After a frustrating 14th at New Hampshire, Kyle Larson and his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro team tallied a strong top five at Pocono.
All in all, it was a workmanlike weekend for the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion. Starting fourth, Larson showcased some early speed, taking the lead on lap 13 en route to a stage 1 win.
Once stage 2 was underway, Larson, who pitted with a group of select lead lap contenders, restarted from 11th position. Bit by bit, Larson climbed his way inside the top five by lap 50.
At times, the Elk Grove, California native made some thrilling three wide passes. Following a lap 61 pit stop for tires and fuel, Larson worked his way up to 10th by the end of stage 2.
Opting for four tires and fuel on lap 83, a stage break, Larson restarted eighth but dropped back to 14th. From there, the 29-year-old racer methodically carved his way up the leaderboard.
By lap 137, Larson returned to the top 10 and never looked back. While he ran out of time for a potential bid for the win, he initially placed seventh.
However, after the disqualifications of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, Larson netted his ninth top five result of the year.
Despite coming up short at Pocono, Larson netted a Playoff point and moved up to fourth in the regular standings.
Certainly, it was an up and down afternoon for Larson. In a way, it was a microcosm of his 2022 season to date.
“I had one bad restart where I lost a bunch of positions and then you had to work hard to get each position back,” Larson said.
A familiar voice returned to Larson’s earphones as crew chief Cliff Daniels returned from a four race suspension for a loose wheel violation at Sonoma. Before the race, Larson clarified how it was business as usual for his No. 5 team.
“It’s good. It’s good to have him back in my ear,” Larson observed. “A lot of people ask, or I feel like… think that when your crew chief’s suspended, they’re gone on vacation.
“But that’s not the case. So he was still really heavily involved. And it wasn’t way different over the last four weeks.”
By all means, Daniels’ immediate presence at the track seemed to make a positive impact for Larson and his team. Losing the lead after the stage 1 finish, it was about maximizing the car’s performance in traffic versus clean air.
Beyond these intangibles, Larson raced with a calculative but tenacious approach. When the opportunity was there for aggressive moves, the Californian dropped the hammer, particularly in turn 1.
However, like the top cyclists competing in the Tour de France, it was about position management in stage 2. A similar approach was deployed for the early portions of stage 3.
Basically, Larson’s afternoon resembled some of the summertime performances from last year. In this case, it was about capitalizing on positions in spite of the circumstances.
A strong top five finish proves as meaningful as a victory, particularly with the regular season winding down. Part of Larson’s championship season last year was built on tallying consecutive top five and top 10 finishes.
With the Verizon 200 at Indianapolis looming on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC), Larson continues his bid for a second win this year. If last year’s race was any indication, the No. 5 car may be one of the top contenders at the 2.439-mile, 14 turn road course.