AVONDALE, Ariz. – All things considered, Kyle Larson closed out his season at Phoenix far better than he started at Daytona.
Along the way, there were promising afternoons and some that bewildered the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
At times, Larson made uncharacteristic mistakes that were virtually nonexistent during the 2021 season. Moments like Atlanta’s spring race, a Turn 1 tangle with Kurt Busch and Joey Logano at Circuit of the Americas and the Charlotte ROVAL accident showcased some of the Elk Grove, California native’s unusual lapses.
There were the great races such as Fontana, Watkins Glen and Homestead-Miami complimented by solid results at the spring races at Las Vegas and Richmond, Dover, the 600 at Charlotte, Nashville, Road America, Pocono, Michigan, to name a few.
Overall, Larson’s 2022 season had its promising moments that illustrated his might and potential to evolve from the unforced errors. Perhaps Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race was his year summed up in a single event.
As the case was all year long, Larson qualified toward the front of the field, posting the fourth fastest effort.
From jump street, the 30-year-old had a competitive car, particularly during long, green flag runs. While he drove up to the second spot in the opening laps, he would fall back to a fourth place finish in Stage 1.
Like most of the lead lap contenders, Larson conserved fuel to finish Stage 2 without an additional pit stop.
Although it was mission accomplished on this front, Larson dropped to an eighth place finish.
Stage 3 proved to be a bit of an exercise in frustration especially once Larson fell out of the top 10. Attrition and some late race pace helped Larson’s cause, finishing the season finale in ninth place.
Like most of the races this year, the driver of the No. 5 car observed the positives that were somewhat outweighed by a couple of issues.
“The HendrickCars.com Chevrolet was good all day, but whether it was some issues on restarts or on pit stops that I made stopping in the box, it just didn’t work out for us today,” Larson said per a Hendrick Motorsports article. “But we’ve got a great team and we can’t wait to start working on next year.”
Notably, Larson’s average finish during the 2022 Playoffs was 13.4, almost a spot above his season average finish of 14.1.
Without considering the 18th at Talladega and back-to-back 35th place results at the Charlotte ROVAL and Las Vegas, Larson’s average finish was 6.57, a better indication of his late season form.
Once Larson and his No. 5 team reflect on this season, it will seem like a dramatic decline from last year. However, three wins, 13 top fives and 19 top 10s, particularly with the unusual challenges of the Next Gen car, prove to be respectable statistics.
“The impact it’s had on NASCAR this year has been really cool,” Larson reflected. “It was a big change in the sport over the last year. It was really cool how through all the supply chain issues and COVID a couple of years ago to see where the sport has come from and where they continue to move forward.”
Moreover, Larson and his crewmates can smile knowing they were a part of an interesting era of Cup that revolutionized the modern era stock car.
“Maybe that’s something when you look back 10, 15 or 20 years from now and how it changed the sport, it’s something you can remind and teach younger generations about how far the sport has come to get where it is currently. It’s cool to be a part of this generation of car and this class of drivers,” he shared.