Connect with us

NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Larson Seeks Birthday Victory at Indy

Kyle Larson rounds his way around Indianapolis. (Photo: Maddie Skidan | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson rounds his way around Indianapolis. (Photo: Maddie Skidan | The Podium Finish)

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – If age 29 treated Kyle Larson kindly, he’s hoping 30 is as rewarding. After all, Larson’s milestone birthday coincides with Sunday’s Verizon 200 at Indianapolis (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

However, Larson will have his work cut out for him at the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. Notably, Larson will start 22nd, his second worst qualifying effort of the season.

While Larson turned in his worst qualifying effort on a road course since joining Hendrick Motorsports last year, he has reasons to be optimistic.

"It's gonna be a stretch. But anything's possible." - Kyle Larson (Photo: Cayden Rush | The Podium Finish)

“It’s gonna be a stretch. But anything’s possible.” – Kyle Larson (Photo: Cayden Rush | The Podium Finish)

“It’s gonna be a stretch for sure,” Larson said. “But I mean, anything can happen. So obviously, yeah, it’d be great to win on your birthday, and celebrate a win here in Indy and get to stay here all week like I am. It would be fun to not be in a hurry to get out of the track or anything like that.

“And I have a lot of friends here and gonna have dinner with everybody Sunday night. So it would be… it’d be awesome to be celebrating a win as well on your birthday. But I think we’re a ways away from that with me not laying out a good lap in qualifying.”

If Larson can find inspiration with his subpar qualifying effort, he can turn to Jeff Gordon’s 2001 Indianapolis race weekend. Sure, Gordon started 27th on the familiar oval, or rectangular, layout, but he garnered an improbable third Brickyard 400 win.

Much like Gordon in 2001, Larson understands the tough work ahead of Sunday’s race, particularly with the car’s setup and performance.

“I think just grip really,” he observed. “I felt like this was a place that suited me when I was here last year. No elevation, pretty fast pace, and I had high hopes coming here. But I think my car is just a little bit off so I feel like to try and carry a little bit and just made a lot of mistakes there in qualifying. So just got to do better.”

Larson has some solace with his 22nd starting position, especially with his teammate, Chase Elliott, starting eighth. Additionally, road course racing lends itself to unique pit strategies for maximum track position particularly with short pitting.

Crew chief Cliff Daniels acknowledged this ageless tactic prior to Sunday’s race, particularly with the contrasting results at Sonoma and Road America.

It may come down to pitting prior to stage ends to wind up near the top of the leaderboard. (Photo: Maddie Skidan | The Podium Finish)

It may come down to pitting prior to stage ends to wind up near the top of the leaderboard. (Photo: Maddie Skidan | The Podium Finish)

“At Sonoma, we started on the pole and built a lead,” Daniels said in a team press release. “We stayed out to win the stage and I thought we could have the ability to get through traffic. We had the entire race left to get back to the front. We had our issue so we didn’t see how it would ultimately play out. We may not have gotten back to a winning position but we probably could have gotten back to a top five position.

“Now, with that data point, we raced a few weeks later at Road America where we had to flip the stages to maintain track position to have a shot to win. We stayed in the top four and finished third, sort of with a shot to win. That is the general landscape for road course strategy moving forward.”

By all means, the reigning Cup champion will need to march his way through the field alongside clean, efficient pit stops. Beyond this, it’s in Larson’s hands to lead his team to a possible win or strong result at Indianapolis.

Still, this weekend carries some significance to Larson, particularly with turning 30. Needless to say, he’s grateful for his support system, his opportunities and the possibilities ahead in his racing career.

Larson hopes to improve upon his podium finish by two positions in 2022. (Photo: Cayden Rush | The Podium Finish)

Larson hopes to improve upon his podium finish by two positions in 2022. (Photo: Cayden Rush | The Podium Finish)

“Yeah, 30 is a milestone,” Larson observed. “No, I feel good. So yeah, it’s cool to celebrate a birthday here in Indy. And I guess, I’ve not really reflected on my career, and it’s hard to reflect on it right now, especially when you still have hopefully another 30 years of racing or so.

“I mean, it’s been good, especially the last three to five years. I feel like it’s been really good. And I hope to have many more good years.”

Editor’s Notes

Stephen Conley contributed to this feature on-site from Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana.

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.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in NASCAR Cup Series