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Kyle Larson Starts Fifth, Seeks Atlanta Victory

Kyle Larson is hopeful that Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta may be a genuinely productive effort. (Photo: Ricky Martinez | The Podium Finish)

HAMPTON, Ga. — At some point, Kyle Larson may finally put together a respectable result at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In particular, if Monday evening’s better late than never DAYTONA 500 was any indication, perhaps the 31-year-old Elk Grove, California, native is ready to drop the hammer from start to finish.

For the fourth consecutive time at the 1.54-mile venue, Larson qualified inside the top 10. In fact, he starts fifth for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400, a strong qualifying effort for the lone Hendrick Motorsports representative in the top 10 starting order.

Before Larson took to the track, he considered his chances ahead of the 260-lap race.

“One of these (drafting-style) races it will all come together for us,” Larson said in a team press release. “Our cars are definitely showing speed. We just need to make it to the end with track position.”

Last Monday evening, Larson had a nearly complete effort in the 66th DAYTONA 500. After starting 17th, Larson, who led seven of the 200 laps at Daytona, scathed through the Lap 192 “Big One” that wiped out six of the 23 drivers in the Turn 3 crash.

While Larson finished 11th in “The Great American Race,” it was a respectable result for a driver who had been snakebitten at the drafting tracks. The usually versatile racer seemingly gets caught up in incidents not of his doing, even when he runs toward the front of the pack.

Race Weekend Start Finish Status
2022 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 21 30 Crash
2022 Quaker State 400 Presented By Walmart 3 13 Running
2023 Ambetter Health 400 9 31 Crash
2023 Quaker State 400 Available at Walmart 8 36 Crash
Averages 10.25 27.5

Now, Larson’s job is a bit easier for Sunday’s 260-lap race at Atlanta. Starting on the inside of Row 3, the opportunity is there to nab stage points in the early going to either maximize on a great race day or soften the blow should trouble strike in Stage 3.

As video gamers would often say when farming or grinding for points or extra lives, Larson is likely going to opt for life insurance at the hybrid speedway. Stage points can mean all the difference between having a decent day, even with a less than desirable result, or heading home to North Carolina with disappointment. In fact, it may be attributable as to why Larson ranks in a three-way tie for sixth in points.

Since Atlanta’s repaving and re-profiling ahead of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, it has been a tough track for the 23-time Cup race winner. Namely, with three DNFs in four starts, one cannot blame Larson for feeling a bit trepidatious at this 64-year-old track.

Then again, Cliff Daniels, Larson’s crew chief, expressed some optimism in his driver and No. 5 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team.

“I thought we did a good job of executing the race to get the car upfront,” Daniels said. “We just lost track position at a crucial time on Monday, but who knows? If we had kept it, we could have been in the eye of the storm and been involved in the “big one” in a bigger way.

“We’ll go into Atlanta (Motor Speedway) with the same mindset of executing well the entire race to give Kyle the best opportunity to battle for the win.”

At the end of Stage 1, Larson’s pit crew delivered by getting the No. 5 car to win the race off pit road ahead of Josh Berry, taking the lead in the DAYTONA 500. More clutch stops like that may be a catalyzing moment for the 2021 Cup champion, particularly with how difficult it is to pass at the intermediate track that behaves, in tendencies, like a superspeedway.

“Cliff and the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization have done a great job with strategy and putting us in position,” Larson said. “I hope it continues this weekend.”

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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