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Larson Readies for Saturday Night Battle at Bristol

Kyle Larson hopes to defend his Bristol Night Race win. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

Kyle Larson hopes to defend his Bristol Night Race win. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – If anyone’s ever ready for a Saturday night fight at Bristol Motor Speedway, look no further than Kyle Larson.

Last year, Larson started fifth led 175 of 500 laps and netted a win, the sixth of 10 victories in his championship season.

This year, Larson replicated his qualifying effort, albeit by genuine efforts on the track versus a metric implemented with the show up and race format in 2021.

In April, Larson started fifth and tallied a fourth place showing in the Dirt Race, contending with handling issues throughout the Easter Sunday night event.

Certainly, Larson expects Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET on USA and PRN) to be chaotic and crazy, but that’s OK with him.

“I think Bristol is definitely higher paced, higher intensity and more chaotic than any other track we go to,” Larson said in a Hendrick Motorsports press release. “I’m used to high intensity racing almost every week, so maybe the action ‘slows down’ a little bit for me at Bristol.

“I guarantee it doesn’t feel slow in the cockpit. It feels crazy and chaotic, and that’s why I love it.”

Larson’s description of Bristol sounds a bit like his 2022 season. He’s dealt with a bit of everything from pit road penalties, on track incidents and engine anomalies.

Despite the myriad of issues that the 30-year-old Elk Grove, California native has contended with this year, he’s still in the Playoffs with a decent buffer above the cutoff line.

Still, a win on Saturday night would be a nice morale boost much like Fontana and Watkins Glen. Both victories showcased the strength and might prevalent with the reigning Cup champions in a great year of change with the Next Gen car.

Recently, Larson acknowledged how crew chief Cliff Daniels kept him focused and motivated when things did not go their way, such as the Cook Out Southern 500.

Overcoming early race issues to tally a 12th at Darlington, Larson and his No. 5 team netted a respectable eighth at Kansas last Sunday afternoon.

Now, Daniels has considered the most recent concrete surface race at Dover and how it may assist with preparing the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevy Camaro at Bristol.

“We’ve studied the most relevant data points we can pull from for comparison from years past; Dover being one of them and other short tracks being another,” he observed. “Bristol is not really a short track and it’s not really an intermediate; it’s a super-fast short track.

“There are characteristics from both styles of tracks that kind of blend for Bristol, so how we have blended things in the past is how we are preparing for this weekend.”

Larson hopes for a smooth, steady evening at Bristol. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

Larson hopes for a smooth, steady evening at Bristol. (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish)

That does not translate into bad news for Larson and company when considering their strong sixth place showing at Dover. Prior to the halfway point, Larson spun on the frontstretch and damaged the left front fender from a cut left front tire.

Despite the damage, the No. 5 team rallied around their driver, repairing the car to optimum conditions for the sixth place finish at “The Monster Mile.”

In this case, Larson would like a smoother race at the 0.533-mile concrete counterpart in Tennessee. The trends may favor the defending Cup champion if history is any indication.

Since 2017, the Bristol Night Race has been kind to Larson with finishes of ninth, second, sixth and first.

With the Round of 12 looming at Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday, Larson hopes to collect another sword and trophy, adding to a good week to boot with a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports through 2026.

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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