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Larson Prepares for 300th Cup Start, Rolls Off Ninth at Atlanta

Kyle Larson hopes to turn up the wick at a chilly Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson hopes to turn up the wick at a chilly Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo: Riley Thompson | The Podium Finish)

HAMPTON, Ga. – Kyle Larson hopes his latest milestone start offers memorable moments and a victory in Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3:00 p.m. ET on FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

At age 30, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion prepares for his 300th NASCAR Cup Series start at a track that offered mixed results in 2022. In both races, Larson wound up in accidents, not of his doing, that resulted in finishes of 30th and 13th.

This year, Larson’s off to a better start with the spring race weekend at Atlanta. Qualifying ninth, Larson was the sole Chevrolet representative in a starting grid dominated by eight Ford drivers and a lone Toyota.

Moreover, it is a bit of a challenging, strange race weekend after Hendrick Motorsports’ four teams, including Larson’s No. 5, were penalized 100 points for illegal modifications to the hood vents or louvers at Phoenix Raceway. While the organization intends to appeal the penalties, Larson and his Hendrick racing allies will be without their regular crew chiefs at Atlanta.

For the second consecutive year, Larson works with interim crew chief Kevin Meendering who spearheaded his No. 5 team’s efforts from the summer races at Nashville to New Hampshire. Notably, Meendering and Larson have some rapport with each other when it comes to Atlanta, particularly with racing aggressively for points in Stage 1.

Compared to last year, Larson has emphasized more on having cleaner races and committing less unforced errors. So far, it is showing despite two consecutive weekends of agonizing defeats at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Larson looks to swing some of his West Coast momentum to Sunday's Ambetter Health 400. (Photo: Michael Donohue | The Podium Finish)

Larson looks to swing some of his West Coast momentum to Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400. (Photo: Michael Donohue | The Podium Finish)

Notably, Larson has appreciated his team’s consistency on preparing fast cars despite the results.

“We had a shot to win in Daytona and I crashed,” Larson said in team press release. “In Fontana, we had the mechanical issue early in the race, but fixed it and the last two runs of the race we were by far the fastest car.

“In Vegas, we were the second-best car to William (Byron) and finished second. In Phoenix, again, we had a great car there and had a shot to win late.”

Perhaps Sunday’s race may serve as the unexpected surprise for the Elk Grove, California native. Like Rusty Wallace, Larson has changed his tone, a bit, with approaching superspeedway style racetracks.

Aside from an engine failure in last summer’s Daytona race, Larson was in the mix for the win at Talladega’s races last year and this year’s Daytona 500. In fact, for the first time since 2017, Larson was genuinely in contention to win “The Great American Race” before contact with Travis Pastrana ended his efforts with a hard, Turn 2 crash.

This time around, Larson is hopeful about his chances at Atlanta and the upcoming races. Given his team’s fast start and fleet of cars, it is only a matter of time before Larson has his turn with ringing the victory bell at Hendrick’s Concord, North Carolina campus.

“No win in the column, but I’m super pleased with our performance and look forward to every upcoming race,” he said. “I feel like no matter where we go right now, we will have a shot at a good finish and hopefully some wins along the way.”

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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