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Kyle Larson Ready for Las Vegas Battle

Kyle Larson is all focused on winning Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

LAS VEGAS — Kyle Larson likely circled Las Vegas Motor Speedway on his calendar long before this Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 race weekend.

In 15 career starts, the 31-year-old Elk Grove, California, native has two wins, including last fall’s South Point 400, seven total top fives and 11 top 10s. Beyond those prior efforts, Larson has been a “Sin City” pro in his past six starts, which all coincide with him joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2021.

Even when considering the 2022 South Point 400 tangle with Bubba Wallace, Larson has finished 10th or better in five of those six starts. Larson’s average finish is a staggering 7.5, which alone, gives a driver like the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion a lot of confidence for the 267-lap race.

Last year, Larson could have swept the Las Vegas races. Despite William Byron’s dominant performance in the Pennzoil 400, Larson led 63 laps and seemingly in command of his first win of the season.

However, Aric Almirola’s Turn 4 spin on Lap 265 resulted in a late race potpourri of strategies. As Larson led the field down pit road, Martin Truex Jr. opted to stay out to snooker the lead lap contenders.

Then again, Larson had a rocket ship and nearly got the job done, bested by Byron, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, by 0.622 seconds.

In the fall, Larson started second and quickly took the lead on Lap 2 for the first of seven stints at the front of the pack. Leading 133 of 267 laps, not even a Turn 2 wall brush stopped him from having a perfect race.

Upon reflection, Larson considered the motivating victory at the 1.5-mile track last October and how it connected with his successful tenure, thus far, with Hendrick Motorsports.

Kyle Larson has been Jeff Gordon at Dover good when it comes to racing at Las Vegas. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

“It was a close one last fall, but it was cool to hang on to win and earn a place in the Championship 4,” Larson said in a team press release. “Another great moment was getting that first win (at Hendrick Motorsports) with the 5 team (in 2021) – with the paint scheme that honors Ricky (Hendrick).

“We’ve run well at Las Vegas (Motor Speedway), won stages and races, so it’s definitely a track I look forward to racing at.”

All things considered, Larson, who ranks 11th ahead of Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas, is in decent shape after placing 11th at Daytona and 32nd, due to a crash, at Atlanta. In both races, the usually reserved racer, at least with drafting-style tracks, asserted himself toward the front of the pack.

This was not lost upon Cliff Daniels, Kyle Larson’s crew chief, prior to the Las Vegas race weekend.

“Our team process and execution at Daytona and Atlanta were good – although the results aren’t there on paper – and going to Vegas is another good test of that,” Daniels explained in a team press release. “When we look at the race last October, yeah, we had a good car but there were one or two cars that were better than us that we need to close the gap on – especially on the long runs.

“The track conditions are going to be different, but we know we have to take a step to get better and hopefully, we have addressed that.”

Posting the eighth fastest time in Saturday’s practice round, Larson was the fastest overall in five-lap, 10-lap, and 15-lap consecutive runs. Essentially, the No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is fast no matter the kind of conditions, even with the winds of change, literally and figuratively.

“It’s a new season,” Larson said. “Conditions are a lot different than last year. Ford and Toyota have a different car. I don’t really know what to expect. I expect that we’ll be fast.

“I don’t know where we’ll be in the order of the cars, but you hope that with being with a great team like Hendrick Motorsports, that you’re gonna be good everywhere. With our past success at Vegas, yea, I think we’ll be good. Will we be the dominant team? I don’t know. We’ll find out.”

Kyle Larson clambers into his No. 5 car with crew chief Cliff Daniels surveying the scenes at Las Vegas. (Photo: Myk Crawford | The Podium Finish)

Like an Apple user upgrading from an iPhone 12 Pro Max to an iPhone 15 Pro Max, Larson is finding his experiences at Las Vegas to be smooth. When it comes to his success at this venerable track, Larson points to his team’s preparation with high-quality setups and navigating those distinct bumps in the first two corners.

Maybe those will be what it takes for Larson and company to get over a slight bump or two from the start of the season.

“For me, their setups are really good here, it gets through the bumps really well in (Turns) 1 and 2,” Larson explained. “Compared to when I was at Ganassi, not that I struggled here, but I struggled getting through the bumps. The bumps felt massive with Ganassi. With Hendrick, it feels mostly pretty smooth over there.

“They’ve got a really good package for that and it allows you to carry a lot of speed. We ran inside the top 10 every time except the one where we crashed a couple of years ago. So, it’s definitely been a good track.”

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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