After a sterling 35 race season, Kyle Larson sets his sights on the NASCAR Cup Series championship, the ultimate stock car prize.
With nine wins, 19 top fives and 25 top 10 finishes, Larson compiled numbers that seem worthy of a Cup champion. However, Larson is the first to attribute his success not only with his incredible talents but the man leading the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro.
Like many Hendrick Motorsports greats, Larson enjoys his best year in Cup yet thanks to crew chief Cliff Daniels. Additionally, he’s cherished the traits from his motivated team leader.
“He’s a really intense person, crew chief, really competitive,” Larson said during Thursday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 Media Day availability. “But his leadership skills are really good. I feel like the way he leads our team, his communication, is amazing.
“He’s just great at what he does. I’m very fortunate to be together with him. Our relationship has gone even better than I thought it would before the season started.”
When Larson made his maiden start with the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team in the Daytona 500, he survived last lap mayhem with a 10th place result. Following a late race incident at the Daytona ROVAL, Larson showcased some his early race dominance before placing fourth at Homestead-Miami.
Save for nine races this year, Larson has finished 10th or better. Incredibly, Larson has led 2,474 laps, the most laps led in a 36 race schedule.
Throughout this season, Larson has been nearly as unbeatable as Jeff Gordon during his heydays in NASCAR. Beyond his sparkling statistics this year, the 29-year-old Elk Grove, California native finds inspiration particularly with the No. 5’s familiar colors throwing back to the late Ricky Hendrick.
“It’s cool,” Larson shared. “I think just racing the car in general for Mr. H, what that paint scheme and number means to him, it means a lot to me for him to kind of have that trust in me to carry it on. Had a lot of success with it this year, have ourselves positioned in a good spot to chase the championship.
“Would have loved to put that car and that paint scheme with HendrickCars.com on it in victory lane more often throughout the rest of the year, especially in Phoenix.”
Surely, Larson will get another chance at the checkered flag during this Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race. Interestingly, the Californian recalled his accolades in NASCAR’s ladder series when asked about his evolution with the NASCAR Next class.
“Yeah, I look back on that little era of drivers that I raced with in 2012 in the K&N East Series, look at how many of us are in the Cup Series now,” he said. “It’s really cool. So, yeah, it’s just neat to be a part of that, be one of the guys that they noticed early on that we had potential. Now, we’re here chasing championships and stuff.”
There are some who express concern about the championship decided in a one race clash pitting the Championship 4 versus a battle over the course of a season. Then again, Larson, while candid and somewhat outspoken, is as motivated and cool as can be ahead of this weekend’s season finale.
Following years of relatively respectable seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 team, Larson has showcased that he’s more than a reliable top 10 points finisher. He is ready to be a staying power in stock car racing.
Above all else, Larson wants to win the championship not only for himself but others who’ve been by his side. If all goes well for the ninth year Cup racer, he’ll make history for as the first Asian American to win NASCAR’s biggest prize of all.
“It would definitely mean a lot,” Larson offered. “I feel like if I could win, this is almost as close to home as it gets for me. I’ve got a lot of friends coming, my family, my parents, my sister, my kids, my wife, a lot of my best friends are coming to the race, a lot of sponsors from my dirt side of things are going to be here.
“Personally, yes, it would mean even more I think to win it here. Yeah, too, for the Asian community, that would be something to be proud of. Yeah, it would be really neat.”
Luis Torres contributed to this feature with reactions from Kyle Larson during Thursday’s NASCAR Cup Series’ Championship 4 Media Day availability.