If last year was the season of success for Kyle Larson, 2022 has been the season of perseverance.
Larson and his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team have endured as many ups and downs as a bobsled team in the Olympics. Still, the 29-year-old Elk Grove, California native enters Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on USA) ranked fourth in the regular season standings and sixth in the provisional Playoff rankings.
After a loose wheel at Sonoma resulted in a four race suspension for crew chief Cliff Daniels, Larson has worked with Kevin Meendering in the interim. Suffice to say, the defending Cup champion has fared respectably with finishes of fourth at Nashville, third at Road America and 13th at Atlanta.
The 10th year Cup racer has not missed a beat yet this weekend in Loudon, New Hampshire. Posting the fourth fastest lap and fourth fastest 10 lap average speed in Saturday’s practice session, Larson tallied the eighth starting spot with a time of 30.224 seconds (126.019 mph).
Despite Daniels’ suspension, Larson feels like it’s been a bit of business as usual although he looks forward to his return next weekend at Pocono Raceway.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be great to have Cliff back on top of the box,” Larson said. “He’s the leader of our team. He’s still been heavily involved in everything I’ve gone on over the past three, going on four races now. So it hasn’t felt way different, but it’s still gonna be good to have him in the hauler and on all the pit box.”
All in all, Larson, who’s in the hunt for his second Cup championship, notes how eventful his races have been, an area of opportunity to improve upon in the second half of 2022.
“Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, just some… little bit of everything,” he offered. “I mean, luck, things just work out for us to execute, stuff like that. So it’s just we haven’t had but a couple races this year where it’s been clean from start to finish, which has been, I mean, everybody can kind of say the same thing. So just got to try and find some consistency.”
Prior to Sunday’s 301 lap Cup race, Larson competed in some prestigious sprint car races. Ahead of his fifth place result in Saturday night’s Kings Royal race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, he considered some of the uphill battles with his sprint car program.
“Average. We don’t qualify good at all,” he observed. “So, like on the nights where it’s straight up, we’re terrible. But like the Historical Big One, we didn’t qualify great. But the invert helped us. And (Friday) night, we didn’t qualify good. And I was not gonna make the main event. So happy that it rained.
“And then (Saturday night) going back, it’s gonna be like top 24, I think in qualifying, to make the invert so we’ll probably be right on the bubble making that, so we’ll see. But when it comes to racing, my car feels good. But qualifying, we’re just slow.”
Perhaps some of his competitiveness from Saturday night’s sprint car showdown may carry over into his primary racing efforts with Hendrick Motorsports. Last year, New Hampshire kicked off a solid stretch for Larson in which he tallied a top 10 in all but three of the last 15 races.
Surely, Larson hopes for a strong day at New Hampshire like his results in 2014 (third and second), 2017 (two runner ups) and last year (seventh). More than that, he’d love to tally his first victory at the 1.058-mile speedway, a surefire way to solidify his Playoff spot.
Beyond his busy racing schedule, the Californian takes pride with his outreach work alongside Urban Youth Racing School. Before making the trek to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, he’ll partake in the Philadelphia Grand Prix, an event he looks forward to with a good cause.
“Yeah, I’m excited. It’s been something that they’ve been… didn’t work out where they could have the event last year,” Larson said. “So it’s been honestly something they’ve been building now for two years, which I’ve done this event in the past, but making it as big as they have for this year.
“So I know there’s a lot of drivers coming out more to support and Anthony and Michelle (Martin) have been very important to my career. So yeah, look forward to getting there and have a good time with all the kids.”
Nathan Solomon contributed to this feature on-site from New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.