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Kyle Larson Ready for Championship Clash

Without a doubt, Kyle Larson expressed confidence ahead of Sunday's championship race. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Without a doubt, Kyle Larson expressed confidence ahead of Sunday’s championship race. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

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.

"Our relationship has gone even better than I thought it would before the season started." - Larson on crew chief Cliff Daniels' work ethic (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“Our relationship has gone even better than I thought it would before the season started.” – Larson on crew chief Cliff Daniels’ work ethic (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“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.

Teamwork makes the dream work. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Teamwork makes the dream work. (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“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.

Larson's been a cool customer while sitting on the hot seat. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

Larson’s been a cool customer while sitting on the hot seat. (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish)

“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.

Might Larson save the best for last with his No. 5 team? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

Might Larson save the best for last with his No. 5 team? (Photo: Sean Folsom | The Podium Finish)

“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.”

Editor’s Notes

Luis Torres contributed to this feature with reactions from Kyle Larson during Thursday’s NASCAR Cup Series’ Championship 4 Media Day availability.

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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