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Kyle Larson Vies to Drive from Worst to First at Bristol

Kyle Busch (L) surveys the situation at Bristol with Kyle Busch (R). (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Considering Kyle Larson’s approach with race weekends, perhaps it is fitting that he has a monumental challenge at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Typically a solid qualifier, Larson made his efforts for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol a bit intriguing. Despite posting the fastest time in Friday’s practice session and the ninth fastest 10-lap consecutive average run, he starts 36th, one of his worst qualifying efforts at the 0.533-mile concrete track.

Larson owned up to his unforced error as he tried too hard to push the maximum from his No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

“I just messed up,” Larson said to FOX NASCAR’s Bob Pockrass. “I got too much of the apron in the center and it just got me loose. I wanted to get some of it. I felt a little bit too tight on my up to speed lap. And I thought that was because I missed getting my left sides, touching the paint, and I just got a little too greedy.”

While the slip up was less than ideal, it was a valuable lesson for Larson when it comes to running the bottom line. Before Friday night’s Food City 300, the first NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs race this year, he hoped that the track would rubber down on other lanes.

“It just depends on what the track does for the XFINITY race,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll start last. Hopefully, it widens out and we’ll have some options. It felt really sensitive in traffic when I was behind the 1 car. We’ll see. It all depends on whether the track widens out.”

Based on Friday night’s race, there is a possibility to march toward the front on the track and in the pits. Unlike the 14 other Playoffs racers ahead of Saturday night’s race, he has locked his Round of 12 spot with his Cook Out Southern 500 victory at Darlington.

Most drivers and teams may focus on salvaging the best possible result after securing a postseason spot. Then again, Larson’s mindset is on winning as many races as possible, before and after his Friday afternoon qualifying effort.

After a rare mistake in qualifying, Kyle Larson hopes he can use the high line at Bristol. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

“The night race at Bristol is one of my favorites,” Larson said in a team press release. “It’s such a prestigious track and race. The fans always show out there and it’s a great atmosphere.

“I’ve had some good runs on the concrete track, including a win in the Valvoline Chevy in 2021. Valvoline is back this weekend and it would be great to get another win before the Round of 12!”

Another victory would allocate five more Playoff points to Larson, an important aspect to consider once reseeding occurs following Saturday night’s race. As it stands, would likely re-rank inside the top four for the Round of 12 standings.

If Larson wins his second race at Bristol, he is projected, at least, to rank third in the Round of 12 depending on Martin Truex Jr.’s efforts. A worst to first drive may seem daunting, but this Hendrick Motorsports team is up to the challenge as proven throughout their near three-year tenure.

A win in Saturday night’s race simply adds more fuel to the inspired, determined No. 5 team. Following the win at Darlington, Larson dominated at Kansas last Sunday, leading 99 laps and rallying from 29th to fourth, showcasing that there is no slowing down his momentum.

Likewise, Larson has one of the best over-the-wall pit crews who reel off pit stops consistently in the nine-second timeframe. Alongside these remarkable efforts with the over-the-wall crew, leader and crew chief Cliff Daniels is cool under pressure.

That quality will be pivotal as Larson and his No. 5 team look to go from worst to first in Saturday night’s race at Bristol.

“Our team has great momentum right now,” Daniels said in a team press release. “It’s been nice to have two good runs the past two weeks, but there is certainly a lot of racing left ahead in the playoffs. We’ve got to stay focused and stay grounded. We take every week as it comes and this week is at Bristol which is just an amazing track.

“I love Bristol, Kyle loves Bristol. He’s always just super good at Bristol in anything that he drives. The team’s been executing well and hopefully we have a fast Chevy to be in contingency there at the end. I’m sure it’s going to be an exciting race.”

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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