Following a workmanlike seventh at Michigan, Kyle Larson rolls into Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (3 p.m. ET on USA) with confidence and determination.
Prior to a successful qualifying session at Saturday afternoon, Larson observed some of the challenges with racing at the 0.75-mile short track.
“What makes Richmond so difficult is the slow pace and the tires fall off quite a bit with the Next Gen car,” Larson said in a team press release. “It was difficult to pass earlier this year. Qualifying will be important and just taking care of your rear tires on a long run will be key.”
Despite some of the obstacles that he and his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro team faced in the spring, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion made some noise.
Notably, Larson started 21st and tallied a respectable fifth in the spring Richmond race. After the hard fought top five finish in April, Larson’s crew chief, Cliff Daniels, discussed his team’s progress with their short track efforts.
“We’ve upgraded our short track program a lot,” Daniels said in a team press release. “Our cars were OK at Richmond. We weren’t great. We certainly weren’t that good at Gateway.
“We really did a lot of work to get better for New Hampshire. We did not execute a good race at New Hampshire but we had a lot of car speed and the car had a lot of potential.”
By all means, Daniels’ belief with his team’s hard work holds water particularly after Larson’s pole winning run in qualifying. With a hot lap of 117.177 mph, the Elk Grove, California native tallied his third pole of the 2022 season.
In seemingly appropriate Larson fashion, the pole winning run looked like a sprint car run on a dirt track, particularly with a moment in Turn 1.
“Even though I got into (Turn) 1 too hard and a little bit sideways, I am imagining that is where I made up my time,” Larson said after winning his 13th career Cup pole. “Just getting in really deep and I think getting it under control before I got to the exit is probably where I made up the lap time.
“I don’t know though, it could be three and four. Who knows. But I felt like I got in deep, too deep for sure, but it worked out.”
Sometimes, it’s all about skills and a cool disposition in the hot stove. Despite the moment in Turn 1, Larson felt confident in his final qualifying round lap before Daniels radioed his time past the stripe.
“I definitely got in there a little too hot and got loose but I felt like I got through the center and off okay and made a decent three four was hoping to see something better than a teen on my dash and saw the flat and knew that was that was good enough. So happy!” he observed.
Interestingly, Larson notched his first pole by merit at Richmond since the 2014 spring race, a somewhat inglorious moment when the young racer and Clint Bowyer tangled in Turn 1.
This time, Larson, with wins and a championship in his belt, has a team that can rebound quickly from a less than ideal practice round.
“It’s cool to get a pole here at Richmond,” he noted. “I was not expecting to do that. I didn’t feel very good and practice so very happy with the hard work that everybody’s been putting in on our on our Chevys. Thanks everybody Hendrick Motorsports and HendrickCars.com, Hendrick Automotive Group. So yeah, cool to get a pole.”
Although Larson has the pole, he possesses confidence particularly after rallying to a sixth place result in Saturday night’s Knoxville Nationals. Prior to his eventful race in at the 0.5-mile dirt track, he notes two intangibles that cannot be dismissed.
“Yeah, always anytime you’re good at anything. It helps momentum and confidence.”