After frustrating race weekends at Gateway and Sonoma, Kyle Larson righted the ship with a fourth at Nashville Superspeedway.
It wasn’t a memorable, winning weekend for Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro team. No, it didn’t net additional Playoff points for the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion.
However, it showcased the mettle and might of Larson and his team, particularly with finishes of 12th and 15th in the past two weeks.
Rolling off the grid in third, Larson seemed to be biding his time by nabbing a sixth place finish in stage 1.
Once stage 2 was underway, Larson had some handling issues and poor track position resulting from a pit road penalty. When rain besieged the Lebanon, Tennessee track for over two hours, the defending Ally 400 race winner found himself outside of the top 20.
A well timed, strategic pit stop, with interim crew chief, Kevin Meendering, at the helm in place of the suspended Cliff Daniels, unlocked the No. 5’s hidden pace.
As stage 2 came to a close, Larson netted a sixth place finish, earning 10 overall stage points, a remarkable feat considering how off the No. 5 car in pace and handling.
“It was definitely better once the sun went down,” Larson said. “I don’t know whatever changes they made to it, so proud of my guys for working hard and persevering.”
In the final stage, Larson, who was inside the top five, pitted for tires and fuel when a caution came out inside the final 45 laps. Larson went a lap down before taking the wave around, resulting in another drive through the field scenario.
Working his way up to ninth before the final caution flag of the evening, Larson and his team gambled for track position over fresh tires.
At last, an aggressive call worked in their favor as they crossed the stripe in fourth.
“Didn’t have a lot of things work out for us there as we got caught a lap down,” he recalled. “We had to take the wave around and drove from twenty-something to 10th there before the last caution. We stayed out and netted out a top-five.”
Although Larson did not win another Les Gibson electric guitar, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott, ensured that their juggernaut team remained the only winning Cup organization at Nashville.
“So proud of my No. 5 HendrickCars.com team and proud of Chase Elliott too,” he said. “That’s great for Hendrick Motorsports and everybody there. Everybody has been working hard and trying to figure out how to go faster and they were definitely the best of the four of us all weekend. Cool to see that he closed it out.”
Perhaps the rain delay benefitted Larson and his team, particularly with having some valuable time to collaborate remotely and virtually with Daniels.
“Yeah, all of us were virtually on together in the hauler and tapped into where he was, and we can talk,” he shared. “Adam and Kevin did a great job this weekend in leading this team. As far as Cliff, it really shows you how well he has prepared our team to face moments like we will these next four weeks.”
With a fourth place finish at Nashville in the books, Larson can look ahead to the races at Road America, Atlanta and New Hampshire. If the Music City weekend was any indication, it should be business as usual for Yung Money and the No. 5 team.
“Everything, I think, ran really smooth,” Larson said. “I am not sure how it went behind the wall with the crew and stuff, but from my seat it seemed like it went pretty smooth. I am sure there will be things we will tweak on and make even smoother, but I was overall pleased for the first time in my Cup career without my primary crew chief.”