the opportunity again to race at the Brickyard 400 later in year and try to win that one. The good thing with Hendrick Motorsports is you know you’re going to have a good shot to win every time you show up at the track.”

Ahead of this year’s “Great American Race,” as the case with most weekends, Larson reviewed tape of his prior efforts at Daytona International Speedway. Mainly, he considered some of the important intangibles to succeed in a superspeedway race.

“How lanes form and lose momentum and how to recognize that through not only your eyes, but your spotter on the roof,” Larson said. “Every time, it’s a little bit different. Even Daytona versus Talladega is a little bit different with how the runs stay formed or get formed. You’re always learning and evolving throughout the race.”

For most individuals in Larson’s shoes, second guessing may be an understandable response to such trying outcomes. Although such a notion is understandable, last season’s runner-up does not intend to change the course.

No doubt, Kyle Larson tries to balance aggression with poise especially in the DAYTONA 500. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish)

“No, not really. Honestly, I feel we do a good job at these. We happen to get caught up in stuff at the very end of the race,” he said. “We’re usually in position, but it just hasn’t worked out for us. I don’t think we can lose sight of that and change our plan that we’ve had for the last few years.”

Eventually, Larson will earn his stripes as a genuine frontrunner at the superspeedways like Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin in their latter years of their career. For now, he does have advice for his 21-year-old self back in 2014.

“Oh, I don’t know. I hit the wall here on Lap 1,” Larson said with a chuckle. “I don’t know. Just soak it in, which I feel like I did back then. I don’t know what I’d tell myself differently. Don’t be as aggressive.”

Editor’s Notes

Jared Bokanoski contributed to this article directly on site from Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.

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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